One Reason Why Unbelievers Don’t Want to Talk to Us

TwoGuysinCoffeeShopMark Vander Pol recently pointed us to a wiki page titled, “How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations About Religion.” This page is useful on a variety of levels. On the most common level, some people are pests and it offers some good advice for dealing with irritating people generally. The wiki page wasn’t written generally, however. It was written to help people who feel beset by religious zealots learn how to deal with them tactfully.

So the page is useful on a more important level. It it a clear testimony not only to the basic hostility that folk have to the gospel but it also testifies to the fact that well-meaning religious people have often been pests about the faith and their faith.

The truth is, religious people have often adopted sub-Christian ways of trying to communicate the faith to others. Sometimes this is done out of the best motives, the glory of God and the well being of others, but sometimes it is done out of sense of shame or guilt or worse, a need to control others.

I recall a fellow who used the following technique:

Christian:  “Do you know how to get to Disneyland?”

Non-Christian: “Yes.”

Christian: “Great, but do you know how to get to heaven?”

There are other, more polished forms of manipulation and dishonesty but, at root, they are all the same.

The reason the wiki page resonates with me is because I understand why it exists. I’ve been that pest.

I haven’t searched, but I doubt there is a wiki page on how to get rid of real friends. This is because folk don’t want to dispense with genuine friends. A friend is someone who loves another selflessly and sincerely with the best interests in mind, the needs, the concerns, and the joys of another person in mind. A friend doesn’t want to know, “what can I get from this person?” A friend doesn’t wonder, “I wonder if I can close the deal before the ball game?” A salesman thinks that way and that’s okay for him, but a salesman, as such, isn’t your friend.

If we as Christians actually make friends, not for the sake of winning them to Christ or getting them to walk the aisle or pray the prayer, but simply to befriend them and to love them, our friends will know it. They will realize that we are Christians and perhaps they will ask us about our faith.

That’s a real conversation. Then, in the providence and grace of God, your friend might be ready to listen, but we can’t get directly “there” from here. The route to talking about Christ with folks is indirect. It’s through friendship and grace and love and time.

Making friends for the purpose of evangelism is just another form of manipulation. Folk will sense it. Their radar is on high all the time now. The first suspicion that folk have today is, “What do you want from me?”

We must love folk because they are image-bearers. Ordinarily, we must learn to relate to them on a creational level before we can talk to them about grace. And we must wait and pray and trust. The kingdom is Christ’s. Let us be Christians and let Jesus be the Christ.

[This post first appeared on the HB in 2007]

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I’m with you on the friendship thing, Scott, but isn’t there a proper place for “cold calling” evangelism. Many people are ready to hear the gospel if we will just proclaim it boldly. As long as we are respectful of their wishes isn’t it ok to just give them the message regardless of how well we know them?

  2. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to do it, but I think it’s not a very wise strategy in our time. In our culture no one wants anyone coming to the door. I think it’s a wiser strategy to pray for our network of friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives, and to be ready to love them and to give witness as we have opportunity.

  3. Speaking as someone whose conversion was attended by various things, including he who practiced “friendship evangelism” (and withdrew his friendship when he was convinced the evangelism took), this hit the nail on the nail on the head. Given that our time is something of a “burned over district” in the wake of religionists who take the cues of consumerism, evangelism should be seen as more organic than mechanical.

  4. Great reminder. Having cold-called all over SDSU as a yut, I still battle the guilt of “have I shared enough”, which used to mean have you discussed the four spiritual laws with a stranger this week. I’m still getting back to being a human being first, ambassador for christ second (not because of prioritizing on my part, but simply because that just happens to be the way it works.) Evangelism as law was a doozie, and Bill Bright’s “breathing” techniques for being filled with the holy spirit were no help. Interesting journey; rc to neurotic american evangelical to reformed. Reformed couldn’t come fast enough.

  5. I haven’t experienced a lack of people wanting to talk to me. There is a certain percentage, but most people are friendly and willing to talk.

    I think “cold call” evangelism is what Jesus, Peter, and Paul did many times in the Bible. Peter open air preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and 3000 people were born again.

    I think the problem people have with this type of evangelism is that they either don’t believe or don’t know that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). They think we have to add to the gospel with our likability or our kindness, but that is not the case.


  6. No Bill you’ve missed the point. It’s not a question of what the Spirit can do. The question is what we should do. Is there no place for wisdom or prudence or discretion in the ministry of the gospel? Is John the Baptist the ONLY model for ministry?

    In the first century public addresses such as those described in Acts were common place.

    I see no evidence, however, cold-calling, door-to-door evangelism in the NT.

  7. Of course there is a place for wisdom in our evangelism, but for you to say that what Jesus and the disciples did is “not a very wise strategy for our time” seems presumptuous. I don’t have any idea why you would think that. People are not different today than they were then. They’re still dead in their sins, and whether they receive the gospel over the internet or from Peter open-air preaching makes little difference. The message is the same.

    Examples of cold calling and house to house witnessing:
    Acts 5:42 says, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

    Nicodemus (John 3)
    Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4)
    Rich young ruler (Luke 18)
    Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)
    Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10)

    Do you believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation?


  8. Bill,

    How about you do whatever you want and we’ll do whatever we want? Sounds like you’ve got it figured out, so why bother the readers of this blog?

  9. Bill,

    You can’t take the words “from house to house” and turn that into “cold calling.” First of all, the term “cold calling” is derived from sales not Christian ministry. Second, there’s no evidence whatsoever in the text that this was “cold calling” evangelism or witness. Third, one should be very careful using the book of Acts this way. If you can lift this passage out of context and make it a proof text for “cold calling” then why can’t I make being transported by the Spirit a requirement?

    Public preaching is a little different from cold calling or going door-to-door and you’ve ignored the shift in time and place. There were no electronic media in the 1st century. It was expected that there would be public proclamations of the sort that we see here. You cannot assume that because x was done in the first century that x must be done today (and yes, I’ve done some public/street preaching and plenty of door-to-door evangelism and street witnessing). In our culture there is little expectation that anyone will be announcing news by making public proclamations on the street. Okay, I do see a person dressed as a Martian selling pizza in my town, and some sign spinners selling real estate, but they aren’t shouting and I don’t think they’re models for evangelism today.

    I’m not saying — and I think you know this– that what our Lord and his apostles did was wrong. I am saying, however, that we are not Jesus. We are not apostles. We are Christians in the late modern period. The question is how we ought to announce the good news in our time.

    There is also a question of who ought to announce the good news. As I understand Scripture only ministers are called to authoritatively announce the good news i.e. do evangelism proper. All Christians are called to give witness to their faith and the faith.

    Grace and peace to you Bill and blessings on your street witness and “cold calling.”

  10. Cold calling in todays times can be downright dangerous.

    A friend of mine lives on a small farm, and his front yard is occupied by several protective farm dogs (NOT those known to be dangerous types).

    One day upon returning home, as he stepped inside his gate, he was greeted by his dogs, and he spotted a swatch of cloth on the ground. He examined it, and it contained a button, and he surmised it belonged to someones coat.

    Only a bit later, when he found a shredded copy of The Watchtower on the porch, was he able to figure out what had happened.

  11. Tex,

    One AM in KC, when we were doing door-to-door canvassing for VBS I was driving and suddenly the side door flew open and two kids flew in! They were out of breath and sweating. I guess they just made it! A dog had broken through the screen door and chased one of the kids back to the van.


  12. Do you see a place for open air / street preaching – and seemingly what Paul engaged in via Acts 17?

    • We don’t live in the first century. Assumptions about public life and communication were a little different than they are in 21st century cities in the West. In our setting it would have to be done very carefully and skillfully. I’ve seen it done well but I’ve mostly seen it done badly. It’s not a matter of principle but of strategy. Further, not everyone is called to preach. Ministers are called to preach. So, I don’t think laity should be doing it.

  13. via Romans 10:15, those preaching need to be sent – agreed that laity should not be doing it…

    To quote the “Late Modern Paganism” post:
    “The evidence that nothing has really changed since Mars Hill (Areopagus) is all around us”

    We certainly don’t live in the first century, but like you said….nothing has really changed.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    The following quote from the above post resonates with me quite a bit:

    “If we as Christians actually make friends, not for the sake of winning them to Christ or getting them to walk the aisle or pray the prayer, but simply to befriend them and to love them, our friends will know it. They will realize that we are Christians and perhaps they will ask us about our faith.”

    The central point that I take away is motivation. Am I willing to connect with the lost (whether friends or family) on a human level? Another way to say this is to just be real, be who I am.

    From personal experience, I put my foot in my mouth 2-3 years ago in my attempts to witness to my mom and stepdad. I came at things from a philosophical, mind level instead of a heart level. Needless to say, this interaction fell flat. Now, the more I pray to the Lord and seek his counsel through his word, the more I realize how my heart needs to be changed in order to engage in a way that honors my friends and family and me, but most importantly, the Lord.

  15. I tend to lean toward your way of looking and thinking about this issue, Dr. Clark. I was at a missions conference several years ago and one of the plenary speakers said something along these lines: “Evangelical Christianity is a noisy place. When is the last time you have been quiet and listened to someone for Christ’s sake?” That has stuck with me. Let me hasten to add that the overall context of his message made it clear that he was not advocating becoming someone’s friend and listening to them solely for evangelistic purposes, but was more along the lines of what you discuss above. I also very much agree with the point made either in the post or in the follow up comments that examples of a method’s effectiveness are not a warrant to use the method or assume God’s approval of it.

  16. Reminds me of a sermon I heard once with the theme “To Win Them to Christ we must first Win Them to Ourselves. To give the context, it wasn’t really billed as a sermon, it was a series four six minute messages interspersed with praise songs given a few weeks after the minister returned from a missions trip and following the announcement of his resignation. A few thoughts. You give examples of bad technique, but that does not mean that there isn’t “good technique” (cringe), for example by starting off with trying to see where they are at and building from there. God uses the preaching of the Word. Yes evangelism is not usually fun (although it’s occasionally rewarding), but what percentage of the population wanders into your church every Sunday? The church must go to them. If you are saying that we should witness to unsaved friends, sure, but doesn’t this severely limit the size of the field? If we are living as Christians should, will that not limit our attractiveness to those who need the gospel most? I have to mostly agree with the old comments from Bill above.

  17. This is rubbish! The unbeliever could die before you get to be friends with him and share the gospel. Christ’s command is to GO and Preach the Gospel, making disciples of all nations not go make friends. Telling someone the gospel is being a friend to all, including an enemy! This approach lacks a Biblical understanding of who God is, His Holiness, His Justice, His Love, His Mercy & His Grace. It’s from the pit itself!

    • Mike,

      Question: are you the Holy Spirit? There is no question that God uses means but we are not the Holy Spirit. We cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit. Only he can.

      Show me a single, clear, unequivocal, example in the New Testament of the kind of evangelism you have in mind.

      You assume quite a lot in your objection. Show me, from the New Testament, an unequivocal command for Christian laity to do evangelism.

      Christ commanded his apostles to do evangelism. That ministry has been transmitted to pastors and arguably elders in the church but there is very little evidence for lay evangelism in the New Testament.

      Here are some posts on this topic:

      Please do not misunderstand, I am quite in favor of Christian laity giving witness to the faith and to their faith but I am quite opposed to manipulating Christians or to burdening them with a moral duty that is not clearly taught or implied in holy Scripture.

      If someone dies while crossing the street, before I can speak to them about Christ, that is a sad providence but it is not warrant for essentially becoming abusive in public or even in private.

Comments are closed.