It was a cool winter morning as I made my way through the door of my favorite getaway. I was the first person to enter, carrying my computer bag packed full of books. The Jatema Coffee sign hadn’t even been turned on yet. The chill in my bones began to melt when I caught the scent of scones, bagels, and fresh-brewed coffee.
In only a few seconds, I felt right at home, greeting my friend behind the counter and mentally preparing for another morning of serious writing at my favorite place.
“What would you like today, Bryan?” Jason asked from behind the counter.
“I’ll take the usual,” I replied.
Jason tamped the espresso and started my drink.
I’d gotten to know Jason quite well. He and I enjoyed diving into intellectual topics ranging from business to God. Managing a coffee shop was only a piece of Jason’s vision for the future. A young emerging Colin Powell-type leader, He saw himself as the future CEO of the Jatema Coffee Chain. He was well educated, had a brilliant mind, and liked to challenge the process and out-think people. He’d lived in almost every corner of the country, which gave him a solid feel for culture and may have contributed to his liberal politics and theology. Jason believed in God, just too many of them. Because he knew my background and occupation, he often shied away from the topic of Christianity. God had stirred my heart for Jason, and I wanted to help him discover a relationship with his heavenly Father. He challenged me to rethink my approach to sharing the gospel with him.
We’d discussed spiritual things many times before, but today was different. Out of the blue, I apologized to Jason for how my faith—Christianity—had been misperceived. His eyes lit up. I said “it’s funny that people view those who follow Christ as these hardheaded agenda catchers when, in reality, Jesus called us to feed the poor and heal the sick—to serve the world.”
I could tell he was interested by now.
“Bryan, I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I’m shocked to hear you say that.”
I laughed and asked him to be honest with me about what he thought of Christians. I told him I could take whatever he dished out.
“My view is not that positive. I mean I’ve never met a Christian that I really like, that is, until now.” Jason responded.
I just listened.
“I have this negative feeling about Christians. I don’t feel like they care about me. They seem more focused on their mission than on me as a person.” Jason said.
I apologized to him for that, too.
He said he was shocked and touched that I would apologize. He said it meant a lot to him and that he was interested in my faith walk, too.
I realized this was a divine opportunity, so, I shared with him my story.
“Jason, let me tell you about my spiritual journey. You and I have a lot more in common than you think. We both desire a transcendent being. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Definitely.” He said.
“We both desire a connection to something greater than ourselves. I spent 17 years as a preacher’s kid craving it. Even though I was in church every week I never found that connection. It was tough. When I was 17, I started to seek out what the truth was and how I could connect with God. I started studying the Bible and learned that the Christian life was supposed to be a relationship. I decided to pursue that and it happened. I’ve never been the same since. I have an amazing relationship with Jesus Christ, and now my passion in life is to create environments where people can connect with God.”
Jason said those words make life worth living. “I’d like to be a part of one of those environments.”
I went on to share the gospel with him. Jason finally got it. For the first time in his life, he wanted a relationship with Jesus. All he’d needed was someone to care about him and the right presentation of the gospel story.
Who are the Jasons in your life? An estimated 80 percent of Christians don’t have close relationships with non-Christians. More than likely you know someone like Jason, and chances are you’d like to reach out but don’t know where to start. The solution is simple. Start right where you are—your community and workplace. We all have neighbors and co-workers who need to hear about God’s amazing plan for salvation. Think of the nonbelievers you regularly come in contact with. How well do you know them? The first step is to create a connection or entry point into their lives. It can be as simple as finding common interests or experiences. Here are some bridge-building questions to help connect with the nonbelievers around you:
- What are their children’s names?
- What are their hobbies or favorite sports?
- Where did they grow up?
- Where did they go to school?
- What are their favorite books or movies?
- What is their religious background?
The most important thing is to take a genuine interest in their lives. I have to warn you. Developing authentic relationships takes time and requires you to give of yourself. But God has called us all to make disciples and that takes time, commitment, and a missional perspective.
A Missional Perspective
Being missional simply means acting like a missionary. If I were an international missionary, I’d start by learning the culture of the people I’m trying to reach. By learning their language and way of life, I’d be able to preach the gospel in their context. We have to do the same thing in North America. Our continent is made up of many people groups and population segments with distinct characteristics and cultures. So whether a Christian is dropped into a farming community in Nebraska or the streets of Miami, he or she must learn the culture of community.
North American Culture
Jason is the exemplar of the culture we’ve been “dropped” in—the postmodern non-Christian who claims spirituality over religion. A majority of Americans (79%) would say the same thing. Postmodernism permeates the North American landscape. Like Jason, many have succumbed to the cafeteria style of spirituality, taking bits and pieces of different religions. But at the core of what they believe are tolerance and doing good—what they think is the right thing to do.
You don’t have to watch MTV to relate to Jason. You do have to develop a relationship with him. Jason needs someone who will listen to his questions, vents, rants and perspectives. Eventually, he’ll want to know about you, too. Once you have a relationship, you can say pretty much anything, just so you keep it in love…and be honest. Don’t preach at him…rather talk about your struggles and the role God plays in working them out. Christians have a tremendous potential for impacting American culture by acquainting rather than pelting people with a biblical worldview.
Jason’s respect won’t last for those who live the gospel half-heartedly. He won’t give a second thought to a church that doesn’t seem authentic or understand its true mission. Plastic sermons will turn him off.
Today, evangelism is harder than it has ever been, because it takes our very lives to incite true life change. Paul said to the church at Corinth, “We did not just give you the gospel, we imparted our very lives.” To preach the word faithfully isn’t enough. We have to preach the gospel with our lives. We have to live the truth in front of the them.
There has never been a season as ripe as today for an awakening among the unchurched in North America. But this potential rests on our response to God’s call to tell His story to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances. We need to always be ready to deliver the true gospel, the one that changes lives, the one that speaks from our lives. There’s a Jason in the coffee shop down the street from you or maybe in the cubicle next to you. Love him. Lead him into discovery.
What are some of the most important things to remember when building a bridge to non-Christians?
- Transformation is a life-long process, not just a one-time event.
- A greater emphasis needs to be placed on authentic, connective relationships. Evangelism is 24/7, not just inviting someone to a “hip” worship service on Sunday.
- The most effective evangelism strategy is to cultivate genuine friendships with people who are nonbelievers and engage them in thoughtful, respectful conversation about what’s important to them. Life change will follow trustworthy relationships.
- Those with the foresight and strength to speak the truth in love will have the most impact.
- Genuine humility and love will win over anyone anytime.
- Centralize everything with Jesus. Postmoderns like Jesus, but they don’t like the church.
- In our postmodern culture, people tend to think narratively rather than propositionally. Your personal story of salvation will carry a lot of weight. Develop your testimony so that it’s easy for anyone to relate to and understand.
- Postmoderns have an extreme openness to spiritual things. Go have spiritual conversations.
- Don’t try to sell them. Rather, lead them into discovery.
- Clearly declare the gospel while presenting the cost of discipleship.
Bryan Davidson is a Director at Spiritual Innovations // Whisper. He has studied at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Liberty University. He and his family live in Atlanta. Keep up with Bryan via Twitter.