Ten Easy Ways to Start Meaningful Dialogue

Twice in the past week I’ve been asked how to start conversations about spiritual matters with non-believers, so it looks like this has been on people’s minds! The article below was written by Steve Wagner (formerly of Stand to Reason, now executive director of the pro-life organization Justice for All), and it was part of the supplemental material that came with the video study for Greg’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. We now offer an updated Tactics video study with new videos and supplemental material, so I thought it would be a good idea to repost Steve’s thoughts from the original material here.

(If you’re interested in reading more by Steve, you can get a free digital copy of his book, Common Ground without Compromise, here.)

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Ten Easy Ways to Start Meaningful Dialogue
By Steve Wagner

The key to entering a meaningful conversation is to look for opportunities, then start the conversation by building a bridge with a friendly opener. The following list gives helpful tips for striking up conversations with non-believers.

1. Be alert to circumstances where people might like to talk.

  • Waiting rooms (doctor’s office, car repair, DMV)
  • Social events (receptions, dinner parties)
  • On-campus locations (central quad, classes, library, computer center,
  • student union)
  • Lunchrooms
  • Instant messenger forums
  • Chat rooms or web forums
  • Coffee shops
  • Carpools

2. Ask a question: “What do you think about…?”

3. Show interest: “Can I ask your opinion about something?”

4. Ask for help: “There’s something on my mind. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

5. Express concern: “I can’t believe this happened!”

6. Express amazement: “Did you hear about…?!”

7. Get to know people.

Get better acquainted with your friends and co-workers. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know where people stand unless they’ve had a chance to tell you. Use questions like “What do you mean by that?” or “What do you think about…?” in order to gather information and show genuine interest in someone else’s ideas. Don’t presume you know what they’re thinking. You might be surprised by what you learn.

8. Talk about current events.

Use the common obsession with news to initiate a conversation on meaningful topics. Government decisions, natural disasters, human rights violations, war, elections, foreign relations, cultural events, business mergers, and even sporting events all could be points of access to conversations that touch on values, ethics, or religion.

9. Read newspaper and newsmagazine articles.

Whether we like it or not, most public discourse happens in short articles surrounded by large photographs, images, or graphics of some kind. Use all of these things to your advantage. Use a recent article to express concern about something. Or ask someone sitting nearby what they think about a recent turn of events. Ask, “Did you see the photo of the terrorist bombing in Time today? Why do you think this keeps happening?” or “Have you read Anne Quindlen’s article in Newsweek on abortion? What did you think of it?”

10. Discuss current movies or recent TV programs.

Most of our friends feel like they’re on safe ground discussing movies or last night’s prime-time special. This makes the latest movie a great opportunity to discuss issues, especially if it is a drama people are taking seriously already. Ask, “Did you see this movie? Did you like it?” Then, listen closely to their response. When it’s your turn to share your opinion, offer a question or observation about a fundamental issue raised or a point of view advanced by the film, and then toss the ball back to the other person for their response.

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Amy K. Hall