Rapport is pronounced ra•páwr, as the “t” is silent. The Encarta Dictionary defines rapport as “an emotional bond or friendly relationship between people based on mutual liking, trust, and a sense that they understand and share each other’s concerns.” There likely have been times when you connected with someone the first time you met him or her. It seemed as though you were of the same mind, the same line of thought. Some synonyms to rapport are “understanding, bond, link, affinity, fellow feeling, connection, empathy, camaraderie, affiliation, and fellowship.” People need this bond is in every walk of life. It proves especially important in the family, with your friends, in the church, in the workplace, and with any new connections. This ability to build rapport or to bond with others is paramount in the work of an evangelist.
Rapport in the Life of the Evangelist
One must establish a genuine connection with those that whom you witness to; otherwise, they will notice the lack of sincerity. Everyone loves to share their thoughts on this, which means open-ended questions are the best way to get the conversation moving. As a believer begins a conversation, invite them to express themselves, and take note of their home, if that is where you are talking with them. Do they have pets? Has something just been remolded? Do they have children? Are there things sitting out that show a university someone attended? The objective is to get to know the person to whom you are witnessing by showing interest in them. The believer must have some idea of what that person believes, which will build an even stronger bond. Perhaps the believer takes notice that she is wearing a cross, but is she Catholic or Protestant? What denomination is she a part of, and how often does she attend? Bring these observations to the surface; however, the believer must be willing to share some of their life. There must be a balance because you do not want to leave the unbeliever feeling they have been interrogated.
Once a believer has done that, ask a question about some troubling current event. This will let one know their beliefs and values as they address your questions. If you are at their home and they have magazines lying around, which show they follow world events, you might ask: “Have you been following the unrest in the Middle East? If it does not appear that they follow world events; think of something local. It should be within their state or a neighboring state, but that has made national news, such as the George Zimmerman trial in the death of Trayvon Martin. These insights that one gain will determine if they are conservative or liberal. It is important to remember that how one asks a question is just as important as what is asked. Try to be neutral in the question, not giving away how you may feel about the current affair because the believer wants their true assessment.
Answers to these questions help a believer know how to move the discussion into more of a biblical conversation. Starting with the Bible may compel the listener to say, “I do not discuss religion.” Because one has gained the trust of the listener, he or she will feel more comfortable talking about the Bible. When a believer engages a person, be prepared not to judge them on their views. Facial expressions and body language will give away feelings. If an unbeliever has issues with Christianity, religion, or even certain segments of Christianity, there may be genuine reasons why the person has those views. Maybe the person believes the Bible is just a book by men. Maybe he or she dislikes the hypocrisy within religion. Maybe the only Christianity the person knows is the televangelists they catch on television.
Whatever the unbeliever displays, be empathetic to their circumstances. However, this also is the time to share a couple of Scriptural thoughts, which will differ based on what has been learned about him. However, share some texts that demonstrate understanding and let your loving kindness and tact shine through at this time. (Gal. 5:22; 2 Cor. 6:3, 4, 6) Get these interested ones to open up to gain a sense of whom they are, and then use a couple of applicable texts in the conversation, leaving an opening to visit with them again.
Open-ended questions allow an answer that is more than a simple yes or no. These usually include: “Whom would you say …?”; “What do you think …?”; “Where did you …?”; “Why do you think …?”; “How did you …?” or “Tell me more about ….” These questions or statements open things up, enabling the believer to discover their worldview. You may ask, “Do you think all of this hideous violence in the world suggests that something more than man has a role in these events?” This may just result in a simple yes or no. One could also ask, “With everyone wanting happiness, yet there is so much evil in the world, why do you think that is the case?”
Ask questions that generate a sense of an invitation, not pressure. One could ask, “What do you believe will bring about world peace?” Once the person gives their response, push on with, “What makes you feel that way?” In street witnessing, one could ask those with children, “What do you think life will be like for them when they are adults?” Then follow with, “What is it that concerns you the most about their future?” None of these questions should make the listener feel uncomfortable.
Draw It Out
Proverbs 20:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 Counsel in a man’s heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding draws it out.
