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Breaking the Ice for Gospel Conversations

Sharing the good news requires following the guidance of the Holy Spirit to present the essentials of the gospel. To the novice and even the experienced evangelist, the question remains “What is a way to engage in an effective conversation?” Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, once made an intriguing statement. He said, “The soul never thinks without a mental picture.” Could this insight be used in evangelism? Let us find out.

Between 2009 and 2018, I was invited several times by Dalian Nationality University (DLNU) in China as an exchange scholar. The focus of the training I provided was not so much to teach young faculty members content but to teach them more about student-centered pedagogy, that is engaging students in learning through dialog with the faculty members, their “lǎo shī” (teachers). Teaching and learning in China are traditionally teacher-centered which makes engaging students in classroom discussions an ongoing challenge.

As a part of the training, I introduced “icebreakers.” I went into the classroom with big, colorful magazine pictures. I assumed that it was easier to engage them in a simple English conversation when they could see an image. I started a casual icebreaking conversation describing some of the people and scenery in the picture and invited the class to follow suit. With the repetition of this instructional routine, it took less than a week to get faculty members to the level where they felt comfortable speaking English. Slowly but surely the class icebreaking exercise went from describing pictorial images to content concepts that were less tangible. For the remainder of the training, the class interactivity shifted from teacher-centered to student -centered interactivities.

I did not take the success of DLNU icebreaking experience lightly and thought about using parallel strategies for evangelism. What if we could use images to “break the ice” in conversations with unbelievers? Eventually, I partnered with two brothers from another Chinese church in Chicago to design and produce a deck of 54 icebreaker evangelism picture cards.

The picture cards are a tool to bring the evangelist and the unbeliever into a warm and inviting conversation. Based on practical experience, asking questions is an approach that moves methodically from casual to thoughtful. The images depicted on the picture cards cover broad areas of everyday life, scenery, and mood that are related closely to Asian cultures. For example, one person might want to talk casually about his favorite pastime—possibly playing mahjong, eating at a dim sum restaurant, shopping at a street market, or worshipping at a local temple. At a more serious level, another person might talk about his feeling of helplessness in a hospital, frustration over addictive habits, and other of life’s uncertainties.

Is not using images to stimulate thinking an important concept in psychology? Association in psychology refers to a mental connection between mental states that usually stem from specific experiences as represented by the picture cards.

Once the picture cards are ready, we can move forward with four easy-to-follow application steps. Whether the card activity is best done with a small group or with just one individual will depend on the depth of the sharing.

Step 1: Invite the person to pick two or three cards (see below) from the deck to represent his current thoughts, such as state of mind, needs, interests, challenges, preferences, or joyful moments. In association psychology, a person is likely to follow a pattern of thinking or expression when given the right stimuli (i.e., the picture cards).

Step 2: Use the selected pictures (see below) to engage in small talk, providing the person with an opportunity to freely express his/her thoughts. Use the pictures as talking points and invite the person to share hopes and dreams that may include the pursuit of goals, or experiences, or interpersonal relationships.

Picture Cards as Talking Points

Step 3: Facilitate the conversation based on the pictures to connect to the person’s interests. Attempt to link the conversation to the gospel. For example, from the picture, could it be connected to some religious beliefs (or God)? Or would the person be interested to learn about hope in life?

Step 4: Explain the gospel in full if the person is interested. Explain Christ’s salvation using the color-bordered pictures following the order from black (sin of man), red (salvation of Jesus), white (purification from salvation), and gold (the joy and glory of eternity).

In 2015, the icebreaker card set, 福音破冰卡, was published by Christian Communications Inc. of USA (CCIUSA) in Houston, Texas in collaboration with Short Terms Missions of Chicago (STMC). They are available on the CCIUSA website.

Gospel Icebreaker Cards

To start sharing the good news can be a challenging conversation and the evangelist needs to try different ways given to him by the Lord to tackle the challenge. The gospel icebreaker card deck presented here is but one way of doing it.

Paul, in Colossians 1:28 (NLT), says it well:

So, we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

For another example of a resource for prompting faith-related conversations, see “Two New Resources from InterVarsity International Student Ministry.”

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Image credit:  erin mckenna on Unsplash.
Ovid Wong

Ovid Wong

Ovid Wong, PhD is an education professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. His public education experience spans from the inner-city classroom of Chicago to the suburban office of the assistant superintendent. He is the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Outstanding Science Teacher in Illinois award; National Science Teacher Association’s …View Full Bio

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