“Stop counting conversions and start counting conversations.”
Chapter 12 begins where chapter 11 left off, with Dan and Neo leaving a soccer game. The two of them had been hanging out with Neo’s friends. Dan says to Neo, “You love those people, don’t you?” He says it’s remarkable that he does, and he draws a parallel to Jesus partying with tax collectors and sinners. Neo is able to love these people who are not Christian. Neo wonders why he wouldn’t extend acceptance to them. Regardless of their faith, they are the people that Jesus gave His life for. “I don’t even think of them as Christians or non-Christians,” he says. “I just think of them as people I love.”
Dan seems to have an issue with not dividing people—who is in, and who is out. He wonders whether Neo “witnesses” to them, using the term “friendship evangelism.” Neo’s response to this is one of my favorites in this book so far: “…that expression, ‘friendship evangelism.’ It can prostitute friendship…If I’m going to pretend to be somebody’s friend just so I can try to proselytize them, well, I might as well be selling soap.”
Christians think too much in terms of “them” and “us,” looking at non-Christians as targets for conversions. Dan makes it seem as though a relationship with a non-Christian is worthless if not used as a straightforward evangelism opportunity. This is very relevant to me in my life at the moment. I’ve received comments from family and friends about me dating a non-Christian. It isn’t in the forefront of my mind that converting him is something I must do. I don’t want to look at him like a target, as Dan implies. I don’t view our relationship at all as a means of conversion.
Neo brings up a story about his interactions with Marita, the mother of one of his students. She asked if he was a “born again,” something that Neo explains has taken on a bad meaning. People speak of “born again” Christians as judgmental and fanatical. Neo simply presented her an opportunity to learn more. He said it was wonderful that she wanted to feel closer to God, and asked if he could help. He offered to have her accompany him to church, and she jumped at the opportunity.
I think this is the correct way for evangelism to happen—being an open guide to the church. Neo asked how he could help; he didn’t list for her the steps she must take to feel closer to God. He simply provided a way for her to learn more. By doing this, any sense of “acting preachy” is taken out of the equation. We as Christians are not going to be able to convert anyone who isn’t open, so why try to evangelize in such a forward, harsh way? We get much farther waiting until people are open and allowing the process to happen. Neo says that with Marita, he’ll “see what happens. I’m sure God will lead the whole thing along. It’s a natural process, really.”
Neo says that we should stop counting conversions, because the church’s approach to conversions is so mechanistic. Instead, we should count conversations. He says, “Conversation implies a real relationship, and if we make our goal to establish relationships and engage in authentic conversations, I know that conversions will happen. But if we keep trying to convert people, we’ll simply drive them away.” So, if my boyfriend or anyone in my life with whom I’ve shared my faith wants to come to me to learn more, I’ll be thrilled. Until then, I just want to focus on having good relationships with people in my life regardless of the potential outcome, and see people as people and not as targets.