Home Search Menu

More Rapport articles

Confident evangelism

Andy Bannister, Director of Solas, gives us some tips about sharing your faith in Jesus more naturally and persuasively, sensitively challenging people with questions

This article was published in the May to August 2024 edition of Rapport magazine.

In my first job I worked for the NHS at St George’s Hospital, a large London teaching hospital. I loved those six years but now, 25 years on, I feel considerable guilt that while there, I was very much an undercover Christian: outside of work I was actively involved in my local church. But at work, I hid my faith away and kept quiet about my beliefs.

Why did I lack the confidence to share my faith? Worries like: What if I look stupid? What if my fumbling attempts do more harm than good? What if I’m asked a question about Jesus or the Bible that I can’t answer? I’ve come to realise I wasn’t alone in those fears. Many Christians are likewise afraid to talk to their friends about Jesus – as somebody once quipped, ‘Many Christians are like Arctic rivers: we have frozen mouths!’

So how do we grow in confidence? I was helped by learning from friends who had discovered natural, easy ways to talk about Jesus in everyday situations. People like my friend Nigel, who once was spending a week at a Christian conference. Midweek, he left to play in a tennis tournament, getting a cab to the train station. As they departed, the driver asked Nigel what was happening at the convention centre.

‘A Christian conference,’ Nigel replied.

‘Oh, you’re not one of those religious types, are you?’ grumbled the driver.

Nigel calmly replied, ‘What do you mean by that?’ The cab driver responded with a tirade about how he hated religion, not least the hypocrisy and moralism. Nigel listened, quietly praying, then asked another question he felt the Lord bring to mind: ‘Sir, have you ever heard of a man called Jesus?’

‘Of course I have!’

‘Well, it occurs to me that the stuff you’re talking about, all the bad things religion has done, that Jesus might agree with you. After all, Jesus reserved his fiercest words for the religious leaders of the day’. That led to a much more open conversation and when, two days later, the same cab driver returned to take Nigel back from the station to the conference, it had broken the ice enough for Nigel to give him a tract as they parted, which the driver said he would consider reading. (You can listen to my interview with Nigel on the Solas PEPTALK podcast )

All Nigel did in that conversation was to ask several good questions. Questions are one of the most helpful tools we have in evangelism. And Jesus used questions like this.

Learning from Jesus’s approach to conversations

Jesus asked 307 questions in the gospels. That’s a lot of questions! In Mark chapter 10, a rich young man asks Jesus, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answers by asking, ‘Why do you call me good? Only God is good!’

Why did Jesus say that? Why didn’t he reply: ‘I’m the Son of God, follow me’? Or, ‘Come along to the Alpha Course that Peter and James are leading tomorrow at the First Baptist Synagogue of Capernaum’? Perhaps Jesus first needed to address a deeper issue in the young man’s life, and a question was the right way.

Consider this: think of a non-Christian friend – a work colleague, classmate or neighbour. Now, imagine you ask your friend, ‘Look, I know you don’t believe in God, but just for a moment, imagine there is a God and there is a heaven. If there were, what would you need to do to get there?’

How is your typical non-Christian friend likely to reply? By far the most common answer is, ‘Be a good person.’ Most people think that if God exists, if there is a heaven, then you get there by being decent – a good citizen, kind to others. Do all that and God (if he or she exists) will welcome you into heaven. That’s what the rich young man is assuming when in effect, he says to Jesus, ‘You look like a good person so you’re going to heaven – how do I get there?’

When Jesus replies ‘Why do you call me good?’ he exposes this entire assumption. ‘Yes,’ Jesus’s question says, ‘all good people will go to heaven. But here’s the problem: only God is good, so only God can go’. Jesus’s question exposes the much deeper issue of money in the young man’s life, and hints at an even bigger question: if only God is good but the young man has seen that Jesus is good, who does that make Jesus?

