Outreach 101


Here’s a simple plan to help young believers begin witnessing to their friends.

How do I tell my friends about my relationship with Jesus without scaring them off?” Steve asked. As one of my graduate teaching assistants, Steve had been watching me and asking spiritual questions. The week before he informed me that he had invited Jesus to take over his life. Now he wanted to know how to begin sharing this new life with his friends.

Here are four steps I use to help young believers such as Steve communicate the good news in winsome, relational ways.

Help them remember.

The first step is to help your young friend recall the changes Jesus brought about in his life. When he remembers what life was like before Jesus entered the picture, it will help him identify with the lost in his world.

Action Step: Have your spiritual apprentice write down all the ways his life has changed since Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” an. 1:14, The Message). These could include changes in thinking, feelings, motivations, values, behaviors, goals, and relationships.

I recently asked a new believer I’m mentoring, “Brad, how did your life look before you started following Jesus?” He responded, “Life just wasn’t working. I felt the classic hole inside. Each new distraction worked for a while, but soon the novelty evaporated, and my awareness of how empty I was returned. It wasn’t pretty.” When I suggested that maybe some of Brad’s friends could identify with that feeling, I could see the light bulb come on in his mind.

Help them research.

Study God’s Word together. Certain Scriptures can help a young believer begin to feel what the Lord feels for the lost. For instance, at a recent retreat I facilitated a discussion of Mt. 9:35-38 with a group of college students. Several were captivated by verse 36: “When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (emphasis mine). The students asked God to help them begin to see the lost with compassionate eyes, as He does. Action Step: Read the following passages together and discuss the questions that follow.

Mt. 9:35-38: How might it feel to be a shepherd who cares about harassed and helpless sheep?

Luke 15: How do you think you’d respond if you lost something of great value and then found it again?

Jer. 2:13,25; Jn. 4:1-54, 7:37-39: How would you respond to thirsty people trying to kind the* own water instead of receiving the free, clean water you offer?

Research the world together. In Acts 17, Paul walked around and took note of all the idols in Athens. He then shaped his message to that context and even quoted one of their own poets. An equivalent today might be drawing a principle from a hit movie, television show, or song. In other words, we want to help a young believer become a “pedestrian anthropologist,” someone who understands the people to whom
God has called him to minister.

Action Step: Take a “prayer walk” together around his school, workplace, or neighborhood.

Ask God to do the following:
break up the hardened soil of people’s hearts (Host 10:12)
develop spiritual thirst in them (Ps. 42:1-2)
help them see how He is working (2 K. 6:17)
prepare you to share your faith (1 Pet. 3:15)
help you listen patiently and carefully (Prov. 18:13)
help you speak wisely and graciously (Col. 4:5-6)
draw your friends to Him an. 6:44)

Help them relax.

Many young believers mistakenly believe that outreach means backing up the “gospel dump truck” and burying someone in a pile of theological truth. But we don’t have to accomplish everything in one
conversation. Reaching others with the gospel is a process. Sometimes it goes quickly, but more often the process is gradual.

When a young believer understands this, it can take off the pressure and help him to relax. If he can see that his job is simply helping someone take the next step toward Christ, he will be less intimidated.

When Tony and I began meeting, he was convinced he was “the poster child for introverts.” He didn’t think he would be able to witness to others. Since then, however, he has taken the risk of saying hello to some of his classmates. He’s introduced himself and begun to ask friendly, nonthreatening questions that demonstrate his interest in their lives. We have celebrated these first steps together.

Action Steps: Here are some simple activities to help a young believer initiate relationships with lost people. Encourage him to try a couple of these ideas this week.

Say hi when you see your nonbelieving friends. Be friendly, joke around, and have fun with them.

Say affirming, encouraging things.

Offer to help them accomplish some task: raking leaves, shoveling snow, moving furniture, etc.

Invite them to join you in your everyday activities such as eating, shopping, seeing a movie, or running an errand.

Make them cookies or brownies.

Ask them to help you with something.

Help them relate.

The last step is to help your friend begin / to relate spiritual truth to the lives of his lost friends. To do this, he needs to see what it looks like to embrace others in love while simultaneously exposing them to truth. We need to look for opportunities for our friend to see this in action.

In his first week as a new believer, Steve watched me interact with one of our students who was having an “emotional meltdown” after class. She felt overwhelmed by her friends’ relational demands on her.
I listened, empathized, and comforted her. I finished by making a simple observation about how much we desperately want people to be strong enough for us in a way that only God can be. When Steve and I
talked about the experience afterward, he commented, “Even, I think I could do that.”

Action Steps: Two easy ways to enable a young believer to engage meaningfully with the lost are asking questions and telling stories. Jesus often used both in His teaching.

Questions. Asking questions gives us an opportunity to understand what life looks like from someone else’s point of view. I’ve encouraged Steve to invite one of his lost friends out for a cup of coffee, ask him how he’s doing, and really listen. It’s important to emphasize that the purpose of questions is not to create a “setup” to pounce on people with our spiritual claws out. Rather, it’s to draw them out and give
them an opportunity to share their lives.

Here are several questions I’ve used; I encourage those I’m mentoring to give them a try.

What makes you feel that life really matters? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

How do you feel your life is working these days?

When do you feel the happiest? The saddest? The angriest?

Whom do you look up to and respect? Why?

What’s your religious or spiritual background, if any?

When has your spiritual interest been the strongest? The weakest? Where do you feel it is now?

If you wanted to grow spiritually, how would you go about it?

What do you think about Jesus? Have you ever read the stories about Him for yourself? Would you have any interest in that?

Stories. Some people will argue about theology, but it’s hard to argue with someone’s story, such as the tale of the blind man in John

9. As we help our apprentice tell bits and pieces of his spiritual autobiography, the potential for meaningful conversations increases dramatically. Help him brainstorm some interesting stories he can tell his friends. For example: humorous preChristian experiences with churches, Christians, etc. These
stories help lost people know we can identify with them. exciting “new believer” stories about our experiences with church, the Bible, worship, life changes, etc. answers to our prayers bite-sized stories of how we were drawn to Jesus meaningful fellowship stories, such as the way a friendship developed on a retreat, in a meeting, in a small group, in a Sunday school class, etc.

One of the most appealing aspects of Christianity is the relational depth and camaraderie that can result when people have Christ in common. Others will be drawn to it. My younger brother, now a children’s pastor, admitted that he was initially attracted to Christ because of my friendships with other believers.

If we can help our spiritual apprentices focus on these four areas, we’ll launch them into a lifetime of outreach.

EVAN R. GRIFFIN is adjunct professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati and a Navigator staff representative at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.