Ever found yourself looking for a way to initiate a conversation about God, but not sure exactly how to start? I’ve been in similar situations with people I don’t know (i.e. on airplanes, while waiting for a seat in a restaurant, or while watching a soccer game), and I’ve tried a number of approaches. I continue to return to one simple, effective question, however, to start the most important of all conversations. I’ve come to believe this is the most essential evangelistic question we can ask: “What do you think happens when we die?”
This question can take a variety of forms (like, “Do you believe in life after death?” or, “What do you think about the afterlife?”), and it invariably leads to deeper conversations about the meaning of life, the existence of God and plight of humans. James Boccardo has done an excellent service to the Kingdom by writing about this approach extensively in a book called Unsilenced. I met James several years ago while speaking at a conference in North Carolina and I highly recommend his book. He provides a strategy for using this question and considers a number of possible objections you might hear from people with whom you are sharing. In my own experience with this simple approach, I’ve learned the value of, “What do you think happens after we die?”
This one question will immediately help you understand the worldview of the person with whom you are talking. It’s helpful to know where people are coming from, and every worldview has a distinctive answer to this question. When you ask it, you’ll almost immediately diagnose the worldview you are about to engage, without having to ask any overt questions about God’s existence.
Questions about the afterlife are often easier to ask than questions about God, even though the discussion of one inevitably leads to the discussion of the other. Many people have given thought to issues of life and earth, even though they haven’t seriously considered the existence of God. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to talk about this question.
In the end, the Good News of the Gospel is about Salvation; being saved from the future judgment of God we so deserve. While God certainly wants us to be transformed in this life, God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus saves us from judgment in eternity. The question, “What do you think happens when we die?” is directed at the most important offer of the Gospel: forgiveness and eternal life.
When I ask this initial question of non-believers, they inevitably provide answers in one of two categories. Some believe they will simply return to the dirt. When this is the case, I often talk about the existence and nature of the soul and our desire for justice and mercy. Some possess a vague, undefined belief in life after death (heaven or hell). When this is the case, I usually ask them how our final destination is determined (who gets to decide?). In either case, the question, ““What do you think happens when we die?” has been the gateway question that has helped me to diagnose worldview, engage inoffensively and direct discussions toward the most significant gift of the Gospel.