The power of questions

Questions are incredibly helpful in evangelism. By learning to ask them, we can create more natural conversations. Asking them helps us avoid reducing evangelism to soundbites. Questions reveal motives and assumptions – for example, sometimes when I’m challenged about my faith, I’ll often begin by responding: ‘That’s a great question: tell me, why do you ask that?’ Questions also help the other person think: for example, if a friend says they’re an atheist, you might ask: ‘ “Atheist” tells me what you don’t believe; but what do you believe?’

Over the years, I’ve found there are three types of questions I return to time and time again. There are ‘what’ questions, which are great for teasing apart what somebody says. When an atheist friend recently remarked, ‘There’s no evidence for God,’ I replied by asking, ‘What do you mean by “evidence”? What would count as evidence for you?’

Then there’s the ‘why’ question, which is helpful for encouraging a friend to explore the reasons for their scepticism. If a friend announces, ‘I don’t believe in God,’ perhaps consider responding: ‘That’s really interesting. I’d love to know why you think that?’

And thirdly there’s the ‘wondering’ question, invaluable when talking with somebody who doesn’t have objections or challenges to what you believe – rather they’re uninterested in spiritual things. Some years ago my friend John would often announce, ‘I’m just not interested in God,’ whenever the subject came up. That threw me for ages until one day I noticed an Amnesty International sticker on his Honda. ‘Have you ever wondered where human rights come from, if we’re just atoms and particles?’ I asked. That question opened up the opportunity to discuss how speaking of justice and dignity only makes sense if humans are created in God’s image.

(Learn more about ‘wondering’ questions in the brand new book: Have you ever wondered? Finding the everyday clues to meaning, purpose and spirituality, from me and my Solas colleagues. It’s an ideal gift for friends to start conversations about faith. Publication date 15 June 2024; pre-order the book here.)

Questions that lead to Jesus

Sometimes the right question leads directly to Jesus. I was recently talking to a university student whose biggest obstacle to Christianity was the poor examples of church leaders abusing power for personal gain. ‘How,’ she asked, ‘could anybody possibly take the church seriously when some of its leaders behaved like this?’

As I considered how to respond, I realised that once again a question was appropriate: ‘I share your disgust at these stories, because they’re totally antithetical to how Jesus behaved. Have you ever heard the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet?’ She hadn’t and I was then able to read John 13 to her and we chatted about how counter-cultural it was – I also spoke about the cross, and how Jesus was somebody with ultimate power, yet he laid it all down. Jesus did not victimise others but became a victim himself.

As the conversation ended, she asked for a copy of Mark’s gospel so she could read more of Jesus’s story for herself. By God’s grace, the right question had taken a hostile sceptic to the point of being willing to give Jesus a more careful look.

Going further

So, try using questions and see how your confidence grows. Also consider using this prayer: Lord, would you please bring people across my path this week with whom I might start a conversation about Jesus. And would you, by your Spirit, prompt me with the right questions to ask them.

For more about good questions and natural conversations, my book How to talk about Jesus without looking like an idiot is widely available. The new ‘Launchpad’ series from Solas has a new tip, tool or idea every week, to help you share your faith.

Andy Bannister

Andy Bannister is the director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, an evangelism and training ministry. He is passionate about getting the gospel out of the four walls of the church and equipping Christians to share their faith in their communities.

Explore this further at Lee Abbey Devon

Join Andy Bannister for “Confident Christianity: Sharing your faith in Jesus more naturally and persuasively”
3–7 June 2024 (Mon–Fri)

Let’s be honest, most of us are a bit nervous about sharing our faith in Jesus at work, college or university, or with friends and family. All the surveys show that ‘fear’ is the most common reaction to the prospect of evangelism. What if I say something stupid? Make God look bad? Get into trouble? Get asked a question I don’t know how to answer? This Confident Christianity retreat is designed to help equip you with lots of biblical wisdom, practical tools, and helpful ideas to make evangelism seem, if not less scary, at least certainly more possible.

Andy Bannister from Solas, who has helped thousands of Christians feel a bit more confident about evangelism, will be using a blend of teaching, discussion, Q&A and humour to help us all feel a bit more confident about sharing our faith with friends and colleagues.

More Rapport articles