Marketing experts say if you want people to become customers, you need a good product and three things to tip the scales in your favor.
- Overt benefit. People must clearly recognize “What’s in it for me?”
- Persuasive credibility. Claims about the product, as well as the person making the claims, must be credible.
- Dramatic difference. People must see the positive difference your product will bring in comparison to other products on the market.
The same principle applies to evangelism. We need to know our “customers.”
The apostle Paul understood this. Consider the market research he conducted when speaking to people living in Athens.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. ...” Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." (Acts 17:16–23)
Paul did not communicate blindly. He learned what he could about his audience. He took time to understand the Athenians and their culture, and tailored his message accordingly. He describes his marketing philosophy to the Corinthian church.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19–23)
Of course, Paul was not saying that he compromised moral standards for the sake of being accepted. He didn’t change the content of his message; he just packaged it differently, personalizing it to the particular audience he was addressing at the time, showing them how the gospel answered their main aspirations, questions and concerns.
Think of the people you want to influence and ask yourself these questions:
- What do they value?
- What do they like and dislike?
- Do they have a sense of need?
- What do they want most out of life?
- What are they looking for (if anything) from God?
- What barriers must be overcome for them to consider God?
- What communication strategies would be most effective?
- What kind of person would make Jesus’ message most attractive to them?
(Adapted from Workplace Grace, winner of a Silver Medallion Book Award and Christianity Today Book of the Year Award. The book is available in hardback, quality paperback and Kindle edition at Amazon.com.)