Ordinary Practice Evangelism


by Tim Isbell   5/2011


In my 40's the Lord clarified his invitation into a life of vocational, pastoral ministry. At the time, I was in the electronics/computer science industry and had been an active Christian for many years. I did about everything there was to do around local churches - except preaching and any significant evangelism. I did not have a seminary education or formal pastoral experience, but I was wise enough to realize that only a feeble (or desperate) church might ask me to serve as their pastor. And such a church would certainly lack any parishioner(s) skilled in evangelism - if they did, they probably wouldn't be a weak enough church to call me. So it seemed axiomatic that I had to develop at least some basic evangelism skills.

I knew that God had not given me the "spiritual gift" of evangelism. But I figured since he was calling me into the pastoral ministry that he must be willing to develop in me some evangelism capability. So in my last few years in industry, I deliberately did what I could to develop this part of my life.  Today personal evangelism is my most treasured area. This web page attempts to describe what God taught me.

This material is a good supplement for the sermon series: The Alternate Life.

If you are interested, read on.

Various evangelism styles

Of course, none of these needs to exclude others. Wherever applicable, it's great to use a combination. But here are four techniques to share the Good News in our world.

Personality evangelism

This is where a Christian with the “evangelism gift” meets someone on a plane and converts them before the plane arrives at the destination. It is great for a few, but only about 1 in 14 Christians are gifted this way. I'm not one of them.

Program/Event Evangelism

Here Christians invite friends to church programs or other Christian activities designed to present the Good News. These are helpful as a part of some peoples' journey to faith, especially when a Christian brings a person they know pretty well AND who is at a unique point in their journey for this event to intersect their story. Evangelism events are sometimes effective, but I'm not "wired up" to put on and promote big events or programs that follow a formula. So from time to time, I've found city-wide evangelism settings of some help, but I must admit that this style doesn't work well for me.

Tools Evangelism

This is where we learn a structured presentation and use it to present the Good News. This is not my style. Canned presentations and brochures are useless with the kinds of people my life intersects. Don't get me wrong, it is important to have a clear grasp of the core elements of the plan of salvation. And I do look at brochures/tracts to learn from them. But the most compelling "presentation" I ever do is impromptu on a napkin or a scrap of paper. 

Ordinary Practice Evangelism

This is my preferred style which I sometimes call "Evangelism for the Rest of Us." There is nothing wrong with the three styles above, but if you are looking for an alternative, please consider this approach based on developing a life Ordinary Practices. These are the kind of practices that the Spirit likes to use to bring about extraordinary things. An authentic Christian life filled with Ordinary Practices leads to:

  • Social and friendship relationships with unchurched people.

  • Spiritual conversations with unchurched people. (In my experience, the Spirit seems to open up these opportunities when people notice 1) that I’m different today than I was in the past, or 2) that I handled something different than they handle it, or 3) if I’m different than most people they know. 

  • Opportunities to introduce some to Christian community and teaching.

  • Opportunities to lead a few into personal relationships with Jesus.

  • The joy of playing a part as people become fruitful parts of God's Kingdom on earth.

Foundations for Ordinary Practices

Ordinary Practices are relational acts of kindness we offer to unchurched people. But first, let's look at four essential prerequisites:

Deep investment in spiritual formation

This element is essential! As we grow in the Lord, our heart beats more and more like Jesus' heart. People around us notice something different: what they notice is Jesus living his life through our life. Sooner or later the unchurched people who intersect our lives will see a quality of hope in the middle of life's circumstances, and they will ask for the reason we are this way. Their curiosity begins a spiritual conversation. See 1 Peter 3.15-16a.

(In the previous paragraph you may notice a difference between the standard concept of "Jesus as our helper," and what I describe as "Jesus living his life through us.")

