Written By Sam Chan, Australia
Sam Chan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is a public evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia, where he regularly shares the gospel with bankers and lawyers at breakfast, city workers during their lunch break, and high-school and uni students in the evening. He speaks at conferences around the world on the topics of ethics, storytelling, apologetics, and the practice of evangelism in a post-Christian culture. Sam blogs at espressotheology.com and has produced more resources on sharing Jesus in a post-Covid world on The Post-Covid Playbook.
At the height of the COVID pandemic in April 2020, the Australian government ordered Australians to go into lockdown. No schools. No weddings. No funerals. But we were allowed outdoors for a very small set of essential activities. What were they exactly? These activities included going outside for exercise, buying alcohol, and getting a haircut. Yes, somehow, getting a haircut was more essential than attending schools, weddings, or funerals.
But that’s because COVID has been such a unique time for us. We’ve never had to deal with something like this in our generation. Who’s to say what’s essential or non-essential anymore?
Pandemics are something that happened to our great-great-grandparents’ generation. But not to our modern world. We’ve put a man on the moon. We’ve invented the seedless watermelon. We’ve built driverless vehicles. It almost seemed like there’s no limit to what humans are able to do . . . and then COVID-19 hit us, and we’ve all been kept at home for the past few months. How are we so powerless against a tiny virus?
Being in lockdown means there’s never been a more difficult time to tell our friends about Jesus. We can’t talk to each other face to face, unless it’s to get a haircut! But there’s also never been an easier time to tell our friends about Jesus. Whatever was once working for them is no longer working. They are hungry for answers.
So how can we tell our friends about Jesus in these new and challenging times? After all, the deepest desire of every Christian is to tell their friends about Jesus (Rom. 10:14-15).
Let me suggest three simple things we can do.
1. Church is now just one click away—invite our friends to check out our service
It used to be almost impossible to invite our friends to check out our church service. There were too many social and cultural barriers—it just wasn’t something that they would comfortably do. Plus most of my friends like to sleep in on a Sunday morning. Or go to the beach instead.
But now that most of our social calendars are clear and our church service is online, it’s been really easy to send the link to my friends. I simply say something like, “Hey I thought this might lift your spirits,” and then share the link. Our friends might not click on the link immediately, but they will see it as your way of saying that you care. And perhaps if they’re searching for answers or feeling down, they might just click on the link a few days later.
I reckon many other people are also inviting their friends. Our online church is getting a lot more visits than we used to get as a physical church. But this also means that our churches need to adjust what they do for their online services. For example, we need to welcome the newcomers in the first few minutes of the church service. And we need to show them a link they can click if they want to contact someone at the church for prayer or to get connected.
We also need to run the church service, knowing that many people watching are visitors and non-believers checking us out. This is exactly what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, where he tells the believers to run church in such a way that it’s a more welcoming, less intimidating experience.
At my church, this means that we aim to keep our talks under 20 minutes, and the whole service to less than 50 minutes. It also means that we are sensitive with our tone to avoid being unnecessarily offensive to a non-believer who might be visiting us.
2. Our friends are craving for community—invite them to join our online small groups
COVID has robbed most of us of what once gave us community—gyms, sports, clubs. But we can show them that Jesus gives us a community that survives, not because of Zoom, but despite Zoom!
If our friends are shy, they can simply turn off their cameras for their first few online meetings. But they can at least watch how Christians do community. They will see how we check in on each other, share, and pray for each other’s needs. This will blow them away! There is something attractive about how Spirit-filled believers enjoy being part of the same body of Christ—let’s give our friends a taste of this. After a while, they too will wish they can enjoy such a community as this.
3. We’re all yearning for deep conversation—invite them to share their fears, anxieties, and frustrations
I like to invite my friends for a “virtual happy hour.” We line up a time to meet online, and then grab some snacks and drink, and then do happy hour together. When we do this, I like to ask my friends, “How are you doing?”
In my two books on evangelism—Evangelism in a Skeptical World and How to Talk About Jesus—I talk about the three layers of conversation: (1) Interests (the weather, the weekend, sports), (2) Values (your opinions), and (3) Worldview (what is most deep, true, and real for you).
Before COVID, no-one wanted to talk about Worldviews. That was way too serious. We only wanted to talk about Interests—the weather, what we did on the weekend, and the sports.
But when we were in the thick of COVID, no-one wanted to talk about the weather. The weekends felt like weekdays. And there was no sports to talk about. Instead, we all wanted to talk about what’s most deeply meaningful to us.
So all I had to do was simply ask my friends, “How are you doing?” and give them permission to talk about their fears, anxieties, and frustrations. All I had to do was to be a good listener. To make them know that they were heard and understood by me.
What I like to do next is offer to pray for them. I say something like, “My wife, kids, and I pray every night for our friends. Would it be OK if we prayed for you?”
Before COVID, no-one wanted to talk about prayer. But during COVID, my friends are so relieved to hear that I want to pray for them. They say, “Oh, please, could you? That would be wonderful!”
The next time we catch up, I tell them that we prayed for them. In doing so, they can see the difference that Jesus makes during this COVID pandemic. We have a God who loves us enough to hear our prayers. But we also have a God who is powerful enough that He answers our prayers.
We really don’t know how much longer this pandemic will last. In Australia, we thought we had beaten the pandemic. We flattened the curve after only a few weeks. We had almost zero new cases for about the next three months. But once we lifted restrictions, COVID has returned and it looks like we don’t know where to go from here. Our second wave is bigger than our first wave. Elimination has been impossible. Suppression has not worked. Our future is completely uncertain. We cannot control this virus.
But one thing we know for sure. These are new and exciting times where we can be Jesus to our friends. We can love them. Care for them. Pray for them. And we can also look for new and creative ways to show them the difference that Jesus makes in our lives.