My mom used to sell Mary Kay make up. Lord knows, she was a gifted saleswoman. What made her a good salesperson was the same thing that kept her from being a good person to just hang out with: she became all about the sales pitch. When I saw her coming, I was tempted to run the other direction. I didn’t care if I was a winter. I wasn’t into any male beauty products. I didn’t have any friends that might be interested in having a Mary Kay party. Suddenly, she never met a stranger, only people who might need someone to help connect them with their make up needs. Watching her in action, every conversation eventually turned to that person’s make up needs. Evangelicals are constantly under pressure to “spread the good news,” made to feel like bad Christians if we aren’t telling everyone we bump into about how Jesus came and died for their sins. In effect, we’ve been turned into salesmen. That’s why when people find out that you’re a Christian, this deer in the headlights look comes over their face and they try to weasel out of whatever conversation you were having.

I’m all about sharing the gospel message of Christ, I’m not about cramming it down everyone’s throat. I don’t buy into the “greatest act of love is to share Christ”/“confrontational evangelism” brand of guilting folks into a state of constant witnessing. We’ve become “decision counters,” being all about forcing that moment of sales-pressure decision for Christ. If nothing else, you know what? Not everyone is wired to be a salesman. We have unique personalities, unique gifts, and we should take that into account when figuring out how to go about sharing. There is no master pitch to learn; there is more than one way to evangelize. We’ve bought so much into the modern idea of how to network and salesmanship, that we’ve often overlook the power of “ordinary evangelism”.

Few people want to be “preached” to about God whereas a lot of people want to talk about God. There is a fascinating difference in perception between the two. When people speak of being preached to, what they mean is pointed conversations with agendas. You see, it’s easy to find people who will talk to you about religion. It’s harder to find someone you want to talk about it. Luckily, I find that being a horror writer who works at a church is a dual-edged sword for conversations: certain “church types” shun me, not wishing to engage me in any meaningful conversations (yay!) and certain “non-church types” seek me out to talk (yay!). In both cases I think it’s has a lot to do with preconceptions about me. Rightly or wrongly, I’m seen as someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what people expect. I listen without judgment, trying to engage them in a spirit of love. One interesting effect of this is that I’ve been allowed to be the fly on the wall in a lot of situations and it has let me learn some insights into how we as Christians go about “witnessing” or evangelizing.

My hack theologian friend put it this way: we must believe that God is at work in the ordinary – in our small, simple acts of love. We must believe that God will work through a simple “thank you,” an encouraging word, even a simple smile. Though we cannot change the world, we can, through the simplest acts of kindness, change someone’s world. When our focus is narrowed like this, we are finally in a position to accomplish something … Jim Henderson argues that one of the main problems with traditional evangelism is that we are pressured “to close the deal with people, and we haven’t been shown the value and importance of simply connecting with people in a normal, ordinary way.” In confrontational evangelism, connections are not counted; only deal-closers prove one’s witness was a success. Ultimately, however, the connections we establish with others have more spiritual impact than forcing a decision on someone and then moving onto another target.

Ordinary evangelism demands that we reevaluate our standards for success. Our focus must not be on numbers, but on loving and serving people. Too often, confrontational evangelism evaluates its success on the numbers of decisions it generates. Instead, we must evaluate our success by how faithful we have been to demonstrate the life and love of Christ; in other words, by the connections we have made. The real test of Christian witness is not how many decisions we gather, but how well we love others. One way to evaluate this is to answer the question: Is our Christian faith making us a better or worse neighbor?

We need to be in-the-moment relationship builders. Constantly making connections and being a part of people’s lives. Conversations need to be the end goal, listening and learning about people for their own sake. It becomes about building relationships and seeing where they go. Small talk has lost its value since the only talk worth anything is our “conversion speech.” Yes, this is a more holistic way of sharing our faith, but I think it spares us from falling into the pitfall of evangelism objectifying people, reducing them to objects to obtain for God. The difference between friendship evangelism and intentional friendship is the difference between manipulative vs. genuine relationships. Intentional friendships is about sharing life with people without an end strategy, not looking for an opening to make a pitch. It’s about loving people for who they are, where they are, and how they are. Be a genuine human being and care for other people genuinely.

I’m not interested in arguing with people. People have a lot to offer, and I want to learn from them as well as give anything that might be of use (just don’t look for me to have all the answers on every spiritual matter. You might as well get used to “I don’t know” as my spiritual answer). Too often, evangelicals, from their pulpit of hubris, act like “unbelievers” have nothing to offer. Look, there are many worldviews from which to learn. For me, a simple stance of mutual respect (mixed with a healthy dose of humility) leads to people being able to converse. Converse–not preach at each other, not try and persuade one other to a new view–setting the stage for challenging and meaningful dialogue. Conversation for its own sake, talking about any and all issues, not as set up for the “get out of hell” pitch. Be real. Be who you are. Trust God to be at work in the ordinary. Otherwise, this quote from the Big Kahuna best sums it up:

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. “