I grew up in a tradition that taught me to present a plan of salvation to lost souls. This included reading or quoting a few key verses and asking for an immediate decision. I even went door to door and, since I had sales training, I was quite successful in getting people to pray that sinner’s prayer. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lot of permanent transformation in people’s lives.
Over the years I’ve discovered that salvation is miraculous, but it’s not magic. Changing lives, even by the Holy Spirit, is a process. And it’s usually, if not always, a gradual process. In addition, it’s more about relationships than dogma or salesmanship. The following is a simplified list that outlines a process many have found effective.
1. Make a list of your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. (Your FRANs)
Everyone will have different criteria upon which this list will be based. I tend to focus on those who are “unchurched.”
2. Develop a profile of each individual.
Simply write down what you know about this person in the way of a basic “bio.” Focus on what you know about their physical, emotional/psychological, social, and spiritual needs.
3. Pray regularly for each person on your list.
Pray especially that God will give you a deep love for each person. Ask Him to reveal the ones you should focus your efforts on and what specific efforts should be made.
4. Choose three or four individuals on whom you will focus.
Choose those you relate to well and you believe will be the most receptive. Look for common interest or hobbies.
5. Develop a deeper relationship with those chosen.
Doing things together that you both enjoy is one of the best ways to deepen a relationship. Take them fishing. Invite them to attend a ball game with you. Go shopping together at a local flea market or festival. LISTEN. Then, listen some more. Listen to their dreams; listen even more for their pain and struggles. As you listen, you will discover ways to minister to them and build trust.
Years ago I was a district sales manager for an insurance company. One of my most important responsibilities was to recruit and train agents. I often told them that the best salesperson was not the best talker, but rather, the best listener.
6. Introduce them to other mature Christians.
Enlist Christian friends to help you deepen your relationships with those you seek to reach. For example, invite them to go fishing with the two of you. As you expand the individual’s circle of Christian friends, the likelihood that they will be receptive increases. They are much more likely to go with you to a worship service, Sunday School, or small group Bible study if they already know people who will be there.
7. Share your story.
As you listen to their hurts, hang-ups, and destructive habits, you will find opportunities to tell your story. You will find ways to share how God has helped you through similar problems in a very nonjudgmental fashion. The best definition of evangelism I know is, “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” This kind of honest, intimate sharing is much more effective after the trusting, loving relationship has been established.
8. Mentor/coach them.
Remember, discipleship is a process that takes time. Don’t count a scalp when they make a profession of faith and think you can move on to someone else. Encourage the new convert to enter into a serious accountable relationship with you or another mature Christian.