Many Christians feel called to evangelize. They want to share their faith and convert others to Christianity. Some people feel this call so strongly that they become missionaries. They leave behind their home, their friends and their families in order to go to another country and spread the teachings of Christ. They may suffer illness and injury. They may be lonely and often have to learn a new language and new customs in order to survive day to day life. Depending on where they go, missionaries may be persecuted, arrested or even killed for attempting to spread Christianity.
Not all Christians wish to or are not called to go to such extreme lengths when it comes to evangelizing. Some are content to stay in their home countries or even hometowns and simply want to share their faith with those around them. Conversion, however, has become something of a dirty word in the modern era. Many Christians are subtly discouraged from trying to bring others to Jesus. This has not kept people from continuing to spread their faith, it simply means that they need a more delicate touch. With that in mind, how can one best share their faith and lead people to Jesus in this day and age?
Learn about why people convert in the first place.
If you are going to help someone convert, you need to understand why they are interested in doing it. No one simply wakes up one morning and decides to begin practicing a completely different religion. Instead, the decision to change religions is one that builds up slowly over time. It is very rare that a person switches religions suddenly. If they do, it is usually in response to some form of trauma. They may bounce from denomination to denomination or between sects with ease, but actually changing faiths is normally more a matter of the straw that broke the camel’s back. A Christian who switches from Methodist to Mennonite or Catholic to Lutheran might make the switch without too much thought. Changing from Islam to Christianity, however, is the product of a much longer build up that includes dissatisfaction with one’s original religion, interest in another religion and usually a long period of, sometimes unpleasant, soul searching. As such, even the best Bible verses in the world are going to go right over the head of a content Buddhist and declarations of hellfire and statements of how you are concerned for their soul is going to get you nothing but scorn from a Neopagan who feels comfortable with their faith.
Understand what conversion means to a person.
To someone who has grown up Christian and who has deep enough faith to want to share their faith with others, the idea of converting to Christianity is often envisioned as coming home after a long journey. It is happy, blissful and a person feels complete. For some people, that may be true, but conversion is often a messy, difficult process. People who convert to a new religion are rewriting their worldview, their understanding of even the most basic of facts and their entire identity. No matter how deeply they believe in Christianity, they will likely struggle to define who they are in their new identity. If you are serious about converting others, you need to understand what those who do convert will go through. They may well be happier once they have converted, but getting there is a difficult journey as people are forced to accept that everything they had known their entire life was wrong. To really understand what this would be like, imagine what you would feel like if you learned tomorrow that Christ never rose from the dead. That sense of betrayal and helplessness is what many people experience when they convert. If you are leading someone to Christ, you need to be there for them when things become difficult instead of burying your head in the sand and pretending that the conversion process is a blissful, painless experience.
Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
Conversion is a long and messy process. If you are going to start someone down that path and plan to invest the time and energy that is required to actually bring someone to Christ, you need to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. In some churches and denominations, successfully converting someone is essentially a feather in a person’s cap. It is a status symbol.
If you are thinking of trying to bring someone to Jesus, you should not be doing it because you want, essentially, spiritual brownie points or bragging rights at church. If you are serious about helping a friend or family member come to Jesus, you need to be there for them every step of the way. This is a serious commitment of time and energy. If you flake out halfway through, you leave them without Christ but also without the comfort of their old religion. You have, essentially, abandoned them in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat with a sail that is only half constructed and taken away their oars. If you want to convert someone as a pat on the back for yourself, leave the task to someone who will do it properly.
Find out why they are interested in converting to Christianity.
People convert for a variety of reasons, and there are normally a number of factors that influence both their decision to leave one faith and their choice of which new faith to explore. To lead someone to Christ, you need to understand both parts of that equation. You need to know where their old religion failed them and what about Christianity has attracted them. This means that you will have to acquire at least a basic understanding of their old religion, something that many Christians are reluctant to do. There is little a Christian can do to help a potential convert who has struggled in the past with the idea that the atman is somehow both eternal and unchangeable, but is simultaneously bound by the chains of samsara and capable of moksha if the Christian only understands one of three words in that sentence. They certainly would not know to point the convert toward teachings about the soul.
Expect them to have questions, lots of questions.
Whether you like it or not, when you are trying to bring someone to Christ, you are their main source for information. You are the one they will come to with questions and concerns because you are the one who has set themselves up as the leader on this journey. This means that you will have to be the ambassador of Christianity. You will have to explain things that you have simply grown up knowing, answer hard or uncomfortable questions and inevitably swallow your pride at some point and admit to the convert that they have a question you cannot answer. When that happens, you need to be able to direct them to someone who does have an answer. This could be a priest, a pastor, a youth group leader, a fellow member of your church or even an old writing by an ancient Christian such as Athanasius. Whatever you do, do not pretend you have an answer or offer them platitudes. Neither of those will help the convert on their faith journey.
Be who you actually are.
When you are trying to lead someone to Christ, you want to be a good example. You want to show the person you are converting what a Christian life looks like. You may have the best intentions, but you may well come across as either self-righteous or as a phony. This is not what you want. It is true that you want to try and set a good example, but you need to do it as a real person. If you normally indulged in a glass of wine each Friday to celebrate the end of the week, a friend you are trying to convert will be baffled by your sudden refusal to drink. If you normally recite a couple of prayers while you are in the shower and then scurry out the door to work, do not suddenly pick up a devotional and try to spend an hour each morning meditating on Scripture. People generally have a good idea of when someone is putting on a show, and it may turn them off the whole thing. Live your best life when you are trying to convert someone, but live it as yourself. Tone down the swearing and road rage, but feel free to keep blasting 80’s rock over the radio. Decline that second glass of wine, but let yourself savor the first. It is far more useful to show someone how a Christian actually lives than to present some sort of idealized life that most Christians do not follow.
Be patient and kind.
Conversion does not happen overnight. If you are going to lead someone to Christ, you need to be patient both with the process and the other person. They may well be confused about things that you have simply known all your life. Do not get angry when you need to explain to them what a Messiah even is in the first place before they understand why it is important that Jesus was the Messiah. Do not get frustrated when they ask for the 28th time why non-Hebrews are Christians too when Christ came for the people of Israel and Judea. Accept that they will need time to wrap their minds around several thousand years of background information and over two millennia of interpretation. Do not push them to convert faster. That will backfire on you rather badly. Instead, be patient with them and their questions, and do your best to answer them.
Accept that you might fail.
The reality is that “converting someone” is something of a misnomer. You cannot actually convert another person. You can show them the way. You can give them the resources they require, answer their every question and live the most Christian life you are capable of, and it still may not be enough. When that happens, you need to avoid seeing it as a personal failure. You are not them. You do not know how they felt in their heart and soul about Christianity or their old religion. They may convert later. They may never convert at all. Continue to make yourself available if they have questions and try to find out why they changed their mind, but do not push too hard. If you come across as too preachy or pushy, they are more likely to dig in their heels. For both your sakes, accept that failure is an option.
When it comes to converting someone, you need to be honest with both yourself and with the other person. This is not the time to be self-righteous or pretend that you know more than you do in reality. The other person is trusting you to help them along their journey as they turn their life completely upside down. Your job is to guide them as best you can and be there for support when they need it. Their conversion is just that, theirs. It is about them, not about you. You can do everything right and still find that they decide not to convert in the end. If that happens, remember that their journey is theirs, not yours. You are not at fault, and there is no reason that you two have to part ways. After all, neither of you can know for certain what God plans to accomplish through both of you.