Prayer for unchurched people

Identify 5-10 FRANs (Friends, Relatives, Associates, Neighbors) by name. Write them on a list and put it where we'll see often. And pray at least twice weekly for God to BLESS them in one or more of these 5 dimensions:

  • Body (physical needs)
  • Labor (career, school, etc)
  • Emotions,
  • Social (relations with others)
  • Spiritual
See the attachment at the bottom of this page for a handy reminder sheet. Especially ask God to open their hearts to spiritual things. Also, invite God to open our hearts and agendas as we interact with unchurched people in the everyday course of life. God honors such prayers and lives the life of Jesus out through our lives. Sooner or later a FRAN will open a door for a spiritual conversation. When this happens, the Spirit guides our response, and we begin to experience the joy of fruitfulness.

While still working in the marketplace I started using my 40-minute work commute to pray for the meetings of the day, and for each person who would be in those meetings. Before long I noticed people hanging around after meetings to ask some private question - usually about career, family, or marriage. Often they were quite open for a spiritual conversation - indeed that's why they hung around. After the fact, I realized that God used my prayers not only to open the hearts of the people around me but also to adjust my heart to be more receptive to the people who previously had seemed like interruptions in my workflow.

Get to know unchurched people 

If we don't know many unchurched people, then we start asking God to help us rearrange our lives so we do. For many of us, our family and the church can easily consume too much of our relational life. If we are to have spiritual conversations with unchurched people, we deliberately foster acquaintances and relationships with unchurched people. At present, I interact several times every month in 3 sectors of secular society. One is the neighborhood where we live. It's an upscale suburb of San Jose, CA and it's full of apparently self-sufficient professionals. But as we get to know our neighbors we discover the brokenness common throughout humankind. A second sector is the senior golf club at a local municipal course where there are about 150 members. The third is a local low-income apartment complex of about 85 units. There Robin and I do various forms of Christian social work, and also run weekly Math Coaching programs for elementary through high school students. Deliberately arranging life in these 3 sectors keep us involved with a broad range of unchurched people. In many cases, we are the only or primary Christian these people know.

Grow to like unchurched people

I really do mean "like." People sense it when they're just a project on our agenda - and people don't like being projects. I really do mean we need to come to the place where we actually like spending time with some unchurched people. We're in good company, Jesus likes spending time with unchurched people. Indeed, it's one of the things the religious people of his day didn't like about him! If we don't like some of the unchurched people in our life, we ask God to change our hearts to beat like Jesus' heart. This is a prayer we know for certain God will answer. And soon we discover real joy in our times with unchurched people - just like Jesus did.

Okay, so once we have some unchurched friends and God has prepared our hearts for them, it's time to take a look at the list of...

List of Ordinary Practices

Attention giveaways

Giving away our attention is today's "cup of cold water." See Matthew 10.42.

Free attention giveaways. We build enough “margin” into our lives in order to spend time with people. Then when they begin to share something of their life with us we have time to listen - really listen. We immediately set aside whatever else is on our mind and enter fully into the “receive mode," only asking questions for clarity. We pretend we’re being paid by the minute to listen!

Prompted attention giveaways. As we pray for opportunities to give attention to unchurched people, God brings them into our lives. When someone shows up, we take the initiative to ask an open question - then we completely give away our attention for the next few minutes. We ask open questions like:

  • What’s an ordinary day/week look like in your life?
  • How are you feeling these days… really?
  • How are your kids doing? (remember their names/situations for next time)
  • What surprises you about getting older?
  • As a 12-year-old, what did you want to become?
  • What was the hardest part of raising your kids?
  • What are the high points of the past week? Low points?
  • What are you learning these days
  • What are you reading these days?

Show special interest in someone:

  • Remember a birthday, anniversary, the date a spouse died, and so on. Do this with a phone call, card or small gift. Contact them when they are sick; maybe take them soup or something helpful. Perhaps visit them in the hospital, or send them a get well card.

  • Attend an event that is meaningful to them such as a child's ballgame or play, a wedding or funeral, a birthday get-together, and so on.

  • Identify something specific about them and affirm it with a note.

  • Identify something they are good at and that you’d like to learn; ask them for some tips.

