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Friendly Atheist Forums • View topic - Tips for Evangelists

Tips for Evangelists

Use this thread if you are interested in converting to a religion or want to convince others to convert.

Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 15 Apr 2009 12:23 pm

For those of you who try (either overtly or subtly) to convert others to Christianity, either online or in person, here are some tips from an atheist on how to avoid creeping people out:

1. Don't start using the person's name, as if you are their close personal friend, unless you are actually their close personal friend. When someone has just met me, asked my name, and begins to talk to me starting their sentences with "Juliet," it makes me want to back away slowly - certainly not keep listening.

2. Don't start quoting from the Bible, because most people will recognize what you're doing even if they don't recognize the particular book/verse, and it comes off as robotic and scripted, like a telemarketer's call. I tune this sort of thing out, because unless someone is discussing the Bible with me on equal terms (we've already agreed to discuss the Bible and I already know what the conversation is about), I just assume that the person has run out of things to say and is falling back on their doctrine. Besides, if I'm not already a Christian, why do they expect me to take their book seriously? It's a huge turn-off.

3. Don't bring up a topic, or try to find out what the person is interested in, just so you can bring it back around to how it's all a metaphor for Jesus or Christianity. It makes it seem like your interest was only a ploy to keep the attention of the listener, only to be using their cooperation for your own corny game. I certainly don't want to spend thirty minutes discussing The Killers with someone, only to have them steer the conversation into the way all music is a gift from God and somehow proves that he exists or something. It leaves the impression that they didn't care about what I had to say at all - it was just a giant set-up for their waiting punch line.

4. Don't use the phrase "Good News" because the chances are extremely high (at least in western countries) that the person has already heard this news and judged for themselves whether it's good or bad or boring or irrelevant or whatever. If they're not a Christian, they've clearly not judged it as good enough to act on. It's not new information, so it's not news, and it's your aim to convince people that it's good - that's not something that's a priori. So telling someone that you want to share the Good News with them is assuming way too much.

5. Don't talk about Jesus like he's part of the conversation. The person you're talking to doesn't share your belief, so they're certainly not going to be thrilled to hear that Jesus is listening in on their thoughts and giving messages or inspiration to the person talking to them. This makes you come off as either crazy or... well, mostly crazy. I get that you actually believe that Jesus is alive and God and everywhere and all-knowing, but to non-Christians, he's just an imaginary friend of yours, and so telling us to listen for his voice in our hearts is creepy.

That's all for now. I think other atheist posters could add a lot more, but those are my main turn-offs. I was reminded of #1 yesterday on facebook, when a person I'd never met made a comment on a discussion between myself and a friend letting me know, "Juliet, God knows your heart... etc. etc." and I almost threw up in my mouth a bit.
"...with like-minded people one cannot discuss. With like-minded people one can only participate in a church service, and, as is widely known, I do not like church services." -Ayaan Hirsi Ali
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 15 Apr 2009 12:28 pm

Well said. it goes back to what I asked earlier. Why do Christians feel they have to come and talk to atheists? Its not that I dont want them to; its just that most of us have seen right through all their machinations and it would be nice to talk about Nine inch Nails without being told Trent Reznor is Satan incarnate. :D
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby el32 on 15 Apr 2009 1:06 pm

Thanks JulietEcho for sharing (uh oh maybe i shouldn't have said your name :D ). I would have to agree with you on most of these points. If I want to convince someone, or convert them, then I should be honest about it and not try to trick them, which is what point 3+4 are about. I think that this is something that most Christians do, and I think that some of them (not making excuses here) do it by accident. I think that some Christians have the ability to see God work in ways that most of us, including me, cannot. You might say that they are just imagining things but that is beside the point. They, by culture, or personality, would say something like "God knows your heart". After all it is the *Christian* thing to say. And so they just say it to you, not thinking that you would be insulted, it is so much a part of them to say something like that.

Also I think that Christians are by and large un-informed about atheism. They do not think that you have thought this all out for yourselves, this is why they quote Bible verses at you or such.

I think that using tools such as this forum, where we don't just argue about stuff (though that is fun too), but discuss together to understand each other better, is better. That way if I do want to talk to an atheist and convert them, I can at least be sensitive to their perspective/feelings.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 15 Apr 2009 1:18 pm

el32 wrote:Thanks JulietEcho for sharing (uh oh maybe i shouldn't have said your name :D ). I would have to agree with you on most of these points. If I want to convince someone, or convert them, then I should be honest about it and not try to trick them, which is what point 3+4 are about. I think that this is something that most Christians do, and I think that some of them (not making excuses here) do it by accident.
lol, a screenname is cool - when someone uses just Sarah instead of Juliet it seems a bit odd, but that's only because it *is* my name - and besides, I consider most of the regulars here friends/acquaintances which makes using my name normal - not creepy.

I agree that some of these can happen accidentally, which is why it's important to be aware of them if you're serious about evangelism attempts. Ideally, I don't think evangelism should happen at all - not in a proactive "go out and find people and preach to them" kind of way - but if it does happen, I think it'd be better for everyone if people don't feel duped or creeped out or whatnot. I think that - at least in the western world where freedom of religion exists and plenty of different religions are represented - religions and religious individuals would be wiser (and more respected) if they simply let interested parties come to them for more information instead of actively evangelizing.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 15 Apr 2009 2:52 pm

Do Christians not have a duty to evangelise? Are they not inspired and called to do so?
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby el32 on 15 Apr 2009 3:39 pm

Yes, I think that the call to evangelize is fairly obvious from a scriptural and a logical perspective, although not all Christians throughout the ages would agree with me.
Scriptually, I would say that obviously Matthew 28 pretty much does it.
Logically, if I believe that A is true and if you do not believe A then you will have consequence B (Hell or, if I don't believe in that, at least you being wrong would be the consequent, although not a very powerful one) it follows that I would desire to see you accept A as true.

Personally, I am not one to go out and "preach" at people, for a few reasons. Although there are some exceptions.
1) It implies that they are stupid and can't think things out for themselves
2) I am not the person who is probably best suited to explain everything, though I try my best
3) they are more likely to be committed and serious if they be pro-active partener

Exceptions:
1) If the person just doesn't care and has never bothered to think about the possibility of God. I realize that this doesn't happen very often in our culture, but as our society becomes more atheistic, it will become more prevalent.
2) If I enjoy arguing and the other person agrees to have a good discussion about God, religion, etc. Though I would not classify this as evangelizing, it could come across that way to others.
3) if they would have no other chance of finding out

I agree that it would, in most cases although my exceptions stand, be better of people did stop pro-active evangelism, at least "preachy". I do appreciate what my church does however. They try to, by the actions they do, to make a difference in the community, and so attract people. I feel this is a much better way of *evangelizing* because it allows people to make up their own minds and to be attracted to how the people are rather than what they say.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby hoverFrog on 16 Apr 2009 2:33 am

How about don't evangelise, try having a conversation instead. Take the agenda to convert away and just have a chat.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 16 Apr 2009 10:39 am

Hey most of you are just young lads. There must be something in your lives that stirs you when you arent imagining things. What about music? Your favourite porn? Football (I mean association football played all over the world - not grid iron)

What do you read for fun? Do you have fun? I just found out I can use my iPod as a mounted disk! Woohooh! thats means I can back up some more files.

I love photography. Anyone else? There's gotta be more to life than evangelising?
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 16 Apr 2009 10:43 am

For those who feel it's their duty to evangelize, outside interests aren't going to deter them. That's like saying to someone who is dead-set on getting their college degree, "Oh come on, you don't have to keep going to those classes - don't you want to play some frisbee or come to a party or go to a concert?" Other things are done on the side, but the main priority isn't going anywhere, trust me.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 16 Apr 2009 10:48 am

Holy moly, so do you reckon some of these dudes have nothing in their lives except leviticus? wow. I find that fantastic. It's just not normal.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Jasen777 on 16 Apr 2009 12:24 pm

Not really a tip, but...

I was at the post office today, mailing something off. The guy in front of me is talking to the clerk, blah blah. Then he says his other son is a pastor. He turns to me and asks me if I go to church. I say no. He gives me the church business card and leaves. It just goes to show that most people here don't really think of others as not Christians, but merely as non church goers. I really should have told him "no, I'm an atheist."
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 16 Apr 2009 12:38 pm

You can't blame the guy for trying. Your money is as good as the next guy's.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Chal on 16 Apr 2009 2:35 pm

After reading those links Dhoffman gave, I guess one thing that really bugged me was starting out with the assumption that God exists and then seeking to justify it. That's not how you convince anyone of anything.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 16 Apr 2009 4:15 pm

Well thats the way they do it - Goddidit and work backwards.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby hoverFrog on 16 Apr 2009 6:07 pm

Chal wrote:After reading those links Dhoffman gave, I guess one thing that really bugged me was starting out with the assumption that God exists and then seeking to justify it. That's not how you convince anyone of anything.
To be fair atheists start with the assumption that no gods exist and work from there. Also no unicorns, no Santa, no tooth fairy......
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 16 Apr 2009 6:17 pm

hoverFrog wrote:
Chal wrote:After reading those links Dhoffman gave, I guess one thing that really bugged me was starting out with the assumption that God exists and then seeking to justify it. That's not how you convince anyone of anything.
To be fair atheists start with the assumption that no gods exist and work from there. Also no unicorns, no Santa, no tooth fairy......
Yeah, it's ingrained in many human cultures to view God's existence as an a priori fact, just something self-evident and obvious. It's a belief that's made it through so many generations that it's just something many people view as a default position about the world. Of course, that doesn't make the position rational, but it makes it understandable.

My husband swallowed some gum yesterday, and I reprimanded him, thinking that it must be unhealthy - because ever since I was a little kid, I was told that swallowing chewing gum was bad for you, and it just seems true. Well, I did the research awhile later (after being counter-reprimanded about believing old wives' tales) and sure enough, the only way swallowing gum can hurt you is if you swallow a massive amount of it (which is true of more than just gum), and I was just instinctively clinging to something I assumed was true because it was reinforced everywhere and never challenged. Until yesterday.

It's much harder to let go of a belief that really *means* something to you, that effects you emotionally and colors the way you see the world. Does that make it rational? Again, no, but it makes it understandable.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby hoverFrog on 16 Apr 2009 6:40 pm

JulietEcho wrote:I was just instinctively clinging to something I assumed was true because it was reinforced everywhere and never challenged. Until yesterday.

It's much harder to let go of a belief that really *means* something to you, that effects you emotionally and colors the way you see the world. Does that make it rational? Again, no, but it makes it understandable.
Which is why we should never be afraid to ask the "Why?" questions. Why do you believe that chewing gum wraps around your heart and kills you if you swallow it (that was the version I was brought up with) or why do you believe that the average American has 6lb of undigested red meat in his stomach? Because we were told it and it was never challenged? Why was it never challenged? Because nobody thought to challenge it. Because nobody thought to ask why.

I mean, why do atheists assume that there is no god and theists assume that there is\are? Either we've been raised that way,as I have, and\or the explanation for or against gods makes sense to our understanding of the world, as it does with mine. Either way we must ask if that upbringing and experience has given us the correct understanding of the world or if there is a reasonable chance that we might be wrong.

Chances are we'll be wrong about something that we always assumed to be true so it is important to be able to alter our view when we are exposed to the truth of a matter. In a way evangelism attempts to inform others of the truth as the evangelist see it. Unfortunately it also insulates the evangelist from reassessing their own views.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 16 Apr 2009 6:59 pm

hoverFrog wrote:Why do you believe that chewing gum wraps around your heart and kills you if you swallow it (that was the version I was brought up with) or why do you believe that the average American has 6lb of undigested red meat in his stomach?
Eww. I had the notion that chewing gum just stuck to your digestive system somewhere (probably in the stomach) and took years to digest, taking up space and generally being dangerous sitting around lodged in there. I've never heard the second one... did you make it up? Old wives' tales in England seem a lot scarier than in America, lol.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 16 Apr 2009 7:45 pm

hoverFrog wrote:
Chal wrote:After reading those links Dhoffman gave, I guess one thing that really bugged me was starting out with the assumption that God exists and then seeking to justify it. That's not how you convince anyone of anything.
To be fair atheists start with the assumption that no gods exist and work from there. Also no unicorns, no Santa, no tooth fairy......
I'm not sure this really characterises an atheist Froggy. I don't assume God does not exist. I conclude it from contrary evidence and total lack of any positive evidence. Same with the tooth fairy.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby hoverFrog on 17 Apr 2009 4:37 am

JulietEcho wrote:Eww. I had the notion that chewing gum just stuck to your digestive system somewhere (probably in the stomach) and took years to digest, taking up space and generally being dangerous sitting around lodged in there. I've never heard the second one... did you make it up? Old wives' tales in England seem a lot scarier than in America, lol.
You should hear the ones about cats. We've got legends that would curdle milk and they haven't been Disneyfied.
Huxley wrote:I'm not sure this really characterises an atheist Froggy. I don't assume God does not exist. I conclude it from contrary evidence and total lack of any positive evidence. Same with the tooth fairy.
That's just it though, we have not got, and can never get, all the evidence, only a selection of it. OK, a large selection. From what we have observed we conclude that there are no gods and work from there. It is still an assumption because we lack all the evidence. I know this is a bit of a kludge because we can only work with what we have and cannot defer a decision until we've explored the entire universe. It is probably a semantic issue too as I'm sure we mean the same thing.

That said I'm still going to think of my opinions (and all religious thought is merely opinion that has survived) as being based on assumptions. If I start thinking of them as facts then I will lose the ability to amend my opinions in the light of new evidence.

Meh! It works for me.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby Huxley on 17 Apr 2009 9:19 am

Well said Frogster sir.

Here's my tip for Evangelists:

Don't.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby JulietEcho on 20 Apr 2009 12:48 pm

Hemant asked me to expand this list to 10, so he could post it on the site, and here are the five I added:

6. Don't plant literature. We're basically stuck with Bibles in hotel rooms (thanks for that, Gideons and pushover hotels!) but there's no need to hide tracts inside books at the bookstore or leave those horrible fake $20 bill pamphlets with (or instead of) the tip at a restaurant, because they don't work. They're impersonal, often accusatory and extremely classless. If someone in the US, for instance, isn't already a Christian, a pamphlet isn't going to change that.

7. Don't hide behind a fake front. This goes for the "I agree with [local college personality]" shirts, fliers and posters that make no mention of the fact that an event or lecture will be a Christian event, etc. While in college, I was lured to an ice cream social, a creationist lecture and a prayer group all under essentially false pretenses - just during the first semester of my freshman year! And at every event, someone was up front, telling the attendees all about sin and Jesus and praying the Sinner's Prayer. I even attended what was supposed to be an academic lecture on abstinence (that some campus sororities even made a mandatory group activity) that was extremely offensive to women and ended with the Sinner's Prayer. I didn't attend a Christian college.

8. Don't assume that we have "God-shaped holes" and try to get us to admit it. I certainly think that religion helps meet various psychological needs, and there are plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings (and deeper emotional experiences as well) that come along with it. But just because you have a proverbial hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill doesn't mean that we all do. Trying to convince us that our lives suck or are incomplete without God isn't going to work, because seriously, stop insulting us and implying that we're secretly miserable. We're clearly getting along just fine without any gods, so this line of strategy won't work.

9. Don't compare your past experiences to our present. I cannot count the times I've heard Christians enthusiastically share their stories of horrible, sinful lives that left them feeling empty and lonely. These "sinful" lives usually consisted of such shockers as swearing, going to R-rated moves, looking at porn, drinking, partying, smoking, and occasionally doing drugs. Oh yeah, and having premarital sex. The thing is, maybe these things made you feel guilty or empty; maybe you developed addictions or other problems relating to these activities, and maybe you're much happier now that you don't do them. That's great. But it doesn't mean that hearing your story is going to shock us or convince us to change our ways, because there is such a thing as a healthy balance, and it can include some (or maybe all) of those things. This tactic seems especially silly when different Christians groups and denominations can't seem to decide what's sinful and what's not (drinking, smoking, porn).

10. Don't talk down to us, as if we're just not understanding something perfectly obvious. Many of us have read the Bible, tried praying, attended churches for years, and still ended up atheists. There's clearly not a magic bullet that converts people to Christianity, and whatever experience led you to believe probably happened on a pretty personal level. We haven't witnessed anything miraculous or heard any voices, and we don't see anything self-evident about God in nature or humanity. So if you insist on trying to save us, at least familiarize yourself with our perspective before jumping in, because assuming we're simply uninformed or dumb is only going to hurt your chances.

My final advice: Don't evangelize proactively at all. If you belong to a group, make your events open to the public, but don't use them to preach at non-Christians and repeat the Sinner's Prayer. If you're an individual, identify yourself as a Christian, but don't start preaching to people next to you on airplanes or on facebook walls. Simply let any interested parties come to you. If they see something in your life they think is worth learning about, they'll ask - and then you can share your faith with someone who genuinely wants to hear about it. Your message will likely be heard with more respect and interest if you haven't been trying to push it.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby happycynic on 20 Apr 2009 2:48 pm

Speaking for myself, I know that the only thing that'll bring me back into the Theist fold is if they give strong, logical, testable, repeatably verified evidence for God (and then for their God of choice if they want me to be of a particular denomination). That, or some kind of epiphany of instant understanding given from the big guy himself.

So, any attempts at emotional appeals (i.e. guilt, belonging, love, fear, hope, etc.) are pretty much wasted. I don't decide what I think reality is based on emotions, I do that based on evidence and with cold rationality.

As for wearing your religion on your sleeve, turn it around and think of whether it would bother you if someone ran around wearing something else on their sleeve. For example, if you had communicate with a gay man via e-mail frequently for or something, and he had "I think men are hot" in the signature of his e-mail (where some christians put bible passages), you might be offended. Same thing if I ran around with a shirt that says "There is no God," or "Pre-marital sex is O.K." or pro-choice icons. If you'd be offended by any of these, it's prolly not a good idea to parade around your religion. If you're not bothered by seeing these around, then I'd say go ahead and flaunt all you want. Also, i'm not saying that a cod-piece with "I like men!" in rainbow letters is the equal in flaunting-ness to a simple cross necklace, but you have to be honest in evaluating how much "flaunting" you do.
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby jasonorlandohawk on 20 Apr 2009 5:28 pm

I'm a bit curious about #9, JulietEcho. I have personally found that my willingness to discuss my past, both the good and the bad, has made people more willing to discuss issues of religion & morality. For example, I have openly admitted on this site that I once had an addiction to pornography, and that my sexual activity ended up being destructive. After altering my behavior, I found myself in a better state of mind.

There's more than a few people that have appreciated my candor in discussing my experiences. If I could offer a generalization of the responses I've received, there are many people who are engaged in those activities, and their situation isn't healthy. When I mention the problems that I dealt with, they are suddenly very interested in having a conversation about the topic, b/c they are dealing with the same problems that I did.

Yes, I can realize it's an insult to assume that someone is miserable solely b/c they are having sex (outside of marriage).

However, I also think it's foolish to assume that IF someone is having sex, they're automatically "keeping a healthy balance."

As I've said, many people are glad to talk about the issues that they deal with over with individuals who have dealt with the same thing.

However, you seem to have a solid set of bad experiences with this category. Is there a difference between a "good" & "bad" attempt to share your story? What would that difference be? Obviously, I want to be respectful, but by the same token, I do this regularly, and it has proven successful & commonly appreciated. I want to know if there's a distinction that might cause this "tactic" to be perceived differently.
"Have faith that right makes might. And in this faith, let us each dare to do our duty, as best we understand it." - Abraham Lincoln
jasonorlandohawk
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Re: Tips for Evangelists

Postby hoverFrog on 20 Apr 2009 5:35 pm

JasonO, it is a selling point. It is saying "look at how troubled I was then and look at me now", it's the before and after test with washing powder. If you find yourself irritated by cold callers you should be able to see why selling Jesus is a turn off. On top of that it is trying to get people to say they have a hole in their life that will make everything right once it is filled with the appropriately shaped god. It isn't finding out anything about them, it's just selling a panacea. People tend not to like snake oil salesmen even when they are sincere.
"Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us." -John Irving, novelist (b. 1942)
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