One of the most important things to knonw in personal evangelism is finding out where a person is spiritually. In the book Irresistable Evangelism, by Steve Sjogren, Dave Ping and Dough Pollock they make a differentiation between the traditional evangelism appoach of generic evangelistic questions and move toward one that is more personalized. It is like receiving junk mail labeled “resident” verses a letter with your name handwritten on it. The personal one will be received.
Every person in this world has a different “address” with our Savior. Some are close and some are very far away. When a teacher of the law agreed with Jesus’ declaration of the greatest commandment, Jesus told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34).
Since everyone’s address is different, we need to address the message in a way that will reach them. One kind or type of address does not fit everyone. Someone who is far from God may not respond positively to a direct presentation of the gospel, but would be open to ministry or servanthood evangelism. Someone closer to Jesus would certainly appreciate servanthood evangelism but it would be better to engage them in a spiritual dialogue that could ultimately lead to them trusting in Jesus Christ. Irresistable Evangelism says, “The messages that are likely to get through to a person’s heart are the messages addressed to that person’s individual needs” (67).
If the message that is addressed most directly to a person’s individual need is the most likely to get through to his or her heart, how do we know what the need is or how to address the message in that way? A huge part of this answer is found in understanding and identifying four basic needs that people will experience in their lives: Physical needs, emotional/relational needs, directional needs and spiritual needs. With each one there is a progressive movement toward the heart. With each one, there is greater risk in reaching that person for Christ. Washing a car is relatively low risk. Discussing the meaning of life is one that requires much more thought, prayer, and courage. All of them are important and washing a car for someone can lead to discussing the meaning of life and meeting the author of life.
How then should a witness respond when they discover a need they can connect with in another person who doesn’t know Christ? They respond in kind. To a physical need, you respond with active kindness. To an relational/emotional need you respond with active listening. To a directional need one would respond with active dialogue. Finally, to a spiritual need you would respond in kind with an active sharing. Of course these are needs that are apparent not only to you but to them.
Next we’ll look at how to address these needs in greater detail. It is a skill that can be learned.