Pickup Evangelism

For three years, I’ve wanted to start or participate in an evangelism program that taught people how to approach strangers, build rapport, and share the Gospel in a non-confrontational way. During these years, I’ve consulted resource material and participated in actual “in the field” training that taught people how to approach strangers, give a good first impression, talk fluently, build comfort and rapport, and finally direct the interaction towards a specific outcome. But all of the training material I consulted was unrelated to evangelism – and the core goal of the teaching was self-serving, rather than outwardly focused.

I wanted there to be similar training that taught Christians how to naturally discuss spiritual matters with friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers – without being confrontational, rude, or insincere (the typical stereotypes of proselytizing Christians).

Approaching a stranger with the purpose of sharing the Gospel with him or her requires the same skills as the art of picking up a woman at a bar. You need an indirect approach, a casual opener, listening skills, escalation in the conversation, and an eventual statement of interest (or objective). Unlike pickup, I think steering the conversation toward spiritual matters would be easy, as it’s an unexpected goal and not something the recipient is actively defending against. But I digress…

The point is that I had been learning so much about networking and approaching strangers, that I knew there had to be a better use of these skills than simply for my own selfish benefit. I hypothesized what this world would be like, if every Christian had the skills and confidence to approach anyone, anywhere, at anytime with the purpose of evangelism.

Two weeks ago, I attended a workshop on “How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less.” It was a business-networking workshop based on a book of the same name. We basically learned how to give a good first impression through our body language, tone of voice, and attitude. I had already taken the class and read the book three years ago, so it was more of a refresher for me. After the class was over, the teacher asked me if I would like to take over for her as the teacher of the workshop going forward. I thought it’d be fun, so I said yes.

The next day, I signed up for a “How to Share Your Faith” workshop at McLean Bible Church. This was the first time they offered a training workshop on evangelism, so I didn’t know what to expect. The workshop was held yesterday, and I can quite honestly say that it changed my life.

The majority of the workshop was typical stuff… We discussed the reasons why we don’t engage in evangelism (fear of making things socially awkward with friends and coworkers, etc.), what the Bible had to say about the topic, and ways to turn a conversation towards spiritual topics.

They showed this video of Penn (from Penn & Teller), which I found very powerful…

We participated in an activity where we practiced approaching strangers (note: there were a couple hundred people in the room) and bringing up Christianity naturally in our conversations.

I thought it was all very beneficial, but nothing mind-blowing. Then we had a surprise…

It seemed like the workshop was ending about 2 hours early, when the organizers surprised us with instant field missions – tasks for every table to accomplish out “in the field” (i.e., Tyson’s Corner) in the next two hours. As soon as I heard this, I was totally psyched. This workshop just turned into a boot camp (a la the pickup arts boot camps).

My table was assigned the Bed, Bath, and Beyond shopping center on Rt. 7. My teammates seemed anxious on the drive over, but I didn’t. I’d done this kind of thing before, and sharing the Gospel with strangers seemed like a really easy thing to do compared to the other stuff I’ve had to do on boot camps.

When we arrived at BB&B, I took a walk around the store and thought this really wasn’t going to work for me. Some of my tablemates successfully opened folks in the store, including the manager, so I figured they had the place covered. I went next door to Chic’s and Wings for a beer with one of my teammates, Heidi.

When we entered the bar, nobody looked up, so I didn’t have an immediate “in.” Heidi and I sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. We chatted with each other, then I brought the bartender, Jessica, into our conversation. We talked about the NCAA tournament (of which I knew nothing about), but fortunately Heidi and Jessica connected, as their schools were still in the tournament (or had just lost). After a short while of this, I mentioned to Jessica that we were from a church up the road and had a short questionnaire for her, if she had the time to participate. She said she had to take care of some other stuff, but would come back if she could.

After 5-10 minutes, Heidi sighed and supposed that Jessica was not coming back. I said she had to at least give us the check.

Jessica did return and said she could take our survey. I assured her that if she at anytime didn’t feel comfortable answering any of the questions, she didn’t have to (I honestly hadn’t read the 5 questions prior, as this was Heidi’s challenge). As Heidi asked Jessica the very simple, non-confrontational questions, I noticed Jessica’s boss standing about 10 feet away, looking for some sort of signal from Jessica. I figured they worked out a “safety sign” to trigger a rescue prior to coming over. Thankfully, the manager was never signaled to come over, though she never took her eyes off us.

Heidi finished her questionnaire, and we found out that Jessica was a self-proclaimed Christian, but didn’t really know whether or not she would go to Heaven if she died, or by what criteria that could happen. She also told us that she doesn’t go to church, but that was mostly due to the fact that she had just moved here from Michigan not too long ago. I invited her to attend Frontline on a Sunday night, as there were more people like Heidi and I there, and we’d love to have her. I handed her a little Frontline card with basic information on the services (which was my challenge). Jessica thanked us, and I left her a big tip.

As we were leaving, Heidi grabbed some other material she had with her and approached a two-set of guys sitting at the bar. She told them about Frontline, invited them to come, and gave them the info cards. I couldn’t find the correct words to tell Heidi how proud I was of her boldness – as that kind of cold approach can be really intimidating – but I hope she somehow knows.

After leaving the bar, I realized how much more satisfying it was to do these kinds of social “missions,” than the other kind of challenges I’ve been involved with. And how cool it would be to find a partner who had the same calling.

I went home and “cleaned house” literally and figuratively. All of the ambitions and selfish pursuits I’ve been preoccupied with paled in comparison to this new calling. I want to continue developing my social and conversational skills – not for secular ambitions, but rather for spiritual, eternally significant ambitions.

And not only do I want to continue learning these skills, but I want to start teaching them as well. I want to lead evangelism boot camps. I want to train Christians to do this. And I want to spend my time with people who want to do this.

But I have to be prepared to lose everything else in my life. I’ve spent so much time developing social circles outside of my Christian world… It’ll be hard, but I have to accept the fact that, once I start down this path, I may very likely lose everything else.

With God’s help, and the support of Christian friends and fellow evangelists like Heidi, I’m willing to take that chance.

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