At one point in my life, my job involved spending several hours each day trying to start spiritual conversations with total strangers. I was trained to start conversations about God by using spiritual interest questionnaires, decks of cards about different worldviews, and packets of photographs. As I had only ever spoken about my faith with friends and family, finding tools that worked allowed me to overcome my lack of confidence and fear of sounding stupid.
Over nine years, I talked with several hundred people about Jesus, the gospel, and what it might mean to them. But crucially, I knew at the time I was unlikely to see most of these people again.
I now know the things I learned by talking with strangers changed the way I had conversations with friends. The skills I learned were transferable.
Of all the different tools and techniques I was given to talk with people, none was more important than learning how to start a spiritual conversation.
Being completely honest, when I started sharing my faith regularly, the focus was on what was most helpful to me. I saw myself as the one taking all the risks and carrying the weight of every conversation. I no longer see things that way.
Starting a meaningful conversation about God with someone is as much about understanding what’s most helpful to the other person, if not more so.
So let’s think about a few tips for starting spiritual conversations in helpful ways.
#1 Avoid focusing too much on what will work
When I was being trained to start spiritual conversations, I always had one question at the back of my mind: “What will definitely, or almost definitely, work?”
It’s natural to look for approaches that contain the greatest potential for success, or even the least risk of humiliating failure. But is this really helpful?
Think about a few of the people in your life you’d like to talk with about God. We’re thinking of people who do not share your spiritual beliefs yet. Maybe you’re thinking of a friend from university, someone you work with, a person you see regularly at the gym, or one of your parents or grandparents.
These people are individuals, created by God to be unique and diverse. They may have things in common, such as the location they live in and the language they use. But they have different interests, different backgrounds, different worldviews.
So why would there be a single way of starting a spiritual conversation with such a diverse group of people?
Change your focus from finding techniques that guarantee success to thinking about what each person needs in order to enter into the conversation you hope to have.
Here are a few things they might need:
- A sense that the conversation is as much about what they think as what you believe.
- A conversation built around language you both understand equally.
- A safe environment to open up about deeper things.
Now the focus is shifting from what will help you, to what will help the other person.
When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, Matthew the tax collector, and a Roman Centurion, each conversation began very differently. But Jesus thought carefully about how to communicate with each one as an individual. In the same way, you’re going to think about who you’re talking with before you think about what you want to say.
#2 One size does not fit all
GodTools has created the Openers tool because each conversation is unique. Every conversation is a meeting point between two or more people whose minds work in different ways. Our task is to find common ground, and not treat people as though they are a category or type.
Think about the person you most want to have a spiritual conversation with. What do you know about them in terms of their interests, their opinions or beliefs, and the way they like to communicate with others?
By taking the time to think about these things, you can be confident you’re going to be respectful and helpful when you decide how to start a conversation about God with the person.
You might even say something like, “Hey, I was thinking about you the other day, and I realized I’ve never asked you what you believe about spiritual things. Would you feel comfortable telling me what your perspective on that stuff is?”
How often does someone actually tell you they’ve been thinking about you when you were not together, or express curiosity about your perspective on things?
It’s less common than most of us probably wish. I love talking with people who are genuinely curious about my experiences or views on things because I feel valued. The chances are so will the person you want to start a conversation with.
#3 Recognize when the conversation’s already started
Sometimes a spiritual conversation has started before you’ve even realized it.
As Christians we can wrongly presume two things; we always have to start any spiritual conversation, and the other person probably does not want to have one. These are not true.
Even if someone says they’re not interested in hearing why you became a Christian, they might be willing to talk about what gives their life meaning, or how hopeful they feel about the future. They might want to talk with someone about a sick family member, or a parenting issue. These can be spiritual conversations, too.
You might not be explaining the gospel to someone, but you’re building trust, applying your faith to real-life challenges, and learning to have an authentic two-way conversation.
In my experience, the more willing I am to talk about what other people are thinking about, or what’s happening in their lives, the more I suddenly find them asking me about something more obviously spiritual.
Always be curious about people, and they are more likely to become curious about you.
Where to go from here
If you’re looking for specific ways to start a conversation with someone, the GodTools app provides everything from gospel explanations to an Emoji survey you can send to a friend.
Now with the Openers tool, you can also choose from dozens of questions people have used in real conversations.
Simply pick a category you think your friend might be interested in talking about, then choose from a selection of questions to get the conversation going.