More effective evangelism
Lessons from the business world—laying the foundations
Published: 5 June 2018 (GMT+10)
Our ability to persuade, and to be persuaded, is one of the design features that sets us apart from the rest of the created order. The business world thrives on this uniquely human characteristic. As a result, we are daily bombarded with promotions encouraging us to buy the latest car, toy, or gadget.
In Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus lays out the Great Commission. We are instructed to “go and make disciples of all nations”; to persuade the “nations” of the truth of the Gospel. Salvation through faith in Jesus is the ultimate ‘product’—it’s offered to everyone, we all need it, and it’s free! I believe there are lessons we can learn from the business world that might make us more effective in getting this message out to a dying world.
At a Christian conference I attended some years ago, a pastor took to the stage between sessions to explain his evangelism technique. He would often pick up hitchhikers as he travelled for ministry and, once he had them in the car (a captive audience), he would launch into a well-practiced presentation of the Gospel. His main point? Boldly talking to unbelievers about Jesus really works. He even joked that at times it was a little frustrating because too many people ‘gave up without a fight!’ He couldn’t believe how many responded positively.
As a sales professional of many years’ experience, and one-time sales trainer, I knew exactly why he was so ‘successful’. What he had described was a textbook example of a well-planned and perfectly executed sales presentation. Could evangelism really be that easy?
For those of you recoiling in horror right now at the thought of ‘selling Jesus’, believe me, I understand. In surveys of the most and least trusted professions, real estate agents, motor vehicle dealers and telemarketers (all sales roles) regularly make up 3 of the bottom 5 places (along with politicians and journalists). The image of sales people as snake-oil peddlers preying on unsuspecting victims is everywhere. Should we Christians really be associated with such tactics?
But, while this caricature may be true in a lot of cases, it does serious injustice to most sales professionals. Successful sales people don’t sell their product, they simply give their clients enough reasons to buy. The final decision always rests with the client. How much more should this be the case when telling people about Jesus. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:13, it is “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord...” (emphasis added) who “will be saved.”
And there is scriptural support for the idea that we should be more ‘calculating’ (or strategic) in our witnessing. In 1 Corinthians 9: 20-23 we read:
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
This is a classic example of a sales technique called ‘mirroring’. We are generally more comfortable relating to people who are like us, and a good salesperson will highlight what they have in common with their client to establish a relationship. In doing so, they increase their chances of success.
This is exactly what Paul describes of himself. He also makes it very clear that he knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. Was he being deceptive? Not at all! When preaching to the Jews, he could tell them, truthfully, that he once believed as they believed.
If Paul, one of the greatest evangelists the world has known, could use sales techniques to reach the lost, surely we can, too?
We’re all salespeople
If you’re breathing a sigh of relief right now, thinking you’re not a salesperson and therefore might be excused from the Great Commission, think again. We are all involved in selling on a day-to-day basis, often without even knowing it. A dictionary definition of selling is ‘to persuade someone of the merits of’, or, to ‘cause someone to become enthusiastic about’ something. If you’ve ever recommended a friend read a book, watch a movie, try a new food (etc.), you are a salesperson. If they chose to read the book (watch the movie, taste the food), you’re a successful salesperson.
Sales professionals simply take what is second nature to us all, refine it, and apply it to specific situations to maximize their chances of success.
What follows is not intended to be prescriptive of how we should witness to the lost. We are all different and, as such, we relate to people in different ways. It’s likely that many of you will already use a lot of the techniques I’m about to share, often without even realising it (as was probably the case with the pastor). But if you’re about to take the first step in your evangelizing, or you are frustrated by your efforts to date, I hope this might help.
Laying the foundations
Followers of creation.com and those who’ve attended a CMI event will almost certainly be aware of at least the first part of 1 Peter 3:15–16 and its importance to evangelism.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Our focus at CMI is on preparing believers to give an answer to the questions skeptics might ask (a vital part of witnessing). But there is so much more to 1 Peter 3:15–16; it lays the foundation for evangelism using the features of an effective sales presentation.
Being prepared is an essential part of any sales process, but it is particularly important with evangelism where (unlike the usually more structured commercial sales situation) opportunities to share the Gospel can, and will, present themselves at the most unexpected of times and places.
There are two subtly different meanings to the instruction to ‘be prepared’. A parent almost certainly would ‘be prepared’ to jump into the sea to save one of their children, even if the parent can’t swim. In this case, to be prepared means to be willing. Suggesting to that same parent they should ‘be prepared’ for the possibility that their child might fall into the sea tells them they need to be able to do something about it should it ever happen.
