A College Student, A Homeless Man, And A Rabbi Walk Into A Coffee Shop.
That may sound like the opening line of a bad joke, but it actually describes an experiment I started last semester at the University of Delaware.
A couple of volunteers and I were discussing the example we have in Jesus and his disciples, who were intentional about sharing their faith with friends “friendship evangelism” and with strangers “initiative evangelism”. When we scrolled through our phone contacts to count how many friends we actually had who weren’t Christians, we realized something had to change.
Adventures in Getting Our Feet Wet
That phone exercise led to much brainstorming and prayer. Eventually, we landed on the idea of conducting a survey on Main Street which runs through the heart of campus. After deciding what questions our survey would include, the three of us and my wife headed to Main Street in two groups.
Honestly, I can’t say I enjoyed it. But after an hour, we surveyed four students. Two of whom expressed interest in a personal Bible study. After that our survey idea evolved into what has become my favorite way to find people who are looking for God.
Engaging Those Whom God Misses the Most
One semester later, I was privileged to sit down for coffee with over 20 people individually for an interview. These people included international grad students from China; a Mormon chemistry professor; a Rabbi; a homeless man; and the presidents of several student organizations likes Haven, The Vegetarian Club, and Engineers Without Borders.
What surprised me was when about half of the people I interviewed expressed interest in setting up a weekly investigative faith study! I now devote three days a week to interviewing students and studying with those interested. Not only have I made many new friends, but I’ve watched several of them make huge progress in their search for God. And few things compare to the joy I felt baptizing the first student from among those interviewed.
The Power of Asking Questions
We see in Jesus, not only the example of friendship evangelism and initiative evangelism, but the example of using questions to help others discover truth. (To read one of my favorites, check out Luke 10:25-37).
I love to ask people questions that start with the words, “What comes to mind when you think about…” Whether you complete the sentence with, “God”, “Satan”, “Heaven”, “Hell”, or “the purpose of life”, you invite people share their beliefs and how they arrived at those beliefs.
I’m always amazed at how easily questions (and free coffee) break down barriers, and how quick strangers are to share personal experiences, heartbreaks, and hang-ups.
Inevitably, as people put their beliefs into words, they’re confronted with areas of uncertainty. Sometimes hearing ourselves say, “I don’t know”, is just what we need to make the quest for truth a greater priority.
How to Adapt This Idea to Your Own Context
There are a lot of ways meet new people and invite them out for coffee. Here are some suggestions:
1. Make a Plan
Schedule a meeting with staff members, volunteers, and student leaders to brainstorm and pray about how you might run with this idea (like getting your feet wet with surveys on your own “Main Street” or incorporating a video camera). Keep in mind that if you plan to take notes, pictures, or record the interviews, you’ll want to draw up a media consent form to have participants sign. Be sure to communicate any plans you have for the information collected (for example, I post the notes of my interview and artwork on my blog every Wednesday at http://www.btylerellis.com/drawing-conclusions/). Finally, you’ll need to come up with the specific questions you’ll be asking people.
2. Start with Who You Know
Entitle a piece of paper, “Potential People to Interview”. Write down the names of whoever comes to mind (family, friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, teammates, etc). Then thumb through your contacts on your cell phone and in your Facebook account and see what you come up with.
3. Look for New People
Entitle another piece of paper, “Potential Ways to Meet New People.” These could include having a booth in the Student Union with flyers; collecting email addresses at events; hanging posters; having a sign-up form on a website; and having students invite their friends. You can sometimes even find the email addresses of professors and officers of student organizations right on the University’s website.
4. Extend the Invitation
This can be done in person, or by phone or email. You’ll want to introduce yourself and your affiliation; tell about your project; invite them for coffee in a public but quiet location; and communicate your availability. If they’re interested, it’s just a matter of getting it on the calendar.
5. Consider These Tips
- Keep a data base of those you contact.
- If you plan to record the interview, buy the equipment you need. I use a handheld digital recorder with a plug-in microphone. I recommend bringing extra batteries and recording a backup on your smart phone if you can. Bring your camera too if you plan to ask permission to take their picture.
- Print your questions, media consent form, and bring a pen and clipboard.
- Send the participant a reminder about your appointment one day in advance.
- Be on time.
- Wear a name tag.
- Offer to buy them coffee.
- Bite your tongue and listen. Don’t respond or try to correct their statements.
- Leave them with something. Maybe a flyer, a calendar of upcoming events, or a book.
- If they’re interested in meeting up again, exchange phone numbers.
6. Be Sure to Follow Up
For any participants interested in meeting up again, be sure to promptly set that up. There are a number of ways to go from here. You could invite them to a seeker small group; a personal Bible study; give them a relevant book or video; or you can even offer to let them interview you.
LET ME ASK YOU THIS:
- How are you and your students balancing “friendship evangelism” and “initiative evangelism”?
- What questions would you recommend be including in an interview?
- What comes to mind when you think of adapting this to your own campus context?
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