  • Say “Wow, way to go!” a lot!

Attention giveaways surprise people in very pleasant ways, and they create real connections. They also create opportunities for conversations, which sooner or later God leads to spiritual subjects.

Prayer giveaways

Secret Prayer Giveaways. Without telling the person, start praying for them daily/weekly. Then check-in with them periodically to see how things are going and adjust your prayers. If an opportunity arises to let them know you're praying for them, tell them so.

Offered Prayer Giveaways. When someone shares a need ask, “Is it okay if I pray for you in this area over the next week (or month)?” If they consent - and my experience it that virtually everyone gladly consents - then do it. It means more to them than we probably expect. I don't usually pray for them right there in their presence, but if the situation feels okay to do this I go ahead and say a short prayer

Outcome. We’ll run into God more frequently than we imagine. We’ll notice an increase in “coincidences.” And we’ll create opportunities to stay connected to people we pray for.

Continue praying for them for the time you promised. Make it a point to check with them along the way to see how it’s going and if anything has changed. If it feels appropriate, offer continued prayer.

Resource giveaways

Notice someone’s life situation and offer them a resource that they need. Give away some time to help them with a project. Give away some of your expertise. Loan them a tool. If appropriate, offer to pray for them as described in the previous section. Resource giveaways provide a means to stay connected.

Become a spiritual friend.

Offer to read a book of the Bible together, and meet to discuss in a couple of weeks. Try doing this without walking the person through some sort of printed curriculum. For ideas on this, look at the Story-Line Plan in the Bible Reading Plans link.

Offer to meet periodically just to talk about life. As we do this we’ll discover how easy it is to have a spiritual conversation without any "canned curriculum."

Do life with unchurched people. 

Log some time with unchurched people doing purely social things – things you both like to do. These do not need to have any spiritual content at all, they are just things that you both enjoy.

Relational Spaces

God brings people into our lives in 4 relational spaces:

  • Public (people who are more than 12’ away from us).
  • Social (people who inhabit the space between 4’ and 12’ from us)
  • Personal (those who we are comfortable between 18” and 4’ from us)
  • Intimate (the few we allow within 18”). 

Many who briefly intersect our lives never intend to get closer. It is not our job to convert everyone into a personal or intimate friend in order to give them a glimpse of God. It needs to be okay for people to remain in our Social Space, or in our Public Space. Besides, we only have enough time for a few Personal and Intimate friends. Whenever an opportunity to intersect with someone arises, God simply wants us to nudge them toward him - without feeling guilty for not nurturing this person into our Personal or Intimate Spaces.

The vocabulary of Ordinary Practices is a Public Space or Social Space vocabulary. Jesus-people do not speak pushy, personal words – these are words of Personal or Intimate Spaces. We speak inquisitive, safe, and public words. We use normal, non-private, non-religious language that helps people relax and be themselves.

We count every positive interaction as an Ordinary Practice offered to God for whatever use he thinks is appropriate. For us, the Spirit living the life of Jesus through our life turns the ordinary into extraordinary. It is the flesh on the scripture, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” We do not invite strangers in for intimacy; we invite them to no longer be strangers.

For more on this, read The Search to Belong by Joe Myers.


Journey to Faith Chart

Several years ago I read an excellent book on personal evangelism: Living Proof, by Jim Petersen. It included a very helpful chart describing the typical steps people take on their journey to Christian faith. It is also a great guide for how to pray for our FRANs as they proceed on the journey. Click on Journey to Faith for my adaptation of Jim Petersen's chart. 


This is the simplest napkin level explanation of Christian faith I've seen. All the religions of the world can be spelled with just two letters: DO. By this, I mean that following that religion is following a list of DOs. But Christian faith is spelled differently, it's spelled: DONE. Christian faith isn't about what we can do for God, it is about what God has already DONE for us. It's for us to receive. To see this explanation carried out on a napkin in under 2 minutes, click on DO-DONE.

