SarahH began this list on the Friendly Atheist Forums and many others have contributed to it.
It’s a list of the Top Ten Tips for Christian Evangelists. The purpose is not to make the conversion of atheists easier. Rather, it’s to make the Christians who do this sort of thing more tolerable (since we have to deal with them on a regular basis).
1. Don’t start using the person’s name, as if you are a close personal friend, unless you actually are a close personal friend.
When someone has just met me, asks my name, and begins to talk to me starting their sentences with “Sarah,” it makes me want to back away slowly — certainly not keep listening.
2. Don’t start quoting from the Bible.
Most people will recognize what you’re doing even if they don’t recognize the particular book/verse, and it comes off as robotic and scripted, like a telemarketer’s call. I tune this sort of thing out, because unless someone is discussing the Bible with me on equal terms (we’ve already agreed to discuss the Bible and I already know what the conversation is about), I just assume that the person has run out of things to say and is falling back on their doctrine.
Besides, if I’m not already a Christian, why do they expect me to take their book seriously? It’s a huge turn-off.
3. Don’t bring up a topic, or try to find out what the person is interested in, just so you can bring it back around to how it’s all a metaphor for Jesus or Christianity.
It makes it seem like your interest was only a ploy to keep the attention of the listener, only to be using their cooperation for your own corny game. I don’t want to spend thirty minutes discussing The Killers with someone, only to have them steer the conversation into how all music is a gift from God and this somehow proves that he exists. It leaves the impression that they didn’t care about what I had to say at all — it was just a giant set-up for their waiting punch line.
4. Don’t use the phrase “Good News.”
The chances are extremely high (at least in westernized countries) that the person has already heard this news and judged for themselves whether it’s good or bad or boring or irrelevant or whatever. If the person’s not a Christian, they’ve clearly judged it as not good enough to act upon.
It’s also not new information, so it’s not “news,” and it’s your aim to convince people that it’s good — that’s not something that’s a priori. So telling someone that you want to share the “Good News” with them is essentially begging the question.
5. Don’t talk about Jesus like he’s part of the conversation.
The people you’re talking to don’t share your beliefs, so they’re not going to be thrilled to hear that Jesus is listening in on their thoughts and sending messages or providing inspiration to the person talking to them.
This makes you come off as either crazy or… well, mostly crazy. I get that you actually believe that Jesus is alive and God is everywhere and all-knowing, but to non-Christians, he’s just an imaginary friend of yours, and so telling us to listen for his voice in our hearts is creepy.
6. Don’t plant literature.
We’re already stuck with Bibles in hotel rooms (thanks for that, Gideons and pushover hotels!). There’s no need to hide tracts inside books at the bookstore or leave those horrible fake $20 bill pamphlets with (or instead of) the tip at a restaurant. They don’t work. They’re impersonal, often accusatory, and extremely classless. If someone isn’t already a Christian, a pamphlet isn’t going to change that.
7. Don’t hide behind a fake front.
This goes for the “I agree with [local college personality]” shirts, fliers and posters that make no mention of the fact that an event or lecture will be a Christian event, etc.
While in college, I was lured to an ice cream social, a Creationist lecture and a prayer group all under essentially false pretenses — and that was just during the first semester of my freshman year! At every event, someone was up front, telling the attendees all about sin and Jesus and praying the Sinner’s Prayer. I even attended what was supposed to be an academic lecture on abstinence (that some campus sororities even made a mandatory group activity) that was extremely offensive to women and ended with more prayer.
I didn’t attend a Christian college.
8. Don’t assume that we have “God-shaped holes in our hearts” and try to get us to admit it.
I certainly think that religion helps meet various psychological needs, and there are plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings (and deeper emotional experiences as well) that come along with it. But just because you have a proverbial hole-in-your-heart that only Jesus can fill doesn’t mean that all of us do.
Trying to convince us that our lives suck or are incomplete without God isn’t going to work. Stop insulting us and implying that we’re secretly miserable. We’re getting along just fine without any gods, so this line of strategy won’t work.
9. Don’t compare your past experiences to our present.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Christians enthusiastically share their stories of horrible, sinful lives that left them feeling empty and lonely.
These “sinful” lives usually consisted of such shockers as swearing, going to R-rated movies, looking at porn, drinking, partying, smoking, and occasionally doing drugs. Oh — and having premarital sex.
The thing is, maybe these things made you feel guilty or empty; maybe you developed addictions or other problems relating to these activities, and maybe you’re much happier now that you don’t do them. That’s great. But it doesn’t mean that hearing your story is going to shock us or convince us to change our ways. There is such a thing as a healthy balance, and it can include some (or maybe all) of those “vices.”
This tactic seems especially silly when different Christians groups and denominations can’t seem to decide what’s sinful and what’s not.
10. Don’t talk down to us, as if we’re just not understanding something perfectly obvious.
Many of us have read the Bible, prayed, attended church for years, and still ended up as atheists. There’s no magic bullet that converts people to Christianity. Whatever experience led you to believe probably happened on a pretty personal level. We haven’t witnessed anything miraculous or heard any voices, and we don’t see anything self-evident about God in nature or humanity. So if you insist on trying to save us, at least familiarize yourself with our perspective before jumping in, because assuming we’re simply uninformed or dumb is only going to hurt your chances.
There’s one final piece of advice:
Don’t evangelize proactively at all.
If you belong to a group, make your events open to the public, but don’t use them to preach at non-Christians and repeat the Sinner’s Prayer.
If you’re an individual, identify yourself as a Christian, but don’t start preaching to people next to you on airplanes or on Facebook walls [or blogs — Hemant]. Simply let any interested parties come to you. If they see something in your life they think is worth learning about, they’ll ask — and then you can share your faith with someone who genuinely wants to hear about it. Your message will likely resonate more strongly and with more respect and interest if you haven’t been trying to push it.
What would you add to the list?
(Thanks to SarahH for putting this together!)