7 Ways to Share the Gospel
Without Being Obtrusive
July 20, 2012
We've been consistently taught from the time we first learned to sing "I Am a Child of God" that we're to share the Restored Gospel of Christ with others. For most of us the gospel and our membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a source of happiness, peace, comfort, sociality and stability. So just like a favorite song, movie, book or pastime that is meaningful for us, we're generally willing to share the gospel and our testimonies with our friends, neighbors, family members, associates and others. EXCEPT, we all seem to have the same big hold-back. We're terrified about offending, alienating or ticking people off. This fear is warranted. Nearly all of us have had the experience of trying to teach a friend or family member only to be harshly rejected, sometimes with lingering hard feelings, for "trying to push our beliefs/values/life on them."
President George Albert Smith said, "So, as we go forward, each of us, having an influence with our neighbors and our friends, let us not be too timid. We do not need to annoy people, but let us make them feel and understand that we are interested, not in making them members of the Church for membership, but in bringing them into the Church that they may enjoy the same blessings that we enjoy."
I added the extra emphasis to his statement about not annoying people, because that's the real gist of our fear of sharing the gospel. How can we share the gospel with our circle of influence without being annoying, a nuisance, obtrusive, or just driving people crazy? Here are a few tips:
1. Friendship First, Last and Always. Be friends, or friendly, to everyone. This means fostering friendships and neighborly relations with nonmembers and less active members. Do NOT just be friends, or only associate, with active Mormons. If you're only friends with, or only do nice things for, active members then you're not doing anyone any favors. You're basically bearing your testimony to those you ignore or reject that you're too good, and that The LDS Church is much too good, for the likes of them. We're told in the scriptures that we're to be a light to the world. Well, you can't be a light to anyone when you're in a closed room full of light bulbs!
Establish the friendships long before you even think about sharing your testimony with them, and don't base the friendship solely on hoping they'll convert. No one wants to feel like a project, but that's exactly how someone will feel if the first thing you say to them is, "Hey wanna be my friend? And oh yeah, why don't you come to church with me this weekend?" Don't laugh, it's happened.
Friendships, relationships and camaraderie are such an integral part of spreading the gospel that it can't be overstated. If you have a healthy friendship with someone then sharing will feel a lot more natural and less awkward when opportunities arise. They'll also be more comfortable coming to you with their questions or concerns about The Church. Active friendships also give them a chance to get to know you and see first-hand the positives of living the gospel standards.
I get so irritated when I hear about members not letting their children play with nonmembers. I have several nonmember friends, who now as adults, still resent The Church because of this. Self-segregating your kids sends the wrong message to nonmembers, to your kids, and it only breeds resentment. Don't do it! If you're that overly concerned about what your kids may see or hear at nonmembers' houses, then have your kids invite those friends to play at your house. Yes, even if those kids smell like the cigarettes their parents smoke and swear like a trucker. How are those kids, and their families, ever going to see another way if they don't see it from you?
2. Use Your Talents To Serve. All of us are good at something, whether it's cooking, fixing things, writing, singing, etc. Use the talents you have to share your testimony of the gospel. Remember, sharing your testimony doesn't always mean saying the words "I'd like to bear my testimony...etc." And more often than not, it doesn't involve words at all. Your actions speak louder of your commitment to Christ and His church than your words will. If you're mechanically inclined, offer to fix things for people when the need arises. If you're a good baker or cook, randomly bring people treats and goodies. Figure out what you're good at, and share those talents with others.
Now, you don't have to be like those people at an awards show that always say "I'd like to thank God that I won this" when you use your talents to serve. For example, when dropping off cookies you probably shouldn't say, "I bring you cookies in the name of Jesus Christ". That might not go over well. But if your friend, family member, neighbor or whoever already knows you're a member then they'll start to make the connection between your actions and your membership in the church. If they don't know, after a few good deeds they'll inevitably ask you why you're so nice or helpful. Then you can tell them it's because you're a child of a Heavenly Father who loves you, and go on from there.
3. Invite People to Special Church Events. Encourage nonmember or less active family and friends to attend special events at church; such as baby blessings, baptisms, ordinations, mission farewells or homecomings. Sharing these moments tells people you hold them in high-regard. It can also help them feel more included in your church life. Unless they're stone-cold, church haters, few people would be offended or irked at such an invitation. It will also give them a chance to attend a church service and maybe even feel the spirit. At the least it can provoke more questions from them about what we believe and why.
Inviting people to attend a Temple Open house with you can also provide an excellent chance to let someone learn about the church without feeling ambushed or preached to.
If you want to get really gutsy you could invite someone to a branch, ward or stake service project. Let them see the gospel in action.