Successful evangelism requires that we are both willing and able to share the hope that we have. When you witness to an unbeliever, you will be asked questions. It’s important that you can either answer these questions or, at the very least, direct them to a place where they might find the answers. But it’s pointless having all the answers if you never actually take the step to talk to an unbeliever about Jesus.
Prepared to give an answer
There are two distinct ways that we give answers when witnessing. First, by presenting the Gospel message we provide an answer to the predicament of every person—we are all sinners in need of salvation. Then, once this ‘cornerstone’ is in place, we have a sure foundation from which to confidently answer objections to the message.
“So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic [emphasis added]’” (Isaiah 28:16).
Being equipped with answers will help you to overcome objections and give you confidence to step out and share the Gospel. This is where CMI resources are so valuable. Probably the best place to start is with the Creation Answers Book, which has easy to understand answers to over 60 most asked questions on creation, evolution and the Bible. If you can have this book readily available when witnessing, even better! You should also familiarize yourself with creation.com, so that, if you don’t know the answer to a question, you can recommend a place they can go to find the answer (and the search terms the person might use for best results). It can also be helpful to have tracts to give away (e.g. Creation.com witnessing cards).
CMI has a huge range of excellent resources that provide more detailed answers to many of the questions you will be asked, while affirming the biblical account.
To everyone who asks
Successful sales people will actively seek to generate selling opportunities. Making a sales presentation, however, will usually involve an invitation, either in the form of an appointment, or at least a request for information about a product. Evangelism is similar—yes, we should always be looking for opportunities to start a conversation about Jesus (the easiest way is simply to tell (or, remind) people you’re a Christian). But ‘everyone who asks’ implies an invitation to give the reason for the hope we have.
This will probably come as a great relief to many Christians. Just as a salesperson is not always in sales mode, we don’t have to witness to everyone we meet, every time we meet them. You can (and should) wait for the opportunities to present themselves.
The invitation(s) might be obvious: e.g. “Why are you a Christian?” Or they might be subtle: e.g. a throw away comment about Jesus, Christianity, another religion, or a news item with an evolutionary bias, etc. You just have to be prepared to recognize them when they arise.
And don’t beat yourself up if you miss an opportunity (we all miss opportunities). Put it down to experience and work out ways to be better prepared next time.
Gentleness and respect
Successful selling requires persuasion, not pressure, and this is even more the case with evangelism. In most cases, you will effectively be telling someone that their whole worldview is wrong. This can be very confronting! Gentle persuasion is less likely to cause offence and, in the event of a negative reaction, is more likely to leave the lines of communication open for future discussions.
Respect is equally important. First, we are all made in the image of God, with responsibility for our decisions. We must always respect a person’s right to choose their own destiny, no matter how wrong we believe that choice to be. Second, respect implies a relationship. You cannot respectfully tell a person their worldview is wrong if you don’t know what that worldview is. The internet is rife with horror stories of people approached by Christians, with the opening line; “You look like you need Jesus!”
Before sharing the Gospel with someone, it’s important you take time to get to know them (if time allows). The easiest way to do this is to ask questions and be a good listener. We humans like to talk about ourselves and asking questions invites people to do just that. In the process, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate a genuine interest in who they are and what they believe. They, in turn, will be more comfortable in speaking to you, and will be more likely to listen when you speak to them.
Ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For instance, questions prefaced with ‘Who?’ ‘What?’ ‘Which?’ ‘Why?’ ‘When?’ ‘Where?’ and ‘How?’ Look for common interests and shared views and highlight these as they come up (as Paul would have done). If the conversation becomes more worldview-centric, ask clarifying questions and make a mental note of anything they may tell you that you can use to make the Gospel message more personal to them and more relevant to their life.
Whatever you do, don’t assume anything about the person you’re speaking to that you haven’t heard from them personally. When the time is right, it can be remarkably easy to steer the conversation to what you believe, simply by saying something like; “That’s very different to how I view the world.”
The reason for the hope that we have
It is important to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve with your witnessing. Ultimately, our aim is not to convince people that evolution and long ages are wrong and biblical creation is right. We’re not trying to prove the existence of God (the Bible tells us we all know He exists already (Romans 1:18–19)). We’re not even trying to convince people that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, rose again after three days, and is seated at the right hand of the Father (even Satan and the demons know these things are true).
While these concepts are all vitally important steps in the witnessing process, our ultimate aim should be that the people we witness to will place their confidence and faith in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. This is the hope that we have for ourselves, and the hope we should have for others. It may not happen at the first meeting, the second meeting, or for many years. We might not even be present when the decision is finally made (if it is made at all) but this must be our goal from the very beginning.
