When you first meet someone in a social or business setting, you start out slowly. You engage in small talk. You avoid controversial subjects. You size up the other person, and they size you up as well. As the relationship progresses, you each disclose a little bit more.
Once you develop a certain comfort level, you feel more willing to talk about serious matters. Once you have built a fairly high level of trust, then you get into more controversial topics and open up even more.
If you are going to get through to Jehovah’s Witnesses with the light of the gospel, you will need to follow a similar process.
I believe there are 6 stages to a successful witnessing relationship with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
1. Breaking the Ice
2. Building Rapport
3. Treading Lightly
4. Opening Up
5. Challenging Directly
6. Scenario 1: Coming to Jesus
6. Scenario 2: Walking Away
These stages don’t always come about in an orderly sequence. Since you don’t know for sure just how or when to make the transitions, sometimes you go have to take some relational risks and be ready to back off and try again later. Knowing the Watchtower conversion process can help you considerably.
First, let’s talk about the Breaking the Ice Stage.
When they first encounter you at your door, the Witnesses have three objectives:
1. Break the ice and get a conversation going
2. Get you to take some of their literature
3. Set up a return visit (sometimes they ask you if it’s all right if they come back and see you again; other times they just come back to follow up “to see if you have any questions about the magazine we left with you.”)
At this stage, your objectives match well with theirs. You also want to get a conversation going and pave the way for a return visit. I recommend that you take their literature because that makes it much more likely that they will return for further discussions. Don’t leave it lying around, though, if there are impressionable members of your household who might read it.
If you have a strong objection to taking this type of literature, say something like, “I prefer not to accept literature from any religious group until I have time to learn more about their teachings. I hope you’re not offended by that. It isn’t personal.”
All you need to do at this point is be friendly and avoid two errors:
1. Don’t be overeager to witness to them.
Don’t launch into your testimony or give them a gospel presentation you may have learned. They will see this as a blatant attempt to convert them. They might try to get past that in order to witness to you or they might simply terminate any further contact with you. In either event, that would get things off on a bad footing. You need to build a relationship with them first.
2. Don’t say or do anything that they would see as an attempt to embarrass, humiliate, or persecute them.
Don’t call the Watchtower organization a cult.
Don’t ask them why they won’t take blood transfusions. Don’t talk about Watchtower false prophecies or scandals. Don’t try to start a discussion about differences in doctrine. As your relationship progresses to deeper stages, you will have opportunities to discuss such matters.
As I mentioned in the “The Watchtower Conversion Process,” in order to make sure they are not wasting their time, Witnesses sometimes ask some variation of this question: “If we show you that we have the truth, would you consider becoming a Jehovah’s Witness?”
I always answer that with a reply similar to this one: “Sure. IF you show me that my religion is wrong in some way and that yours is right, of course I would change. But that’s a big IF. I would have to see that from the Bible first, and I’m sure I would have a lot of questions before I could reach such a point.”
Be friendly and be willing to set up an appointment for them to meet with you for about an hour.
If they don’t try to set up a further meeting, don’t press the point.
They’ll be back.
Have you ever turned Witnesses off by being overly eager or overly combative at your first encounter? What would you do differently next time?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Coming next: Stage 2 of a Witnessing Relationship: Building Rapport