There was a time when effective evangelism was as simple as sharing our testimony with someone or reminding them what the Bible says on a particular issue or even asking them to watch Billy Graham preach on TV. But these days are largely gone. Why? Because, back then, Christianity retained an inherited authority in moral and spiritual matters. Non-believers, who had decided to avoid church and reject following Jesus, still acknowledged this sense of authority over their lives.

Now, when a lot of Christians try to share their faith, folks clam up, fold their arms, and shut down. Or worse, they get angry and start arguing (even demonizing) the Christian for talking about their beliefs.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Christians must have a paradigm shift in their understanding of evangelism and apologetics. We have to understand our audience in order to engage them effectively. This means throwing out scripted speeches and asking questions to develop authentic relationship. In other words, we must adopt a First Date Evangelism approach.

I’m currently reading the writings of Mortimer Adler. If you haven’t read him, he’s an excellent thinker with a lot of helpful ideas about actively engaging literature as well as people. In his book How to Speak How to Listen he writes about the proper order of rhetoric in persuasion. The first step in communicating with someone in order to persuade them is — develop trust:

“Your listeners may harbor prejudices or suspicions about you that constitute obstacles to be overcome before positive persuasion can begin.”

In other words, don’t begin with a speech about what they need to do to get right with God. First, overcome the obstacles of prejudice and suspicion that the current culture has encouraged your listener to adopt about you. Only after a person begins to trust you will they confer authority on you to speak.

After having developed trust in your audience, get them emotionally moved with the things you’re saying:

“The thinking you have done privately and are now publicly articulating in your speech must have emotional force as well as intellectual power. The minds of your audience must be moved as well as instructed, and their emotions, stirred by your own, are needed to do the moving.”

Indifference is the killer of ideas, especially when it’s your own indifference about what you’re communicating. Be the anti-Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! Come alive in your tone and mannerisms with the information you have to offer! And I guarantee you that a lot of folks will lean in to what you’re saying, even if they initially don’t share your faith. It happens all the time.

After having developed trust and an emotional connection with your listener, then and only then can you get to the logical facts and arguments that undergird your evangelism and apologetics. Let me say that again. After trust and an emotional connection is established, then and only then can you get to your arguments! Adler agrees:

“[T]he opening should attempt to establish the speaker’s ethos [credibility] first. That should be followed by bringing pathos [emotional connection] into play. Logos [logical arguments] should be left until the end.”

Why does he say this? It’s very simple. If people don’t trust you, they won’t listen to you. If they trust you but don’t have an emotional connection, they won’t care what you say. We must stop charging in with our scripts and agendas that elevate argument over relationship. Instead we must adopt a First Date Evangelism approach in order to properly persuade folks that Christianity is true.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article, Nate. Personally, I don’t think the point of developing trust within the relationship first can be reiterated enough. People can smell false pretenses from a mile away, and most of the time, they will disengage as soon as they smell them. Maybe trust between people is one of the many things that softens the heart and makes it ready to receive God’s simply good news.

    • Thanks for the comment, Brenden! Agreed, a lot of us are very wary of each other, at least initially. Trust is a valuable commodity, especially in today’s climate.

  2. Interesting to see the ordering of ethos, pathos, logos. I’d heard this before in public speaking class, but hadn’t thought to apply it to the order in which we should have persuasive conversations. Thanks!

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