communicating Christ to secular audiences
This MTI blog series aims to help you and your readers sharpen your skills in communicating faith matters to secular readers – skeptics, seekers, and the spiritually disinterested.

Picture the scene.  A Nigerian man, living in Belgium, is watching a pornographic video on a computer.  His intense thoughts and feelings are mired in spiritual darkness.  Then he has a notion – he describes it as being in his “spirit” – to focus on the concept of “love.”  He types some words into Google, and…

I’ll let his email tell you the rest of the story.

I never knew in my life there was someone like you who still gives knowledge.  I never mean to do this but I was just playing with the computer, watching a porno sex video.  My spirit told me “love.”  So I decided to log into Google and type in the secret of love.  Then the page opened.

At that time, if you typed the words the secret of love (without quotation marks) into Google and then searched, at or near the top of the list was my article, “Dynamic Sex: Unlocking the Secret to Love.”  This piece – written for nonbelievers – uses secular material to present God’s view of love and sex, explains the Gospel, and encourages readers to trust Christ as Savior.  Apparently, our friend clicked on this link and opened the “Dynamic Sex” article.  He continues…

When I read, I felt different.  I asked myself, “Why do I always think about sex every day?”  This has affected me negatively.  I have promised myself never to watch porno films again but to walk in the commandment of God.  I thank God for using you. [name], A Nigerian based in Belgium.

I am humbled and grateful that the Lord used this article in this man’s life – and in many other lives around the world over many years.   But it almost did not happen.  It took a jolt from a good friend to get me started…

A jolt…that I needed

Once, early in my career, I spoke in a secular university classroom session about premarital sex.  The professor was rude and indifferent.  I was saying true things but not in ways students could understand and accept.  The audience applauded politely but I sensed I had missed the mark.

Later, my best friend – who had been observing – told me. “Rusty, you’re a good speaker but you’re not a great speaker.  The reason Josh McDowell is a great speaker is that he works hard at it.”  My blood began to boil.  My pride had been hurt.  When I calmed down, I asked for an explanation.

My friend went on to challenge me: “You need to thoroughly research this topic and discover the questions non-Christians are asking.  Find secular authorities who support the biblical views.  Then construct your speech to begin where the audience’s minds are and move them gradually, step-by-step, to where you want them to be.  You need to remove “red flags,” unnecessary concepts and words that will confuse or enrage your listeners.  Then you need to write out your speech word-for-word, memorize it, and practice it so it doesn’t sound memorized.”

Whew!  That sounded like a lot of work!  I didn’t want to do all that.  I thought I was good enough just adapting most of my speech as I went along.  But I realized my friend was right.  I tried it.

That advice has made all the difference.  I don’t claim to be a great speaker or writer, but following that advice has improved me immensely.  I’m so glad I followed it.  It has opened many doors for the Gospel.  I shudder to think of the millions of people I would not have touched for Christ had I ignored my friend.

Good communication is hard work.  Don’t allow sloth or ego to prevent you from doing your best.  Do Christians applaud wildly when you address them?  Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you are automatically effective with non-Christians.  You may have to work very hard.

An open door for the Gospel

Once in Bulgaria in Eastern Europe I appeared on a popular television program with four million viewers.  The program mixed music videos with interviews.  Magdalena Maleeva, the tennis star, was also a guest on that day.  The host asked me about love, sex, relationships and success.  At one point he said, “Our young people in Bulgaria are losing hope.  Communism has fallen. They don’t know their purpose in life.  Many are committing suicide.  Do you have anything that could give hope to our youth?”

Paul said to pray for open doors for the Gospel.  This was an open door!  By God’s grace, I was able to clearly explain to four million Bulgarians that Christ makes all the difference in life.  All this was using the state-owned television studios that for years had served up Marxist propaganda.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have seen modest success in communicating Christ to non-Christians via the electronic mass media, in the print media, and in person.  I hope some of these insights will be useful to you.

Content in this series relates to one-on-one, speaking, writing, media – all communication.  Other articles will focus on analyzing your audience, discovering what interests them, and adapting your presentation to relate to those interests.  But first, consider a fundamental question:

Why should we adapt our communication to reach non-Christians?

For one thing, it’s implicit in the Great Commission.  If we want everyone to hear of Christ, we need to present him in a way they can understand, on their own level.

Some might wonder, “Why is it necessary to meet people on their own level?  Aren’t we in danger of distorting or twisting the message in order to get converts?”

On the one hand, Paul emphasized that he changed his message not one bit to suit the tastes of those who heard it.  He wanted to proclaim God’s Good News.  “Our purpose is to please God, not people,” he said (I Thessalonians 2:4 NLT).

On the other hand, he said, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:22 NASB).  He was saying: “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone” so that I might bring them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT).

Here’s the distinction:  The message remains the same; the approach differs.

Note the different ways Jesus approached people.  With the immoral woman at the well he offered living water and did not mention sin.  With the learned religious leader Nicodemus, he reasoned spiritually.  He rebuked the Pharisees for their pride, praised Nathanael the skeptic for his interest in truth, met a physical need in a blind man and a social need in an outcast leper.

As Christian communicators, we must realize that we are in spiritual warfare.  This is why Jesus warns us to be shrewd.  We are entering the enemy’s camp – Satan’s camp – and snatching out souls.  For a good study of how Paul was shrewd and skillful, compare the approach he used with Jews in the synagogue (Acts 13) and the one he used with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17).

Paul had a great love for the lost.  It broke his heart to think of people spending eternity without Jesus.  That love motivated him to think and work hard to reach people.  Do we love people as Paul and Jesus did?  Should we study them carefully to learn how to reach them?

The next article, Analyzing Your Audience, focuses on how to study your audience and devise strategies for reaching them.

Want to know more?

Gratis online resources:

  • Communicating Christ to Secular AudiencesCould God use your talents, websites and publications to influence nonChristians for Christ?  Learn how secular readers think and feel, what they want and why.  Practical tools for analyzing your audience, tapping your users’ felt needs, grabbing attention, touching hearts and minds, and sensitively communicating spiritual truth.  Online streaming video webinar (00:59:00) from Magazine Training International.  (Simple free registration required.)
  • (Same subject as above, but mp3 audio workshop file; 00:36:14)
  • Communicating with Secular Audiences Outline.  Note-taking outline for above presentation.  Includes Speaking Your Audience’s Language table to help translate “Christianese” into Normal HumanSpeak.  (Handout; 4-page MS Word document)
  • Comunicandose Efectivamente con una Audiencia Secular.  (“Communicating Effectively with Secular Audiences,” Spanish) ¿Como piensan y sienten los no creyentes?  ¿Que les interesa y por que?  Descubrirá como estructurar su mensaje, artículo o programa para cautivar la atención de su audiencia; como mantener su interés; y como ayudar a abrir los corazones al Señor.  (Artículo)

(Much of the material in this article is adapted from the Communication Principles Training course developed by Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright.)

by Rusty Wright. Rusty is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Copyright © 2023 Rusty Wright

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

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