Nearly every Christian in America — at least, every one that I’m aware of — has received that telltale knock at the door. A quick peek through the curtains or the peephole reveals two young men in white shirts and black tags, or perhaps two or three women with copies of “Awake” in hand. How do you handle those encounters? Most Christians I know are surprisingly “unChristian” about these encounters…many don’t answer the door, or pretend they’re not home. Others answer the door, but respond with a curt “No thanks, I’m a Christian” or similar dismissive response, most often closing the door without waiting for a response.
I’ve welcomed literally hundreds of missionaries through my door. Let me propose a new way for you to handle these encounters, one that actually shows that you are what you claim (a Christian), and one that might give you an opportunity to share your faith as well. It’s quite simple, almost common sense — based on five very basic principles:
1. Answer the door. This is often the hardest step for many people. Hiding behind a peephole, or hiding with the lights off hoping they’ll think you’re not home, is not only childish, it’s unChristian. And don’t just answer the door, open the door, actually remove the barriers between you and your visitors. Don’t talk through a glass or screen door. No, answer the door, open it, and greet them with a warm welcome and a handshake. Trust me, after a year or two on the job, these missionaries have had dozens of doors slammed in their faces, have heard “sorry, I’m a Christian”, more time than they can recall, and have walked away from many houses they knew were occupied. By simply answering and opening the door, and greeting them with a warm welcome, you will place yourself in the top few percent of their visitations that day, and likely in their entire mission.
2. Invite them in. Don’t just answer the door, and don’t just open it. Actually invite them in! Invite them to have a seat, offer them something to drink (with appropriate sensitivity to their religious restrictions), and treat them as guests. I recognize, only at step two, some of you may think I’m approaching the ridiculous — even the unthinkable. I also recognize that some of these suggestions aren’t practical for everyone — some stay-at-home moms, for example — who may not feel safe inviting two men into their home, or perhaps there is a baby sleeping upstairs. If these are your reasons, that’s understandable. If your reason for refusing to answer the door is that you’re afraid of what you may be asked, or you are sorely unprepared to articulate your faith or even present a basic description of what you believe, then you have failed the most basic task of an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20): to know the message of the Sovereign and convey it to His intended audience.
3. Listen. As an Alpha male, this one is especially hard for me…but it is critical. after you’ve invited them in and offered them something to drink, I strongly encourage you to do the one thing you want to do least — listen. Let them speak, and actually listen to what they say. Practice active listening, by making eye contact and even taking notes. Resist the urge to jump in and contradict or challenge every point they bring up, even if you disagree. Just listen. It’s hard, but it will be worth it and you’ll see why in a moment.
4. Offer a short response. Here is where your training, and all your clear thinking as a Christian, will pay off…and where your patient listening will pay off as well. When they have finished their presentation, and you have listened quietly, actively, and patiently, simply ask the same in return. Perhaps something like, “Thank you — that was fascinating. I’ve listening to everything you’ve said, and I do have several questions…but would you mind doing the same favor for me in return?”. Or perhaps, “Thank you. I’ve listened quietly and carefully for fifteen minutes — would you do the same for me for five?” Whatever works for the situation. The point is, common courtesy, even human decency, almost requires that they now listen to you for a duration. Be ready. I could write for pages on what to say, and I’ve screwed it up as many times as I’ve gotten it right, but simply present a basic gospel message. Don’t try to refute every point you disagreed with. Above all, don’t debate! Tell them who Christ really is, and perhaps a short version of when He means to you. Be brief, be kind, and largely non-confrontational, because you are going to…
5. Invite them back. Even better, feed them. A nebulous “come back some time” just won’t cut it here. Set an actual date and time, and invite them back for dinner. Give yourself a week or two — if you listened carefully and took good notes during their talk, then you will have lots of homework to do. When they come back, start over with point #1 above. After dinner, if the opportunity presents itself, mention their prior visit and ask a simple question. Again, don’t feel obligated to play point-counterpoint, at least not yet. Just ask a simple question and follow the conversation from there. Ask questions. Take notes. Offer an alternative. Repeat.
It’s not easy, it’s not fast, it’s not always comfortable, but it works. It doesn’t work every time, but it works.