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Seventeen Ways to Start Conversations

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I wanted to witness to the hotel receptionist because he didn’t seem too busy.

If only I could think of a way to start a conversation.

I kept going out to the lobby to get glasses of complimentary lemonade, hoping I would think of something to say while I was out there. However, after four glasses of lemonade and no conversation, I decided that my method wasn’t working. Now I needed another excuse to go to the lobby.

Hearing me complain about my predicament, Stephen offered, “You could go get me some lemonade.” So I headed to the lobby again. [smile]

“Anyone else want lemonade?” I asked my family after I returned with Stephen’s glass.

Okay, this is silly. I just need to say something!  I realized.

Finally, I asked the receptionist if he had a family, and I gave him the book that Sarah, Stephen and I wrote when we were younger, on making your brothers and sisters your best friends. In the morning, he was still working his shift. It sounded like he had been reading the book for a good part of the night. He thanked us warmly and told us about his five kids. He also said he would be going to my blog which he had seen listed in the back of the book.

Getting conversations started is one of the hardest parts of witnessing. Once we take the first step—say those first words—it’s often smooth-sailing from there. In this article we are going to look at 17 ideas of ways to begin conversations about the Lord. No matter what your personality, I think you will find the ideas in this article useful. They have been helpful for me. Hopefully this list of initial ideas will stimulate more creativity. I wonder how many thousands of ways Christians have started conversations about Jesus over the past 2,000 years!

1. Take a Questionnaire

“Hi! I am doing a little questionnaire at the park today, asking people about what they believe. Do you have time to answer a few questions?”

Starting conversations this way brought me to a new level of confidence in witnessing. Approaching strangers felt less awkward, and the questionnaire would often springboard into a longer discussion. We have also found that younger girls who come witnessing with us are more confident to initiate conversations on their own when they have a questionnaire to follow—a simple half sheet of paper with four or five questions on it.

“Hi! I am doing a little questionnaire at the park today, asking people about what they believe. Do you have time to answer a few questions?”

Initially, I didn’t think the younger girls would want to come witnessing with us. But I was wrong! These girls got excited about the conversations we were having, and soon they began asking me, “Grace, when are we going out witnessing again?” Now they don’t want to just come with us and listen as we witness to people. They want to do the talking. Questionnaires were one of the things that helped them grow in confidence.

2. Hand Them Something

“Hello! Here’s something for you to read when you have a chance.”

On a flight home from New Orleans, I was seated next to a teenage guy. As he sat down, he put his earphones in and began reading a book—without even looking at me or saying hi. He seemed like the type of guy who felt awkward just sitting next to a girl, so I was wondering how in the world I would get him to actually have a discussion with me! Of all the types of people God could have given me, this is about the hardest!  I thought. However, since I had prayed in advance for the person who would be sitting next to me, I decided I needed to at least try something. I concluded that God was simply stretching me out of my comfort zone—again! I prayed that the Lord would open a door. After a while, Sean took his earphones out and I knew I’d better seize the opportunity. I casually handed him a dinosaur booklet tract and told him what it was about. I explained that we can trust the Bible and that science doesn’t contradict it as some people say. He nodded in agreement and read the first few pages right away.

“So, what do you think?” I asked.

He said that it made some interesting points about presuppositions which he had never thought of before. He told me he was planning to read the rest later.

“Do you have any kind of church background?” I asked him.

He had gone to church some, but he told me that there were some things he didn’t really understand or agree with. Apparently, he had been taught that both faith and works were required for salvation. I shared the gospel briefly, explaining that we can have peace with God only through trusting in Jesus and the work He accomplished on the cross. Just before He died, Jesus said, “It is finished,” which means paid in full. Romans 3:28 states: “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

The more we talked about this, the more interested Sean became.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” he told me. “I don’t get to talk about this stuff very often.”

I gave him a tract about evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Sean turned to the gospel part on the back and seemed anxious to understand it.

“So, basically, you just repent?” he asked.

It was encouraging to see his thirst for answers. I gave him a book that had further answers to his questions.

He told me, “My mom (sitting a few rows ahead) has a ton of food with her if you’re hungry.”

