I never know exactly how someone is going to respond when I bring up my faith in a conversation. For a long time, I got away with it by never bringing it up. It meant that my friendships and conversations with strangers stayed in the safe zone.
It also meant that there was a part of myself I never got to share with my friends who didn’t already follow Jesus. It became a whole portion of my life that I didn’t know how to talk about. Opening the door to those conversations felt risky, and unclear. At the same time, I desire them. I want my close friends to know the most important parts of my life, including the part that believes in Jesus.
I live in Chicago, a large, multi-ethnic city with a diverse set of beliefs, opinions, and spiritual backgrounds, and my partner and I have made a choice not to own a car and rely on walking, public transit, and ride-share apps to get around. As a result, I’ve had opportunities to turn the Uber and Lyft driver pleasantries into interesting conversations where I open the door to talking about faith.
Here’s how I create a safe environment to talk about faith in just 30 seconds. You can use this template to move a small talk conversation deeper or even to take a conversation with a friend outside of the “safe zone” and into conversations about faith.
Start with a truth about yourself
After the usual safety check and pleasantries with my drivers, we often end up talking about work and family. Here’s how I talk about what I do for work in a way that opens the door without forcing us into a conversation that the person I am talking to may not want to have:
- I work in the non-profit sector. I am a consultant for Christian and social-justice-based organizations and help them see how faith and social justice aren’t mutually exclusive.
I’ve also helped friends have these kinds of conversations with others in just 30 seconds. My friend James is a biomedical engineer at a large company in California. Instead of Uber and Lyft drivers, he has conversations with his co-workers and those in his neighborhood.
He wants to connect deeper to those he sees every day, and because his faith is an important part of his life, he wants to open doors to conversations about faith.
Here’s the opening line that I helped James create for his short interactions with strangers:
- On the weekends, I spend time volunteering for my church, which is trying to find a place in our neighborhood that is authentic and serves the community.
(I usually take a pause to see if they want to disengage from the conversation, and then I continue).
Acknowledge perceptions about Christians or Faith
I give my conversation partner a way to share any mistrust, grievances, or locate a question they may want to ask me:
- I know that there’s a lot of reasons not to trust Christians when it comes to social justice. But I also know that many of the social justice leaders we follow have a powerful and personal spiritual life. I think we need to acknowledge both of these things.
My friend uses this line next:
- In the past, Christians have have come into this neighborhood without realizing that there are already a lot of neighborhood organizations and churches trying to do what they do. I don’t want to be ignorant, so I am trying to learn everything I can first.
Lean into hope
I want this to connect to what I have shared. I move the conversation from abstract to personal, and ask for their thoughts or experience on something I have shared. I also name Jesus explicitly:
- It can seem so far away sometimes, but I believe that faith and social justice organizations have a lot to learn from each other, and I believe that the only way to build these bridges is to learn from Jesus. What about you? What’s your spiritual background?
My friend closes his conversations like this:
- I believe in a Jesus that comes to new places to bring honor and respect, so I want to follow that example. How have you seen that happen in your neighborhood?
Now it’s your turn!
Not sure how to do this yourself? Here’s a list of questions to get you started, along with examples of how I answered each of them.
What is something you care passionately about?
It could be your community and neighborhood, a particular topic around social justice. It could be about the impact of your work, or even a hobby like playing tabletop games or reading.
- I am passionate about social justice, and am lucky enough to have a career that can pursue Jesus and justice simultaneously.
What are some of the barriers you face when you think about this passion?
Be honest and vulnerable with yourself. You don’t have to share all of this, but it’s important to be aware of what comes up as you consider this question.
- The biggest barrier I face is believing that the church cares as deeply about social justice as Jesus does. There are so many examples of churches and leaders that don’t believe in justice issues because they don’t experience these issues for themselves.
How does Jesus meet you in this passion?
Don’t be afraid to think about how expressing this passion makes you feel. Write down how you experience hope as you pursue this passion.
- Jesus meets me when I remember how many social justice leaders have cultivated a deep personal faith, despite the cultural assumption that social justice and Christian faith are mutually exclusive practices.
Practice with a friend.
Turning your responses to these prompts into a 30 second conversation you can have takes practice. Find a friend and say this out loud several times with them, and ask them to respond as if they were someone else. Ask them what you did well, and how you can improve.
One of three things usually happens to me at the end of my 30 seconds. Sometimes, the conversation ends with a “That’s cool.” Other times, they answer my question and shift topics. Most of the time, though, they’ll answer my questions with vulnerability and honesty, because I was honest first. They’ll ask me a question about what I think of Christians that they know, or ask for my perspective or advice about their own spiritual life.
I always thank them for sharing this part of themselves with me.
It’s important to remember that a conversation is a two-way street. The person you are talking to may want to talk more about one of your points, politely bow out of the conversation, or abruptly change the topic.
What’s important is that you’ve created a safe and trusting space for someone to share what they think about faith. You’ve navigated a conversation that has a lot of unknowns and interpreted yourself well, and you’ve embodied Jesus into asking questions that invite honesty.