Evangelizing a Crowd
A friend asked me how she should have responded when her non-Christian coworkers “all ganged up” on her at a recent after-work dinner party. She wondered if she could have done things better. One person began with, “You’re a Christian, right? What kind of Christian?” Another one chimed in with, “You’re not one of those intolerant Christians, are you?” A third friend piled on with, “Or homophobic!” (with added emphasis to make sure it was heard as a judgmental condemnation, not a sincere inquiry).
What had been several separate conversations all stirring around the table now unified into six staring faces in one direction. My friend found the whole experience overwhelming.
I first tried to reassure her that those kinds of situations or notoriously difficult. And unfair. And often insincere. But not too difficult for God to handle. I wasn’t sure how to respond to her – just as she wasn’t sure how to respond to her co-workers. After a lot of thought, I’ve come up with five ideas for facing “Crowd Evangelism.”
First, acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation. A comment like, “Well, hasn’t this lovely party taken an unexpected turn!” can lower the temperature and ease the tension. It also takes the focus off you, the lone Christian, and puts it on the whole group.
Second, check the sincerity level. It’s worth finding out if these questions are for real. I don’t think it’s bad to say something like, “Do you guys really want to talk about this here and now? I’m willing to. But I want to make sure before we dive into the deep end of the pool.” You’re probably only going to have a short amount of time, in a crowded restaurant or bar, to make a few points. You want to make the most of the situation.
Third, ask for “buy in.” Find out if everyone wants to discuss something so serious. Again, acknowledge that you’re up for it but you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. It would not be bad if you deferred to a later time for several individual conversations. One-on-one evangelism usually goes better than one-on-six.
Fourth, separate the issues. Do they want to talk about what kind of Christian you are or why some Christians are intolerant or the psychological roots of homophobia or something else? Lumping numerous topics together rarely leads to clarity. I’d try to select the most important topic, what it means to be a Christian, to take center stage. I’d word it like this, “You’ve raised a whole bunch of issues. I can’t tackle them all at once. Let me try to start with what I think it means to be a Christian.”
Finally, pave the way for future installments. It would be amazing if you could proclaim the entire gospel, share your testimony, ask for responses, and baptize a few new converts right there and then. (Waiters are often willing to provide water). But, realistically, you might be able to share only a few starter points. If you say, “Well, obviously, there’s a lot more to this topic,” you keep the door open for more discussion at a later time, where there are fewer distractions.
It would not be bad to reopen the discussion later with, “You know, when you asked me those questions the other night, I wasn’t ready for them. I’ve given it some more thought and I wonder if we could restart that conversation.”
In an odd way, attempting less (in the pressured situation) might actually accomplish more (in the long run).