I thanked him and laughed.

“I just sort of feel like I owe you for the book,” he explained.

Sean seemed close to becoming a believer, and I was grateful for that dinosaur booklet which helped me begin a conversation in a seemingly awkward situation!

3. Take Initiative in Casual Conversations

“How has your day been? Have you heard about the blizzard in Minnesota?”

  • “Where are you headed?” 

This is a good question to ask in gas stations or airports. People will often return the question, and this gives us an opportunity to tell them where we are going and why. If we include a reference to Christian activities in our answer, it can generate a discussion in that direction.

“Holidays provide an expanded array of conversational topics. We can ask people if they have special plans, what family traditions they enjoy, or what the holiday means to them. We can ask questions such as, ‘Do you know what Emmanuel means?’”
  • “What’s next for you?”

What are your plans after you finish school? Do you have any life goals?

  • “What do you think of ‘such and such’ an issue?”

Asking someone his view shows respect. It shows that you value his opinion. If he returns the question, you have an opportunity to witness.

  • “I like your hat!”

Taking a friendly interest in others often leads to more opportunities.

  • “Do you have any Christmas traditions?” 

Holidays provide an expanded array of conversational topics. We can ask people if they have special plans, what family traditions they enjoy, or what the holiday means to them. We can ask questions such as, “Do you know what Emmanuel means?”

See more Christmas witnessing questions, practical tips for evangelistic Christmas caroling, and other Christmas tools and ideas on my blog.

4. Drop Hints

“I’m on my way to a Bible study. We’re studying Revelation tonight.”

Mentioning Christian activities in which you are involved gives others the opportunity to ask questions. It’s like setting out bait to see if they bite.

“Nice shirt,” the guy selling popcorn told my friend Lizzy as she got a refill of Pepsi.

“Thanks, it’s from camp,” she said.

“It’s from a Christian Bible camp that people at our church go to sometimes,” I inserted.

“Oh, you’re Christians? What church do you go to?” the guy asked.

“Just a Bible-believing church—it’s not a specific denomination,” I said. “What about you?”

He didn’t claim to be anything.

“So what do you think about life after death? What happens when we die?” I asked.

“Well, what do you believe?” he asked me.

Perfect! Now I had the opportunity to share my faith with him—he was asking me for it!

“Well, I believe in a Creator … ” I started, and went on to share about  the Lord.

5. Learn From Them

“So, you’re a school teacher. What do you think is the biggest need of kids these days?”

“You’re from Denmark? What would you say are some of the biggest differences between Denmark and America?”

While shopping for groceries one afternoon, I noticed a Muslim lady in my aisle. She was wearing a pretty black coat, and I told her I liked it.

“Thank you,” she said and kept shopping.

Okay, that didn’t go too far.

She seemed shy.

Is there something else I could say? I wondered. (Think, Grace, think!)

I kept an eye on which aisle she was in. Finally, I decided to try the “learn from them” approach, even though I knew it may come across a little random.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.

She agreed.

I asked her to explain how relationships worked in her Muslim culture. (Was she married and, if so, how did she and her husband get to know each other?) She told me she was married and gave me a brief synopsis of how the courtship process works in their culture. We had a short but nice conversation, and I learned her name was [Izza]. When I commented on her cart full of baby food jars, she explained that she was stocking up because she was leaving the country to teach in Saudi Arabia.

About 30 minutes later, as I was leaving the store, I noticed that my new friend Izza was checking out.

I realized, This is my last chance to say something to her. I decided to go for it.

“Can I ask you another question?” I said, walking up to her after she checked out.

“Sure.”

“We think, ‘That didn’t go anywhere.’ But we need to remember that for every ‘extraordinary’ story, there are dozens of ordinary stories—simple attempts to witness with no known results.”

“Have you ever read the Injeel?” I asked. (The Injeel is the Arabic term for the New Testament gospels—which the Qur’an actually tells Muslims to read.)

“You mean the Bible?” Izza replied.

“Yeah.”

“No, I haven’t,” she said.

