How to talk to strangers – part 3 (Part 1 & 2 are on our web site)
- Bring it back to Jesus
It’s tricky in an initial conversation, but try to discern whether your new acquaintance is a Christian or not. In a church setting this topic arises more naturally than if you’re meeting in a park or a school’s parents night, because you can ask questions like, “Are you looking to join a church?” or “Are you interested in finding out more about Christianity or meeting up to read the Bible with someone?”
If it turns out that they’re already a Christian, that’s good news, because you’ve just connected with a fellow sibling in Christ. Maybe ask them for their testimony—how they became a Christian and how God has been at work in their lives.
If they aren’t yet a Christian, that’s also good news, because now you’ve got a natural path into a conversation about Jesus and what they think of him. Again, the important thing is to listen and understand where the other person is coming from, and why they think what they think. God may bless you with an opportunity to share the gospel—but he might not, because the person may not be ready for it. That’s okay. The important thing at this stage is that they know that you’re a Christian and that you’ve heard what they think about Christianity.1
Some people may not be responsive to your efforts. Some may even be hostile. But that’s okay: your job is to be faithful and let God do the rest. After all, he’s the one who’s truly in control. Remember the goal and make the most of the opportunities he gives you.
Dealing with challenges
Not all conversations go well. Here are a few tips for when things become tricky:
If the person is difficult to talk to—closed off, disinterested or even hostile—don’t take it personally. Feel free to end the conversation, particularly if you’re running out of things to say. Make a graceful exit—“Please excuse me. I need to speak to Laura before she leaves. It was lovely meeting you!”—or introduce them to someone else.
Look for other directions to take the conversation when it starts to peter out. Often it will—particularly if the two of you don’t naturally click, your new acquaintance doesn’t reciprocate your interest, or they aren’t a particularly good conversationalist. Mentally tuck away little tidbits you find interesting and return to them in due course.
Don’t feel like you need to talk to everyone. That’s too overwhelming. Talk to just one new person and get to know them. It’s achievable and it removes some of the pressure. Also, if you don’t feel like talking, make use of the classic tactic of keeping the other person talking.
Know your limits. Meeting new people can be tiring, even for those who enjoy chatting. Pay attention to signs that you’re flagging and give yourself a break. Remember, the goal is not to work the room; it’s to love.
If you, like me, are bad with names and faces, make sure that later on you write down the name of the person you were talking to and any other things you learned about them. Put it in your phone or Growth Group Notebook—somewhere you can refer to when, next week, you inevitably forget the person’s name and everything about them.
Pray for your new acquaintance and for the struggles they are currently facing (if they shared those things with you). That also helps you remember them, plus it gives you something to talk to them about the next time you see them.
It’s hard to talk to strangers. But the Christian life is often about doing the hard thing for the sake of others, because that’s what Jesus did: while we were his enemies, he died for us in order to reconcile us to God (Rom 5:10). As we follow his example and lay down our lives for others—loving and serving those around us, Christian and non-Christian alike—God is at work, changing and shaping their hearts and ours. You never know what may happen when you connect with strangers; some of them may actually end up as your friends.
Karen Beilharz is a Sydney-based writer, editor and comics creator best known for her work on ‘Kinds of Blue: An anthology of short comics about depression’ and ‘Eternal Life’, a science fiction graphic novel with Paul Wong-Pan. (Find more of her work at hivemindedness.com.) She is a former editor of ‘The Briefing’ and attends church in Sydney’s Inner West, where she is heavily involved with their play group. She is married to Ben and together they have two delightful, precocious little girls. Whenever she has a spare moment, she is watching movies, knitting or furiously catching up on her Twitter feed.