We have numerous requests for help with how to start conversations with people. In particular, doing so with a view to building some trust and eventually turning those interactions to more meaningful things of life and then ultimately the gospel.
We want to explore this topic in a number of ways, but one way is to talk to people who are regularly interacting with people in this way, people who are good at it, and people who are intentional and thinking about how to be more effective at initiating and developing conversations.
Larry Oldaker is a former Regional Home Missionary and now church planter in Huron, OH. He regularly commits time to be in the community meeting and engaging people, so we checked in with him on this topic.
Larry regularly schedules one day a week to focus on meeting and interacting with people. Often on a Thursday he starts his day at the donut shop where people know him as “Rev” and then heads out to the pier by the lake simply to walk around and look to strike up conversations with people. For him, it’s important to schedule these things into his week or pressing matters will crowd it out. Over the last couple of years, while there’s no logbook, it’s safe to say Larry has engaged hundreds of people with a view to spiritual conversations. Many of these people, he doesn’t know at all or well, but there are quite a few that he sees regularly in the community or at the diner.
Focusing on the initiating of conversations, there were two things that stood out when we talked to Larry. First, when Larry approaches and starts up a conversation he is intent on the eye contact and body language of the person’s first response. If he starts with chit chat—asking the fisherman if anything is biting—and they look down or body language says they are not interested, he often just says have a nice day and moves on. If, however, the person looks him in the eye and seems favorable to talking, then he will look to build the conversation.
For our own instruction on this point: Many people initiate conversations and are either completely unaware of these things or don’t even know how to pay attention to them. Sometimes it may be a lack of sense of a social setting, but sometimes it’s just because we are excited to talk and not thinking about their response. Larry gives us a helpful note.
A second item of note from Larry, if the conversation continues and starts to build at all, Larry starts praying for the Lord to show him an opening to turn from chit chat to something meaningful. Yes, he is praying while listening intently and talking. This is a perhaps startling and helpful reminder of who is in charge of where the conversation goes.
Now, many readers may not be walking around looking to strike up conversations with people they don’t know. Lots of questions people have may be about people we already have relationships with and how to develop those conversations. We submit to you these two points are equally or more applicable to those everyday settings with friends and family.
These two points may not sound revolutionary–it’s not a Tony Robbins seminar. But these “everyday” insights are important and would likely provide a surprising help for many to pay attention to and put into practice.
Next week, there will be a part 2 to this post showing examples of how Larry not only initiates but also develops conversations.