“Oh. Okay,”

Now what do I say? Nothing came to mind, so I simply told her, “Well, it was nice meeting you!” and left.

Izza was very nice and we left on friendly terms.

Well, I tried. Maybe somehow God would use that encounter in Izza’s life, I thought.

I decided that I could at least pray for Izza—that she would remember what I asked and become curious about the Bible.

Many times when witnessing, it feels like “nothing happened.” We think, That didn’t go anywhere. But we need to remember that for every “extraordinary” story, there are dozens of ordinary stories—simple attempts to witness with no known results. Yet, in God’s eyes, I think often the ordinary is extraordinary. Here’s why. It takes more faith to persevere when we don’t see results. God controls the results. What He wants from us is faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And how do we know that the ordinary is ordinary? We shouldn’t think of those “mediocre” encounters as second-rate. Maybe God is doing something amazing behind the scenes. We just don’t see the whole picture yet.

6. Use Current Events

“It’s pretty unbelievable about the earthquake in _________. Have you been watching the news? Do you ever wonder why God allows things like that to happen?”

Even Jesus used this approach—He used a current event in the news to turn people’s attention to their own need to repent (Luke 13:1-5).

7. Wear an Illustration

“I’m glad you asked. There is actually a special reason why I wear this … ”

Curt, a friend of mine, wears one white shoe and one black shoe. Whenever people ask, “What’s up with your shoes?” he explains that his black shoe represents his old life (living in sin and darkness), and his white shoe represents his new life in Christ.

Another friend, Mirren, wears a pin that says “IF?” on it. When people ask about it, she tells them what it stands for: “If you died today, would you go to Heaven?”

While driving through Illinois, my dad was a little frustrated because he couldn’t find the entrance ramp to the highway he was trying to get on.

“Hey, look—there’s an ice cream shop!” I said. (See how helpful I am.)

A few minutes later Dad made a U-turn and said, “Hmmm, I think I need to stop and ask for directions.” “The ice cream shop would be a good place to ask for directions,” I pointed out.

We both went in. Dad got directions; I got ice cream. Since it was late at night and the employees weren’t busy, they gathered to see who their customers were.

“Hey, you have an awesome tie!” one girl said to my dad. His tie had a picture of a Behemoth on it and a Bible verse from Job (40:15). “I love dinosaurs,” she said. “What’s the name of that one? Oh, duh, it says right there—Behemoth.”

“Yes,” my dad answered, “because that’s the name the Bible uses for dinosaurs. Did you know that the word ‘dinosaur’ wasn’t invented until the 1800s?”

More employees had now gathered and my dad shared some interesting facts about dinosaurs living in the not-so-distant past, and about creation and evolution.

We went out to the car and brought in several dinosaur booklets to give them. The booklet takes something that intrigues people—dinosaurs—and springboards from there into the reliability of Scripture and the gospel. They thanked us warmly.

8. Ask About Their Jewelry, Piercings, or Tattoos

“Is there a special meaning to the necklace you are wearing?”

While checking out, I asked the cashier if there was any meaning behind the jewelry she was wearing. (It was very unique.)

“Piercings or tattoos often have special meanings to people. Without condoning them, we can still take an interest in the person by asking about their meaning. You may be surprised by how naturally it opens doors for further discussion.”

She was happy to explain her views about diversity to me, and said that her piercings were her way of expressing herself. After I had listened for awhile, she asked me, “And what do you believe?”

Perfect. That was my chance to briefly explain about Jesus and the Bible.

Piercings or tattoos often have special meanings to people. Without condoning them, we can still take an interest in the person by asking about their meaning. You may be surprised by how naturally it opens doors for further discussion.

9. Ask About Their Culture or Religion

“Where are you from? What is the primary religion of your country back home? Do you have any religious beliefs?”

We passed the Indiana welcome sign. Two more states to drive through and we’re home. We were traveling with our team of Bright Lights leaders after running some conferences. Traveling with that many girls means rest stops take much longer [smile]. During one of these stops, I noticed a Muslim lady with her little son, and I wondered if there would be an opportunity to talk with her. As we were getting ready to leave the travel station, I noticed her again—standing by the door.