LaGuardia & Blondin Stories

Becoming an Authentic Christian includes two stories that I have used countless times to communicate the good news of Christian faith. The one about LaGuardia as a New York judge illustrates the concept of God's forgiveness. The second story about Blondin walking a tightrope across Niagra Falls helps people understand the concept of trusting Jesus. 

Before/Christ/After statement

Occasionally God opens a door for me to briefly share my own spiritual journey. Usually, the window of opportunity calls for a 2-minute version. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the concept of following the format: Before/Christ/After. By this I mean I tell a brief description of some significant item in my life before I gave that item to Christ, then the entrance of Christ, and then describe my life after surrendering this area to Christ. For some examples, click on Before/Christ/After.

Develop a Scripture list

I keep a list of helpful scriptures tucked in the back of my Bible. Mostly I use it to help me zero-in on a passage of scripture when visiting a hospital patient, but it also includes my "short-list" of helpful scriptures for people who are wanting to know how to receive Christ into their life. At least for me, here are the scriptures I find most helpful in personal evangelism: Luke 15.10, John 1.12, Romans 3.23-26, Romans 8.15-17, Romans 3.23... 6.23... 10.9-13 (the Roman Roman Road), 2 Corinthians 5.17, Galatians 4.4-7, Ephesians 2.8-10, 1 Timothy 2.3-6, Titus 3.3-7, 1 John 1.8-9. For a printable Word file of my entire Scripture crib sheet sized to fit in my Bible, click on Visitation Scripture List.

Christian Frequently Asked Questions

Several years ago when I started using this personal evangelism style I noticed that many "investigators" had the same questions. So that I wouldn't have to think through the question each time, I began cataloging questions along with my best thinking at the time. I still have the list in a long, somewhat raw file which I'm slowly polishing. You can view and download it at Tim's Christian FAQ's. Comments welcome.

New-Christian discipleship

Early in my ministry at New Life, I gathered a set of lay people to help me develop some curriculum suitable for new Christians and people coming back to faith after a long absence. You can find the first one on this website at Becoming an Authentic Christian. I figured these same people almost immediately would need a few other basic teachings, so we also developed: Learning to Pray, Overcoming Temptation, Believer Baptism, and Communion. You can find all of these in the Christian Teachings section of this website. Also, it is important to connect a person with some form of Bible reading or study right away. I recommend especially the Story-Line Plan outlined in Bible Reading Plans part of this website. 

Ordinary Practice Evangelism sermons

Here are some links to a couple of series and several one-shot sermons that I've preached in this general area of Ordinary Practice Evangelism:

Teach 2012 materials

Teach 2012 was held in Vacaville, CA on February 4, 2012. In the Adult track, I led the 2nd session, framing it with the material on this web page. This conference was designed to prepare attendees to not only personally grow from the experience, but also to take the material home and re-present it in their own Districts and zones. To make this easier for anybody assigned the task of presenting this same material, I've attached my PowerPoint file and also the Session handout at the bottom of this page. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk through any of this.

Helpful books

Harney, Kevin G. Organic Outreach for Ordinary People. Zondervan.

Henderson, Jim. A.K.A. Lost. Waterbrook Press.

Myers, Joe. The Search to Belong. Zondervan.

Petersen, Jim. Living Proof. NavPress. There is also a videotape (yes, it's that long ago) that is a great supplement to the book.

Sjogran, Steve and Ping, Dave. Outflow, outward-focused living in a self-focused world. Group.

Sjogran, Steve and Ping, Dave and Pollock, Doug. Irresistible Evangelism, Group.

Sweeten, Dr. Gary. Listening for Heaven’s Sake. Equipping Ministries International, www.equipmin.org.

One last observation

I have never led anyone to Christ by myself. In every case, God provided me with a place on his team. Part of this team turns is invariably a local church, and especially one where discipleship happens. I don't expect every person I reach out to needs to attend, or even visit, my local church. But if they are to grow in Christian faith they need to connect to an authentic, local church near their residence.


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