4. Don't Treat Every Missionary Experience Like a Missionary Experience. Don't go overboard answering a simple question. If you're wearing a CTR ring and someone asks you what it means, simply and briefly tell them what it is and why you wear it. Short and simple. Don't recite every Article of Faith and the old missionary discussions. That would definitely come off as annoying and obtrusive, and worse it will dissuade the person from ever asking you another question. Elder M. Russell Ballard told the story of a member that moved into a new neighborhood. A neighbor came over to greet the man and his family and asked, "Where did you come from?" The member without missing a beat responded something like, "You know, that's a very good question. You should come over tomorrow so we can discuss where we came from, why we're here on earth and where we're going after we die." Um... ya, a simple "We just moved from Townsville" would have sufficed. The point is to be approachable for more questions later.
Don't get defensive or timid when you answer questions, either. You don't need to act like a kicked puppy, or like you're waiting to get hit with a stick after you respond. Answer questions comfortably, cheerfully and unapologetically. If you seem uncomfortable, they will pick up on that and likely never ask you anything else about the church, and may even become needlessly suspicious.
And since we're talking about ways not to be annoying or obtrusive, please don't blindside people with the missionaries. If you "just happen to accidentally" invite your nonmember friend over the same night you're having missionaries over for dinner then your family-recipe casserole isn't going to be the only thing that doesn't sit well with all your guests. Let your friends and family know in advance that you'd like to send missionaries to their house to meet with them, before submitting a visit referral. A member referral to a missionary is like gold, unless thoughtlessness on the part of the referrer turns it into fool's gold.
5. Use the Internet and Social Networking. I can't overstate how great the Internet is for sharing the gospel and your testimony. I'm partial to sharing the gospel via writing on a website, just in case you hadn't noticed. Church leaders have always counseled that we share the gospel with our neighbors and friends. Well, the Internet through, Facebook, Blogs, Personal Websites Pinterest, Twitter, etc. has increased your friends and neighbors to encompass the whole world. Over 400,000 people a month look up the search term "LDS" in Google, and 64 percent of all Internet users have used it as a tool to look up religious information. Posting pictures, videos and articles on your wall or timeline is a great way to share your appreciation of the gospel to people on your "friends list" without being pushy or awkward. Just don't overdo the posts or it will backfire and people will block you. Writing a blog, or commenting on other blog posts is a great way to reach people that may already be looking for answers to questions. The fact that you're reading this article is proof that online is an effective way to share your thoughts on gospel topics.
6. Let Love Guide You, NOT Good Intentions. Sharing the gospel is all about showing people that Heavenly Father and Jesus love them, and that living the gospel can bring joy. It's not about showing people we're better people than them, it's about showing them what we believe is a better way. If someone says, "I drink, so do you think I'm a bad person?" don't answer with "Yes, you should repent." A better answer would be, "You're a child of God, and He loves you. I just want to share a way that's blessed my life." See the difference?
Please don't confuse doing the well-meaning thing with doing the right thing. I'm sure the active brother or sister meant well when they told the pregnant teenager she shouldn't be in church, I'm sure they thought they were just standing up for truth and righteousness. But I'm also sure that they were dead wrong! The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about making people feel guilty or ashamed of themselves for their sins. Satan does a good enough job at that on his own, and he doesn't need our help. The gospel is about bringing faith and hope to everyone, which then leads to true repentance the blessings of discipleship. Remember, that mighty change that causes people to forsake sinful behaviors can only come from learning of and accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ and from the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. It doesn't come from someone nagging. And that mighty change can happen if someone is regularly attending church meetings. If someone doesn't feel welcome, they won't attend. It's that simple. Let your words and actions show everyone that they do matter to God and Jesus; this includes the pregnant single sister, the brother with a drinking or smoking problem, or the person who has more ink on them than a comic book. Remember, you don't convert people. The Holy Ghost does that. Your job is to provide the means and opportunity so the Holy Ghost to do His.
7. Focus on Understanding. The quickest way to annoy someone is to make them feel like you just want to convert them. The best way to avoid this is to focus on helping them understand what we believe and why, instead of pushing them to join. Succinctly and sincerely answer questions about gospel principles and doctrines. If they feel the spirit and convert then that's awesome! But if they don't, then understanding coupled with friendship can help reduce hostilities and suspicions about the LDS Church. Or even if they still hate us, they'll at least hate us on the facts and not on misconceptions. Accept that not everyone who listens to you will join the church, no matter how heartfelt and impassioned your testimony is. Even the people that heard Jesus, Himself, teach weren't convinced. So don't take it personal if they don't believe you either. it isn't us that give that mighty change of heart that causes someone to forsake sinful behaviors