How do you open a conversation about the Lord Jesus? It can be hard enough talking to our family and friends about Him when they are not interested in spiritual things, but even more so when we try to reach out to people around us more generally.

When evangelist Malcolm Macdonald moved to Buckhaven, my assembly at that time, he introduced me to the idea of a door-to-door survey. A list of questions was prepared and we went round speaking to those who lived in the area about things that mattered to them. Malcolm, with his sense of humour, was a master of getting people to relax in the first few seconds and he could always hear something in what they said that made a connection. Within a fortnight, I had had more opportunities to share the gospel with people than I had in several years of leafletting that area! People are usually more keen to tell you what they think, than to listen to you, and the survey gives them confidence that you are going to listen to their views. As they see that a genuine conversation is happening and not a sales pitch, they often become willing to give you their attention. A survey can be done in two minutes, but often people have chatted for forty minutes or more.

An important question is “Would you like the results of the survey?” giving opportunity for another visit and a chance to get to know the person a bit more. We have used the survey in different ways for different purposes. The church in Edinburgh was keen to find a use for their newly refurbished hall that would benefit the community and make contact with them. A survey revealed that although there were many mums and toddlers groups in the area, they all closed during the holidays. Edinburgh church folks resolved to be the one that would be open then! In Paisley we used it to ask those who don’t believe in God what the biggest barriers to belief were. We used their answers to determine the subjects for our well-attended ‘Big Questions’ course, including, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ and ‘Hasn’t religion caused all the wars?’ In Coatbridge we took a more overtly evangelistic approach, asking people directly about their beliefs, again feeding into people attending a Bible discussion course. In Kirkintilloch I recently did a five-question version, explaining that we were keen to get a picture of what people in the town believed.

We asked 200 people the following questions with the results given here:

1. Do you believe there is a God?
Yes 71% No 15% Unsure 14%

2. Do you believe Jesus really lived?
Yes 82% No 4% Unsure 14%

3. Do you believe He is alive now?
Yes 36% No 47% Unsure 17%

4. Do you believe in heaven?
Yes 60% No 14% Unsure 26%

5. If so, do you feel sure you are going there?
Yes 28% No 23% Unsure 49%

These last two questions really made people think. Fewer than half of those who believed in heaven could say they were sure of going there. How sad! At just about every doorstep it gave an opportunity to explain that we can be absolutely certain by putting our trust in the Saviour. As John puts it: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 ESV)

After the results were distributed, I revisited these 200 homes and gave out an excellent booklet called ‘No Longer Hoping’. It is written by a former Catholic who said that both he and his friend, a Protestant, had only been able to say they hoped they were going to heaven but having both come to a personal faith in the Saviour could now say confidently, “I know.” In terms of people coming to events organised by the church, results were small, but when we asked ourselves, “When did we last have opportunity to share the gospel meaningfully with 200 people?” we certainly felt that this had been a worthwhile activity.