How To Witness to A Non Believer: 3 Step Guide To Using Verbal & Non Verbal Communication
Getting to know a person is like peeling an onion. It’s a natural thing that we do most anytime we converse at length with a person we encounter for the first time.
“Where do you live?” “Where do you work?” “Are you married?” “Do you and your spouse have kids?” “What do you do for fun?” “Are you a football fan?” “Do you have a hobby?” “Where did you go to school?” Etc. etc.
These questions – and many other common ones – peel away layers, one at a time, often getting deeper into the person’s life with each additional question. And when done properly, our new acquaintances open their lives gradually without any sense of intrusion.
“Worldview onion peeling” works the very same way, except our goal is to understand our friends' core beliefs, those beliefs that matter most for time and eternity. It's a key to knowing how to effectively witness to a non believer.
In the previous article in this blog series – I’m an Onion, You’re an Onion – the five layers of worldview onions were defined and illustrated. And the three-step process of onion peeling was introduced. Now, let’s explore each of those three steps in more detail.
First – Entry Conversations
As you talk to a friend, or a stranger, on the human commonalities level, the key to worldview onion peeling is to look for “entry points” into deeper levels of worldview-focused conversations.
Entry points may be verbal.
Words such as “church” or “religion” or “heaven” or “Bible,” (etc.) or other overt statements of beliefs, values, and value-driven choices are wide open entries that invite an investigative response.
But words or statements regarding “death” or “dying” or “hope” or “peace” or “fear” or “depression” or “despair” also open doors into deeper levels of conversation.
Entry points may be non-verbal.
Facial expressions and other non-verbal actions sometimes signal a person’s need or desire to open up to more serious topics. But approach these entry points with sensitivity; they can easily be misinterpreted.
Some overt, but non-verbal, religious expressions (such as the sign of the cross) identify people as followers of a particular religion. In some cases, dietary practices may provide hints regarding core beliefs.
And attitudes or behavioral patterns related to religious holidays reflect underlying values and beliefs. For example, we can learn a lot about a co-worker if he or she does not observe holidays traditionally associated with Christianity or does observe holidays that are uniquely associated with a certain non-Christian religious group.
Entry points may be symbolic.
Not every entry opportunity to share the gospel with an unbeliever will come in the form of verbal communication. In some cases, clothing and hair styles or body markings, etc. are religious expressions that communicate religious commitments. But occasionally lapel pins, jewelry, or expressions on T-shirts (bumper stickers too!) make clear and bold religious statements that unabashedly announce who we are at the core of our onions.
But, let’s be sure we fully understand...
- We DO NOT look for these expressions of faith in order to criticize, judge, condemn, debate, or marginalize other people.
- We DO look for them in order to understand and to build caring relationships—caring relationships through which we can share OUR faith as we learn about THEIR faith.
Second – Investigative Questions
When an entry point presents itself, the next step is to probe politely to (hopefully) move the conservation to a deeper level of spiritual significance. Ask a question, the kind of question we call an “investigative question.” Obviously, the nature of the entry point determines the specific questions that are most appropriate to ask, as you move from common, everyday kinds of topics to more serious, eternally-consequential issues. For example:
Entry Point from the other person: “What a beautiful sunset!”
Investigative Question from you: “Do you ever look at a beautiful scene in nature and wonder how this all got here?”
Here are some additional investigative questions to keep in mind:
- If your son or daughter asked you, what happens when somebody dies, what would you say?
- Have you ever read much of the Bible? What do you think about it?
- Did you ever wonder, “How did this world got into such a mess?
- Were your parents religious people?
- Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?”
- If someone asked you, “Do think there is a God?,” what would you say?
- What do you think about “faith”?
Responses to questions such as these, will quickly let you know if the door is open to a deeper level or not. Back off if you sense serious resistance. Move forward if the response is positive, or perhaps even if it is neutral. A negative response will be a signal indicating that you probably need to build more trust with this person before continuing to deepen the conversation.
Third – Conversion Discussions
It has been said that “We, who are believers, are not in hell because of the grace of God and we are not (yet) in heaven because of the Great Commission.” Other than the worship of our Creator-Savior, our greatest raison d’etre (reason to exist) is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people who do not yet know Him as Savior. That is why it is so important, even eternally vital, that we seek to engage unbelievers in conversion discussions.
Virtually every unbeliever has some, few or many, core beliefs that must be changed if he or she is to become a true believer in Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sin provided through His death and resurrection. In cases where the person has grown up in a quasi-Christian culture and has been taught Bible stories and concepts from early childhood, the change may be more of a trust-from-the-heart change than a what-I-believe change. But, in either case, it’s a core change—a change that the Bible calls “repentance” (Greek = metanoia).
Especially for people born and reared in totally non-Christian worldview cultures, there are many significant belief-issues that must be changed, realigned to agree with the basic theological concepts of the Bible and Christianity, such as:
Who is God and what is He like?
What is my relationship of accountability to this God?
What is sin and how am I affected by it?
Am an eternal being or do I cease to exist when I die?
Is there a provision for my sins to be forgiven and brought into a fellowship-relationship with the holy God?
Who is this “Jesus Christ” person that appears in the Bible?
What must I do to be saved?
But, suppose my unsaved friend is an agnostic, animist, New Ager, Muslim, Greek or Roman Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witness, postmodern, Buddhist, Hindu, liberal Protestant, materialist, Scientologist, Mormon, or a very strict and strong Roman Catholic—how can I peel my friend’s worldview onion and lead a conversion discussion with him or her?
For gospel-sharing opportunities with people whose faith is very different from yours, here’s a FREE resource (see above) that you will want to download, study, and keep handy: Worldview Onion Peeling Helps
Gaining Ground with Good Soil | Visually Enhanced Edition - An evangelism and discipleship training narrative that is a scaled-down version of the Good Soil E&D seminar in a narrative format. It follows hard-working, dedicated missionaries who are contemplating leaving the field because of a lack of solid fruit. A last-gasp Bible study reveals a theology of evangelism and discipleship that inspires and equips them to continue to pursue their calling. The principles gained from this theology are applicable to anyone wishing to serve God through biblical evangelism and discipleship. Free resources for individual and group study are also available for download.
The Story of Hope is an evangelistic Bible study workbook designed to help people who are open to dialogue at the investigative questions and core beliefs levels. And the FREE downloadable Leader’s Guide for The Story of Hope will guide you in the process of knowing how to evangelize unbelievers based upon a chronological Bible study of God’s overall redemptive story.
Learn more about "onion peeling" through the Good Soil Basic Seminar.
Previous articles in this series:
- Three Greek Verbs Define Good Soil
- Assessing Unbeliever’s Gospel Understanding
- Assessing Gospel Receptivity
- Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism—or Both?
- The Problem of Gospel Static
- One Gospel - Three Worldviews
- Worldview “Noisy” Neighborhoods
- How To Understand Worldviews: I’m an Onion – You’re an Onion