To this end, the most important part of witnessing is the Gospel presentation and you need to get it right. Prepare, commit to memory, and practice your Gospel presentation. It should be biblically sound, containing all the major features and benefits of the Gospel message, starting with the ‘very good’ Creation of Genesis 1. It should be logical, easy to understand and concise.
It should explain the features of the Gospel, but should focus on the benefits, the reason(s) for the hope that we have. To use a sales analogy, no-one buys a refrigerator because it has a motor, insulated walls and shelves (the features). We buy a refrigerator because it keeps drinks cold and food fresh (the benefits).
Don’t cut corners. Just as you shouldn’t assume anything about another person’s worldview, don’t assume they have a clear understanding of the Gospel, even if they tell you they do. In this increasingly secular world, if an unbeliever has any understanding of the Gospel at all, it is likely to be a distorted version. (For an excellent example of a Gospel presentation I highly recommend Dr Mark Harwood’s DVD A Brief, but True, History of Time.)
As you grow in confidence, you may be able to weave into your Gospel presentation some of what you have learnt about the person you’re witnessing to. A good sales presentation is designed to turn ‘wants’ into ‘needs’, the theory being that a person is much more likely to ‘buy’ if they are convinced they need something, rather than just wanting it. This same process can also be applied to evangelism. For example; most honest people, when confronted with questions of mortality, will admit they want to know what happens when they die. You can point out that, logically, they need to find the answer to this question before they die, because, once they’re dead, it’s too late to do anything about it.
Those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ
Competition is a fact of life. Sales people are always on the lookout for ways to convince potential clients that what they have to offer is superior to the opposition. Successful sales people do this by highlighting the positive features of their own product and subtly, rather than overtly, undermining the competition. However, if there is anything in a competitor’s sales presentation that is perceived to be inconsistent, or false, it will be (and should be) ruthlessly exploited.
How much more will this be the case with evangelism, where we must contend with an enemy who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) but also “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Don’t make Satan’s job any easier. Everything about your Gospel presentation, and your answers to the questions you are asked, must be internally consistent (without contradiction). In doing so, you give yourself the best opportunity to convince people that the Christian worldview, alone, is externally consistent (true).
This is where those who attempt to fit evolution and millions of years into the Bible get it so wrong. By attempting to make Christianity conform to the world’s version of origins, they open the door to accusations of inconsistency and outright, deliberate deception. If the Bible can’t be trusted in the first chapters of Genesis, why would anyone trust what it says about Jesus?
Militant anti-theists will always rage against the Christian worldview simply because they have an anti-God agenda. We do ourselves, those to whom we witness, and the God we serve, a disservice by trying to appease them. Keep a ‘clear conscience’. Let Satan and his minions argue the benefits of their own worldview rather than allowing them to point out inconsistencies in yours!
Be prepared for success
When a decision is made to buy, a good salesperson will have a procedure in place to finalize the sale and an after-sales support program designed to ensure long term buyer satisfaction. In the same way, you need to plan what you will do when someone indicates that he/she is ready to commit to Christ.
First, and foremost, you should encourage them to acknowledge and confess their sin (1 John 1:9), turn to God in repentance (Acts 20:21), and believe in Jesus for remission of their sin and for salvation (Romans 10:9, John 3:16).
Then, help them to put in place the tools they’ll need to grow and defend their newfound faith. This should include: encouraging them to read the Bible and pray, helping them find a Bible believing church in their area, and suggesting they seek out Christian friends and join a Bible study group. You might also offer to stay in touch and disciple them.
Last, but not least, make sure they know where to go if they have questions. Introduce them to CMI materials; Creation Magazine (you might start by giving them one of your back issues), the Creation Answers Book, and the wealth of biblically based, God-honouring resources at creation.com. That way, they too will be prepared to give an answer.
Whatever you do, don’t abandon them to become fodder for the ‘roaring lion’.
Be prepared in the heavenly realms
One last piece of advice (this one’s definitely not learnt from the business world); before you do anything, cover yourself in prayer.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel and pray that you will recognize these opportunities when they present themselves. Pray for the boldness to speak God’s truth into the lives of friends, family, workmates, new acquaintances, etc. Pray that you will have clarity of thought and mind and that you will be able to answer the questions you might be asked. Pray for open hearts and open minds, that your efforts will bear fruit and that you will have success.
And pray, in particular, that you, and those you witness to, will be protected from the arrows of the enemy.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
Our powers of persuasion are a big part of what makes us human and, as such, they are a gift from God. To fulfil the Great Commission, we must first persuade people that the Gospel is true, and it makes sense that we should hone our skills to give us the best chance of success in this most important of endeavours. My hope is that you now better understand the benefits of being well prepared and more strategic in your witnessing, and that you might have picked up a few tips that will make you a more effective evangelist.