In my first year of ministry, I spent a week in the summer at Caswell with a group of youth from Riverside Baptist Church, the church I pastored in Bertie County. There, I met Mark, a volunteer youth leader who brought three teens from the church he served.

The afternoon of our first full day there, Mark and I sat on the porch at the barracks talking about a variety of things. One of the girls from Mark’s group came running up on the porch and exclaimed, “I met a boy I want to talk to, but I don’t know what to say.”

Assured that all their conversations were taking place in the safety of group activities, I offered her some advice. “You don’t need to know what to say. Just ask him questions. ‘Where do you live? What grade are you in? What is your favorite subject in school? Do you play any sports? Have you thought about college or other plans after you graduate?’ You don’t have to struggle for something to say to impress him. Just ask questions, and he will talk to you.”

Later, as we waited in line for dinner, she and her best friend came over, excited, and said, “Pastor Dennis, you were right. I asked him questions and he talked to me.”

In my years of ministry, I have discovered that asking people questions about their lives and listening to what they say is more than a good way to get to know someone. Listening is an effective initial step in personal evangelism.

For years, I and others have invested lots of energy and effort into memorizing detailed gospel presentations. While they may start with specific questions intended to guide the conversation to the gospel, these questions can often seem insincere or reflective of an agenda.

Listening is an effective initial step in personal evangelism.

When we ask questions with a sincere desire to know the person who may not be a believer, we are taking two important steps toward an effective presentation of the gospel.

First, we demonstrate that we value who they are. Unbelievers, just like believers, are created in the likeness and image of God. Making the effort to get to know them communicates our understanding of their worth to them.

Additionally, when we ask questions about their lives and listen, that person who may not be a believer is giving us a road map to share the gospel with them.

Their answers about their values, interests, beliefs, joys, sorrows and fears will serve as road signs for us, pointing us to the most effective way to approach that person with the gospel.

Here are some signs to watch for as unbelievers provide a road map for evangelism:

Life stresses
Listen for unbelievers to express frustrations or anxieties over things like the loss of a job, family dysfunction, the birth of a child, a teen leaving for college or a death in the family.

Unanswered life questions
Unbelievers may voice larger questions, such as the purpose of life or is there life after death.

Unfulfilled longing
Listen for any expression of a lack of fulfillment, possibly in their relationships or in their career path.

Appreciation of us
Believe it or not, you may even hear them express an appreciation for one or more of the fruits of the Spirit that they recognize in your life. Use that opportunity to point them to the One they are seeing living within you.