I wanted to say something, so I smiled and greeted her. “Hey, are you doing Ramadan?” I asked. (Ramadan is the month when Muslims fast. Christians globally make a special effort to pray for Muslims during this time, and our team of Bright Lights leaders had chosen to make Muslims a prayer focus on the trip.)

“Yes!” the Muslim lady replied.

What she said next totally took me by surprise. “Are you from Cedar Rapids? Haven’t we met before?”

“Oh!” I said, as it all came rushing back into my mind. She was the Muslim girl I had talked to at Walmart with all the baby food in her cart—six months earlier!

“You’re Izza!” I exclaimed. “We met at Walmart, right? I thought you were in Saudi Arabia.”

She explained that she had only been overseas for a few months. Her husband was standing outside, so I introduced them both to my dad.

“So you are from Cedar Rapids too!” her husband said. “Where are you coming from?”

I briefly told them about the Bright Lights ministry, explaining that we had been traveling with a team of young ladies leading conferences for girls— teaching about purity and being strong for the Lord in your youth.

“That’s great—good morals!” he replied.

“Maybe we’ll see you on the road home,” Dad said as we left. “We have a big van and trailer.”

“Well, I have a bad tendency of getting where I want to go a little faster than I should,” he remarked.

We all laughed.

“God be with you,” he said as we parted.

First we met in an aisle in Walmart in Iowa. Then, six months later, we met at a gas station seven hours from home in Indiana. We were only there for a few minutes, and Izza and her husband were only there for a few minutes, but God had it timed perfectly. Now, with increased faith in God’s ability to bring two paths together any time He chooses, I am praying that I will meet Izza a third time and will have the opportunity to share the gospel with her.

10. Use the Meaning of Their Name

“I like your name. Do you know what it means?”

“Hey, I’m Grace. Do you live here in the neighborhood?” I asked as I sat down on a swing next to a girl who was swinging by herself.

She nodded and said she had just moved in.

“So what’s your name?” I asked.

“Rachel,” she said.

“Oh, do you know what the name Rachel means?” I asked her.

“I think I used to, but I don’t remember,” she said.

“It means ‘little lamb,’” I told her as I pulled out my pocket-sized “name meanings” booklet.

“Would you like to hear the Bible verse that goes along with it?”

She did.

I read her the corresponding verse for the name Rachel: Isaiah 40:11. “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom … ”

Her face lit up. “Cool!” she said.

“Do you have a Bible at home?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

Rachel and I talked for awhile about God and what will happen when we die. Eventually, her mom came to the park looking for her. I asked where they lived, and learned that their family had recently moved in right across the street from us! I had already been planning to go over and meet them.

Rachel, her mom, and her sister agreed to come over for a weekly Bible study, and my mom and I have been studying the book of John with them ever since.

11. Answer Ordinary Questions in a Non-ordinary Way

“Thanks for asking. I don’t know yet where I am going to college, but my main goal in life is … ”

“School is going well. One thing I’ve learned recently is … ”

“Our family is doing well. God answered prayer for us in a really encouraging way recently … ”

Every question we are asked is an opportunity to seize.

12. Witness in Third Person

“Can I tell you about a really interesting conversation I just had?”

While walking home from the park one afternoon, I was feeling very encouraged by the opportunity the Lord had just given me. I had talked with four teens who were sitting at a picnic table, and one of the boys seemed extremely close to putting his faith in Christ.

“Talking in the ‘third person’ is a natural, non-offensive way to present biblical truths. By telling an unbeliever about a recent witnessing conversation you had, you are teaching him the gospel in an indirect way.”

As I walked up our street to come home, I saw our neighbor, an elderly man, sweeping his driveway. I stopped to talk and told him what had just happened at the park. He seemed very interested in my story. I recounted the conversation in as much detail as I could remember—emphasizing the main points about the gospel. I had been wanting to witness to this neighbor and was grateful for this opportunity.

