Adapted from I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
Threshold 1: Trusting a Christian
God, religion, and church are no longer respected by our society and culture. Distrust is the norm. When people don’t trust Christians, being “lost” seems like the wisest thing to do.
How do you help people trust you?
Take a posture of learning. Ask questions. Be curious. Let the other person be the expert. Bond with them. Go to their turf. Join their group, their guild. It’s one thing to “accept” people, it’s another thing to go and be with them like Jesus would. So how would Jesus be with people online, in videogames, in discussion forums, in social media? Affirm values in them worth affirming (i.e. gender/cultural diversity in games, patience towards trolling, indignation towards cyber-bullying, generous with time, encouraging, etc.). Get really good at noticing these qualities in people and name them. Welcome people into your life, be hospitable, be gracious. Let things roll off your back. Avoid arguing or defending. Seek understanding.
Threshold 2: Becoming Curious
Just because someone trusts you, it doesn’t mean they’re suddenly super curious about Jesus. Most are content with just having a Christian friend. They tolerate having different beliefs: “It’s all good. Whatever works for you.”
How do you help spark curiosity in Jesus?
Remember that curiosity takes time to blossom. Live curiously. Jesus was countercultural and it sparked curiosity: giving without thought of reward. Having grace on those that don’t deserve it. Making sacrifices in order to serve others. Responding to trolling and vitriol with a desire for connection and understanding. Ask provocative questions: Have you ever received a sign from God? What do you think is wrong with Christians today? How could our world use a superhero? Is there any power in this world that could make all things right? How did you feel about that article on [controversial topic]? Point towards Jesus through your own personal stories or stories from scripture. Jesus naturally sparks curiosity. Try retelling the parables.
Threshold 3: Becoming Open to Change
Change is both beautiful and “horrific.” The rich young ruler (Mark 10) trusted Jesus and was curious about Jesus, but was not open to change. He walked away when he found out he had to sell his possessions. Change is scary because it often brings up questions that have been ignored for years: Where is the drinking taking me? How do my late nights on the Internet feel in the morning? Why am I still bitter at my parents after all these years?
How do you help foster an openness to change?
Choose thoughtfully the medium for these interactions. Conversations about change are inherently more intimate conversations. If you’ve been chatting publicly, consider moving to a private channel. If you’ve been messaging, consider a voice or video platform. Remember that your choice of medium matters. Not all digital spaces are equal. Be prayerfully patient; they need to know you are still their friend even if they don’t change. Create a safe place to try spiritual things. Ask them to take risks. Make invitations like, “Try praying to God for a sign.” Lead and invite; don’t pressure. Challenge as Jesus challenged us. Truth-speak without being judgmental. Share similar struggles and talk about how you needed Jesus to overcome those struggles. Connect the dots for them. Interpret their experiences for them. Observe and reflect back things like, “I don’t think these are random events. I think God is pursuing you.”
Threshold 4: Truly Seeking After God
A real “seeker” has a sense of urgency and purpose to seeking. They seek Jesus, not just God, and they want to come to a decision about him: is Jesus for me or not? Seekers count the cost, if they weren’t truly seeking Jesus, they wouldn’t worry about the sacrifices that need to be made.
How do you take them from just meandering to a focused seeking after God?
Explicitly challenge them to seek. It’s so easy to overlook this vital step; take the time to be clear. Live out the Kingdom in front of them. Show them how to build their life on Jesus’ words; this shows that it’s relevant today. Open up your prayer life to them so they can see your interaction with God. Model what it looks like to seek and/or share your testimony and journey. Provide satisfying answers to their initial questions. Answer how you personally reconcile with the same question. Guide them in the Christian experience. “We sing songs because…”, “Here’s why we pray…”, “Someone is going to give a call to faith (altar call) which is…” Get Scripture in their hands to explore; Scripture will speak for itself.
Threshold 5: Entering the Kingdom
There comes a point when a seeker needs to make a decision. To repent and to follow Jesus. To move out of dating type relationship to commit and say “I do.” The cost is clear but is nothing in comparison to what is gained (Matt 13:44-46).
How do you help them make a commitment to Jesus?
Be appropriately urgent. Seeking answers to make a decision can be strenuous and frustrating, and they may give up. DON’T sit back and think “I’ll just leave them alone; it will happen naturally.” You need to intentionally lean into relationship at this point. Again, consider the medium where these conversations will happen. Move toward more intimate. Ask them explicitly to enter the Kingdom. Call for decision and commitment. This might feel old-school, as up until Threshold 3 things have been pretty open-ended and pressure-free. But that’s not helpful at Threshold 5. If the answer is “no,” ask why and what’s keeping them. Help them focus on Jesus and not on non-essential issues (like the Crusades, political issues, evolution, etc.). Encourage new believers to share their stories of coming to faith. Be creative about how this might happen online. What difference does this new commitment to Jesus make in their lives? How is this reflected where their lives intersect digital spaces?