Despite a deep concern for co-workers, neighbors, and the nation, most churchgoers feel frozen—unable to engage in spiritual conversations.
By Rebecca Riddle
Olivia Eanes, a soft-spoken, Southern woman, held her faith quietly to herself, as many evangelicals do. Thoughtfully and intentionally, she showed her love for God by devoting herself to Scripture. Conversations about faith happened in church settings like Bible Studies or Sunday School. In her mind, telling someone how to become a Christian meant following a memorized gospel presentation. Much like a salesman hounding uninterested passersby, an evangelist would capture people into conversations they couldn’t escape.
Many Christians find themselves stuck when they think about sharing the gospel. Most churchgoers in America pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus, but few see their prayers answered. According to a 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment from Lifeway Research, 56% of Protestant churchgoers pray at least once a week for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. Yet, 55% hadn’t shared with someone how to become a Christian even once over a six-month period.
How can this contradiction be explained?
A 2022 Evangelism Explosion study from Lifeway Research reveals a dichotomy. Most Christians in America (65%) agree “sharing with a nonbeliever how to become a Christian is the most loving thing they can do for them.” Yet, most (52%) also say “encouraging someone to change their religious beliefs is offensive and disrespectful.” And fear threatens almost half of American Christians, with 42% saying that “sharing with a non-believer how they can become a Christian is scary.”Most Christians (65%) say “sharing with a nonbeliever how to become a Christian is the most loving thing they can do for them.” Yet, most (52%) also say “encouraging someone to change their religious beliefs is offensive.” Click To Tweet
Although we pray, most sitting on Sunday’s pews feel frozen to the bench, despite our deep concern for our co-workers, neighborhoods, and nation.
Unlike the majority, Eanes changed.
A thought warmed her into action. “In the New Testament, I read about fishermen, tentmakers—just regular people—who walked with Jesus and learned from Him. In the Great Commission, doesn’t God call us to do the same—mediate on His Word, learn from Him, and then share that with other people?”
She became involved with No Place Left, a grassroots movement focused on evangelism. She learned to share her testimony in a condensed form and then ask questions. “Do you have a story like that? Has God changed your life?” She felt like others shared their stories so easily and thought, “I’m never going to get there!”
Eanes recalls leaving a conference weeping thinking she wanted to share the gospel but couldn’t do it. It was too hard. Excuses bubbled up in her mind. “I felt the Lord gently say, ‘Olivia, who’s doing this work? Who’s responsible for this?’” Her paradigm began to shift.
“When I realized God is bigger than my fears, I experienced such freedom,” Eanes said. “Even though I was doing it scared, doing it awkwardly, and sometimes reverting back to ‘Christianize,’ I realized I would make it to the end of the conversation. And then, I would make through another one.”“When I realized God is bigger than my fears, I experienced such freedom.” — Olivia Eanes Click To Tweet
As Eanes grew in her evangelistic journey, God revealed three main insights that encouraged her in spiritual conversations.
1. Trusting God is always worth it
“God takes delight in our faith—even if the step is wobbly or we land sideways,” Eanes said. “Sometimes, the step strengthens what God is already building within us. Sometimes, it tears something down—a fear or insecurity. But God has a lesson or next road on the other end.”
Even in her mistakes, Eanes has found grace. “My faith is not in my ability to have these conversations but in God’s ability to get His message across. I’m just an open and willing vessel.”
According to the same evangelism research, 51% of Americans, including 60% of religiously unaffiliated, say they’re curious why people are so devoted to their faith. And according to another study, younger adults (18-34) express the most curiosity. More than half (61%) are “curious about others’ religious devotion.”
“I’ve found the majority of people welcome conversation. If a person becomes defensive, I pray, asking God to give me wisdom,” Eanes said. “I find that loving the person—displaying respect and showing kindness—and then asking them questions leaves the conversation open.”“God takes delight in our faith—even if the step is wobbly or we land sideways.” — Olivia Eanes Click To Tweet
Now, simple errands, like going to the grocery store, have a new purpose for Eanes. A spiritual conversation can happen anywhere.
“This insight struck me so much. Going about my daily activities, I would be so focused on the task that I would forget that God wants to be in everything,” Eanes said. “He wants to filter through my whole day, permeate my words and actions.”
Eanes said it’s OK if a person doesn’t hear the story of Jesus in your first interaction with them. “They can at least encounter Jesus through your kindness.” But loving the other person requires “an intentional direction of moving toward spiritual things,” Eanes said. “In a casual, a non-confrontational way, you can turn a basic conversation into a spiritual one.”
2. The conversation usually starts small
Begin with a basic conversation. Ask somewhere how they’re doing, where they’re from, or if you can pray for them about anything. “Asking about prayer opens a lot of doors,” Eanes said. “Their answer reveals where they’re at and what they believe. It invites more conversation.”
Sometimes, people are closed off. But Eanes said we can still pray for that person from afar. “Some people have a hardened heart and are in a tough place, and God can reach them in that place.”
Sometimes, the conversation leads to a gospel presentation. Eanes learned to use the three-circles method to share the gospel. She displays the diagram on the back of her phone and uses it in conversations.“Remember, you’re not doing this [evangelism] for a response from the other person. You’re actually doing this out of love and obedience to God.” — Olivia Eanes Click To Tweet
“Sometimes when I bring this out, people think, ‘Oh, she’s trying to convert me.’ So, I’ll either wrap it up or pull them back in with questions to see where they’re at,” Eanes said. “If they want to discontinue the conversation altogether, that’s OK too. It’s a God thing.”
The goal is to connect and engage with the other person. Sharing the gospel is not a sales pitch.
“If we’re praying and seeking God, He promises to answer us. But are we believing He’ll meet us there?” Eanes asked. “Remember, you’re not doing this for a response from the other person. You’re actually doing this out of love and obedience to God.”
3. The results belong to God
“Jesus is Lord of the harvest, and we are co-labors with Him. He works in us and He’s with us. We have to trust Him,” Eanes said. “Demonstrating that trust involves going out there, initiating that conversation, sending that text, or picking up the phone.”
The results belong to Him.
“He isn’t asking us to perform for Him. He isn’t asking us to work harder or do better. Because He knows we can’t. He has designed us to depend on Him. He is the one who works in us to will and to do” Eanes said. “And He is Lord of the harvest.”
Today, Eanes no longer defines a spiritual conversation as a formal gospel presentation. Instead, she sees these conversations as outpourings from the work God is doing within her and through her. The things she learns in her own time with Jesus overflow to others as she engages with them. By sharing her faith with others, her faith has permeated into her life outside the church walls.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Rebecca is a seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary.