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Thumbs and fingers together forming a heart

Spiritual Receptivity

Objective: To develop evangelism strategies that consider knowing how receptive to the gospel our friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors are.


Studying People and Evangelistic Effectiveness

Successful fishermen seem consistently lucky. It is not about luck, however. They are fishing experts who’ve honed their skills and knowledge through countless hours on the water. Year after year, some of these people won the “Big Fish Contest” sponsored by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

They knew more about the species they pursued and had more highly developed fishing skills for that species than less successful anglers did. No two species behave precisely the same. Therefore, consistently catching different fish requires different skills.

“What are you fishing for?” I’ve frequently asked other fishermen, and they’ve often responded, “Whatever bites!” I’ve observed that those most likely to catch nothing fish for anything.

Applied knowledge, specific for each kind of fish, separate skilled fishermen from those who don’t care whether they catch fish. This principle applies to fishing for people. Those who try to reach everybody are likelier to get nobody than churches that focus on a specific segment of society, for example, young married people with children or those battling addictive behavior. 

For whom are we fishing? It matters. No fishing method or lure always works.

Neither does a single evangelistic approach. The lure or bait fishermen use depends on what they’re trying to catch.

Our evangelistic strategy depends on our audience. The best method is always love, but love must reach its destination. Love sent isn’t always received!

We might love and send our sister a birthday card, but she won't be happy if it gets lost. Love sometimes gets lost in the mail. I am sure you have experienced that.

Sharing the gospel with a co-worker or neighbor receptive to hearing and believing it will be interpreted as a loving action. Sharing the same message with people with zero biblical understanding whom we hardly know probably won’t. They’ll likely misinterpret our loving communication as an arrogant attempt to ram our beliefs down their throats. They have no idea what we’re talking about and don’t want to hear it.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 below. What timeless principles for evangelism do we find in this passage? 


"Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who followed the Jewish law, I, too, lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this to bring those under the law to Christ.

When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I, too, live apart from it so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with weak people, I share their weaknesses, for I want to bring the weak to Christ.

Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT).

"So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NLT). Sharing the plan of salvation is essential at some point for a person to come to faith in Christ.

How does Romans 10:17 describe faith’s foundation? Timing is everything. Sharing your faith too soon with the biblically uninformed and pressing for a decision will be counterproductive. Not sharing it soon enough could result in someone slipping into eternity without an opportunity to receive Christ.

To catch a fish, our lure or bait has to connect with its needs. Those who fish for native brook trout in tiny mountain streams don’t use a ten-inch lure because trout don’t eat items bigger than they are!


On the other hand, that ten-inch lure might be ideal for muskellunge, which routinely eat other fish that size or bigger. What are our co-workers’ and neighbors’ unmet needs and unanswered questions? They’re potential entry points for the gospel. To identify these entry points, we have to get to know them.

Evaluating Spiritual Receptivity and Effective Evangelism

In Acts 17:32-34 NLT, Paul received three different responses to the same message. “When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a council member, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” 

People respond differently to an explanation of the gospel. In The Unchurched Nextdoor, Dr. Thom Rainer identifies five levels of responsiveness based on an extensive survey of unchurched people: 


1 - Highly receptive to hearing and believing the Good News

2 - Receptive to the gospel and church

3 - Neutral, with no apparent signs of being interested yet perhaps being open to discussion

4 - Resistant to the gospel but with no antagonistic attitude

5 - Highly antagonistic and even hostile to the gospel

Using the Rainer Scale, rate the responsiveness of your co-workers/neighbors for whom you’re regularly praying.

Our co-workers’ understanding of and attitudes toward biblical Christianity matter. Knowing them helps us relate to them. Even if they attend church regularly, they might not grasp God’s plan of salvation. The Barna Group reports that Protestant church attendees are more than twice as likely as Catholic church attendees to be born-again Christians (61% to 26%, respectively, in 2007).

Many who attend church regularly aren’t connected to Christ, and neither are most who don’t attend. Probably many of our co-workers have minimal understanding of God and little or no enthusiasm for biblical Christianity. How do we reach such people?

To come to Christ, people need sufficient knowledge. They need a positive attitude toward the faith. They also must feel a sense of urgency resulting from the Holy Spirit's conviction.

God can use our words to increase their understanding. He uses our love to change their attitude from negative to positive. His Spirit creates urgency.


Spiritual Battles and Effective Evangelism


Evangelism is a spiritual battle. The Holy Spirit maximizes zeal. Knowledge of God. And obedience to His ways. Satan seeks to minimize all three.

The challenge is to keep our attitude enthusiastic, our understanding of God growing, and our trust in His promises strong when attacked.

“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:14-17 NLT). How does each piece of armor equip us for the challenge?


 “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:31-32 NLT).

A Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe asked the question, "Is there absolute truth?" Sixty-six percent of adults agree that "there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct."

Seventy-two percent of 18 to 25-year-olds agree. How does rejection of absolute truth play right into Satan’s hands? In what sense is the whole spiritual war a battle for truth?

Loving People and Effective Evangelism


How can we change people who are hostile toward Christians and the church? By ourselves, we can’t. When the world was hostile toward God, He sent his Son to win them back by meeting their deepest needs through self-sacrifice.

Most didn’t respond positively, but some did, and some still do. Jesus said, “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT).

Like Jesus, we sacrifice our desires and agenda to help meet their needs. We bring Christ, who lives in and through us close to them.

Through kindness. Answering their questions. Seeking to understand.

Listening to their stories without arguing. Apologizing for the offenses of well-meaning Christians.

Building a relationship on what we have in common. And being authentic. Over time we can share how Jesus has healed our brokenness.


Getting Permission and Effective Evangelism


We address co-workers’ ignorance about spiritual things bit by bit. They must allow it. Part of their ignorance is chosen, and part isn’t.

We trust God to open our eyes to spiritual realities. That’s necessary because “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.

They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). We practice evangelism by permission. We ask questions like, "May I share with you something the Bible teaches about God?” We share spiritual truths in bite-size pieces using everyday words.


Patience and Effective Evangelism


Over time, progressively, we share more and more of the gospel, including man’s original condition of fellowship with God; the fall from fellowship through sin; the nature of sin and its universal presence; the results of our sin; who Jesus is; how his death on the cross, burial, and resurrection solved our sin problem; and the need to turn around and receive the forgiveness God offers.

We share both the reward and cost of following Jesus. We ask if they want to know Christ when the time is right. “And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15b-16a NLT).

We must be gentle and respectful always. By God’s grace, some hard hearts will soften. Some who were spiritually blind will see and believe!

Patient Faith

Growing our faith, understanding the basics of evangelism, and becoming more God-like leaders take patience. Find out how you can grow in all aspects of your faith with these resources.

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