Talking in the “third person” is a natural, non-offensive way to present biblical truths. By telling an unbeliever about a recent witnessing conversation you had, you are teaching him the gospel in an indirect way. Sometimes there is wisdom in treating another person as if he is a believer, even if you don’t know if he actually is. He will be learning from you without a barrier of pride being put up. For example, if you say, “The problem with this nation is that so many have forgotten God,” people will often agree with you. Then you have an open door to explain the solution.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be bold and upfront with people. I’m merely saying that sometimes we can use tact instead of being “preachy”— especially if we are talking to someone older than we are and want to make sure we come across respectfully. Sometimes it is wise to gently teach concepts one by one, as they can receive them. Other times, it’s better to be straightforward, as in the examples below.

13. Ask Directly if They Would Like to Hear the Gospel

“Hey, we are out here sharing the gospel with people today. Would you like to hear it?”

“Have you ever heard the gospel before?” Ryan, a friend of mine, asked a young teenage guy outside an apartment complex.

“No,” the boy replied.

“Never?”

“No.”

“Would you mind if I shared it with you?” Ryan asked.

The guy listened with interest, and Ryan was surprised to receive a phone call from him a few days later—at 5:00 a.m.! This guy’s sincerity and interest in the gospel was evident, and he was anxious to ask more questions. He appreciated having a new friend who would answer them.

Ryan and a number of his friends often use this “starter question,” and have had many fruitful discussions at that apartment complex. If people say no and aren’t interested, they simply move on to others who want to talk.

People appreciate it when we are honest about who we are and what we are doing. There’s no need to sound like a salesman, coax people into hearing the gospel, or beat around the bush. We are not ashamed of this message! Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).

One time a friend and I walked up to a group of teens sitting at a table. My friend started the conversation by saying, “Hey guys, we want to talk to you about Jesus Christ.”

Wow, that was a pretty bold introduction, I thought.

But they responded with interest, and we ended up having a great two hour conversation with them.

People respect it when you are willing to be upfront with them. Even if they say they don’t want to talk, or are unwilling to hear the gospel, at least they have now met someone who was bold with it! That short encounter alone will be a testimony to them. (Maybe, looking back, they’ll regret that they turned down the opportunity to hear what you had to say!)

14. Go Door to Door

“Hi! My friend and I live here in the neighborhood and we are doing a little project. We are asking people three questions … ”

“Hi! My brother and I decided to take on the summer project of sharing the gospel with everyone on 36th and 37th Street. Have you heard the gospel before?”

“Hi! My sister and I are making an effort to pray for our neighborhood. Is there anything you would like us to pray about?”

15. Capture Interest through Objects

“Would you like to try an IQ test? Have you seen the rope trick? Would you like a color bracelet? Let me explain what it means.”

Little objects make it easier to generate discussions. IQ quizzes, evangecubes, wordless books, coins with the Ten Commandments, and color bracelets are a few I’d suggest. These tools capture people’s attention (especially kids) and make it easy to begin discussions.

The “rope trick,” for example, is where you take three ropes of different lengths and make them look as if they are all the same length. It illustrates that no matter who we are, each one of us is a sinner needing salvation. I didn’t think I had the right “personality” to do illusions like this. It seemed more like the type of thing an older man at church would do. Recently, however, I have come to realize what a great tool this little illusion can be. It is a natural and appealing way to suddenly gain a captive audience! Kids stick around waiting to see the end of the “trick.” While they listen to you share the accompanying gospel message, the visual illustration helps drive the point home.

16. Simply Say, “Can I Ask You an Interesting Question?”

“What do you think happens when someone dies? Do you think peace with God is a free gift or something you have to earn? Do you have any spiritual beliefs?”

A couple at my church asked their waitress, “If you died today, do you know where you would go?”

The waitress sat down across from them, looked them in the eye, and replied, “Honestly, if I died right now, I think I’d go to Hell.” She was anxious to hear whatever they had to say.

“‘What do you think happens when someone dies? Do you think peace with God is a free gift or something you have to earn? Do you have any spiritual beliefs?’”

Hearing this story emboldened me to try harder to initiate conversations with waitresses. Five days later, six girls and I were sitting at a table at Cracker Barrel after a conference. I had prayed in advance that I would be able to witness to our server. After we ordered, I told my friends, “When our waitress comes back, I’m going to throw out a question to see if we can get a witnessing conversation going.”

Everyone seemed to like that idea. So, the next time she came by, I said, “Hey, I have an interesting question for you.”

“Okay!” she replied.

“Do you think going to Heaven is a free gift or something you have to earn?” I asked.

She said she believed that one gets reincarnated several times and then eventually ends up in Heaven. She was really friendly and willing to talk, so I asked some questions about her beliefs.

“When you finally get to Heaven, are you in your ‘human form’ again?” I asked.

“Hmm … good question. I guess I’ve never thought about that,” she said.

“Well, some people believe that in the Karmic circle you eventually become ‘one with the universe.’ Is that what you believe?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think that’s more what I believe. Eventually, I’ll just become ‘energy’,” she replied.

“Interesting,” I said.

“My relatives and I debate this all the time,” she said, “but no one really knows, so we always keep going in circles.”

“Well, it’s important stuff to talk about,” I commented.

“So what do you believe? I’m curious now!” she asked me.

“Well, I’d like to tell you, but I also know you are on the job, and I don’t want to take your time,” I replied.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I only have one other table. I’ll go take care of them and then come back!”

After a few minutes she came back, eager to hear what I had to say.

“Well, first of all, I think this world was designed. I think it’s obvious when we see the beauty and complexity around us.” I gave her a few examples of this. She definitely agreed with that point.

“So the big question is: Who made us and why?” I continued.

She agreed.

“Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of reasons to believe the Bible,” I explained, and began to list some of them.

“Oh, I’ve read the Bible, but I just don’t think I completely agree with it,” she said, bringing up some problems she had with Christianity, such as hypocrisy in the church.

“But just because people make mistakes doesn’t mean that what God told us in the Bible isn’t true,” I told her.

She nodded.

I mentioned that God has to punish evil because He is just and good. Therefore, we all need God’s mercy because we have all broken God’s law.

“Yeah, and that’s what makes me tend to believe more in the reincarnation thing,” she said, “because I know I mess up, and with reincarnation you have the chance to start over and keep trying.”

What she did not yet understand is that it is actually in Christianity that we truly have the chance to start over with a clean slate, having been cleansed by the blood of Christ. I didn’t think of saying that at the moment, but I shared the gospel and explained that it is in the cross we see God’s love and justice together. He punished sin—yet He didn’t punish us. He punished His Son so He could show mercy to us.

After talking for awhile, I asked her if she liked to read.

“I LOVE to read,” she replied. I gave her a book that clearly explains the gospel and answers many of the questions unbelievers have.

As we were leaving she told me, “My friend in the kitchen was looking at the book you gave me and she wants to read it. So now I’m going to have to share it,” she complained, jokingly. She gave me a hug and said, “You made my night!”

I know it can be difficult to witness to waiters or waitresses. One idea is to ask your server, “Hey, we are just about to pray for our meal. Is there anything we could pray for you about?” If you are unable to get a conversation going, another idea is to write a short personal thank-you note (even if it’s just on a paper napkin), expressing gratefulness for the good service. Include a Bible verse on the note, and tip well in order to be a good Christian testimony.

17. Meet Needs

“Can I help you with that?”

“Don’t worry about paying for your coffee—I took care of it.” 

When we get involved in people’s lives by helping neighbors, giving unexpected gifts, bringing people meals, and looking for creative ways to meet needs, it prompts questions and strengthens relationships. It speaks louder than a thousand words. And, very often, it opens doors for the gospel.

We’ve covered 17 ideas, but there are hundreds of other possible ways to begin conversations about Jesus. God is creative, and we should be too!

This article is excerpted with permission from Will Our Generation Speak.

Grace Mally

Grace Mally is the author of Will Our Generation Speak? A Call to Be Bold with the Gospel, and its companion study guide and handbook for witnessing. She helps to lead the Bright Lights ministry, an international young women’s discipleship ministry. She blogs ministry updates and thoughts at MallyJournal.com. Her website is WillOurGenerationSpeak.com.

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