Everyone is different. The melting pot of races, cultures, and worldviews has seen an explosion over the last 30 years and seems far removed from the Christian community by way of language, customs, and lifestyle. You may live in a community that has numerous cultures. So, be prepared to adjust the approach to suit the person and circumstances, such as topic and tone. How does one draw people out? This is done by allowing them to speak while you serve as the guide of the conversation, merely keeping the other person on the subject, or involve them in numerous topics. If one wants a deep discussion on just one topic, let the other person speak, but make sure they stay on topic. Their thoughts must be appreciated, so attach the appropriate facial expression and body language to what the other person says, with comments such as “interesting,” true,” “I never thought of it that way,” and so on. Acknowledge every time both of you are on common ground: “Yes, I feel that way too.” To interject a Scripture, one could add, “You know the Bible touches on that. Let me share the verse …” Most importantly, never water down Bible truth, but do not be unbending or confrontational.
Success in generating rapport depends on listening skills. An Unbeliever will be able to sense if one’s heart is in the conversation. By giving that person space and time to unload their thoughts, react to them from the heart. This will serve as another point of attraction. Showing another person respect and honor, by active listening, they will be more likely to listen to biblical truths shared with them.
There are certain gestures that will contribute to others being attracted to your biblical message. We have discussed active listening at length, but there is also physical contact, eye contact, and expressing deep respect in our voice and body language. You must be very cautious when touching others, but laying your hand on their shoulder a couple times in a conversation, can truly make some feel your warmth toward them. Shaking their hand is also an appropriate gesture. Women should not touch men, and men should not touch women. If a woman touches a man, this may send the wrong signal. If a man touches a woman, this may startle her, pushing her away, not drawing her in. We return to the cultures as well, because some Asians do not like to be touched, as is true of some Jewish cultures as well.
Learning to Listen
As discussed above, the more one uncovers about the person to whom you witness to, the greater the bond that will form. To learn more, one must listen to the way the person acts and reacts in the conversation. But we know that humans typically do not listen well. Wives can attest to this based on their husband’s selective listening habits. However, listening can be improved. Not only does one want to hear the words of the other person, but what do he mean by the words he used. This would include noticing what he does not say as much as what he says.
Guiding the Conversation
Either a believer can allow a conversation to branch off and flow in whatever natural direction it takes you, or one can guide the conversation in the intended direction. The first time one speaks with someone about God’s Word, choose the former over the latter because the believer collects an understanding of the other person: a Protestant, a Catholic, an atheist, an agnostic, a person who follows Eastern religions, a conservative, a liberal, or somewhere in between. Once you understand the other person, you may wish to move to guiding the conversation’s direction.
To build the bond with the listener, stay at the pace of the listener’s behavior and body language. By this, one will gain their trust and attention. They will begin to trust the believer, and naturally, allow him or her to lead in the conversation. The same pace simply means the believer reflects the person who listens. This means that if they stand or sit casually, the believer stands or sits casually. If they are serious in conversation, the believer displays seriousness in conversation. If they exhibit light-heartedness, the believer becomes light-hearted. If they act warm and friendly, the believer returns warmth and friendliness, which should happen at all times. If they act lively and energetic, the believer becomes lively and energetic. However, if they become agitated, the believer would not reflect that. Witnessing cannot be the childhood game of mocking the other person, by repeating what he says or does. Develop a natural bond with one another.
In order to appreciate why you are pacing the listener, we might think of the Old West, and the cowboy and the cow. The cowboy is skilled at keeping pace with the cow, to guide it where the cowboy wants the cow to go. When the cow goes where it wants, the horse moves him where the cowboy directs. If the cow horse does not keep pace, but instead falls behind, or gets ahead, he can never take the lead and guide the cow. Once the believer comfortably matches the listener, begin guiding him or her. In this, you set the pace and direction. However, do not rush because the transition in being the guide must be taken slowly.
- What is rapport? How can one get beneath the surface? Why is it important to consider what is going on around the person who may be an unbeliever?
- How can current affairs assist you in building rapport?
- Why is it important to gain their trust before venturing in to talk about the Bible? How should we feel if the listener is hostile toward God’s Word and Christianity? Why do we want the listener to open up?
- What is the difference between an open-ended and a close-ended question, and which is preferable?
- What does it mean to “draw it out?” How can we get beneath the surface? What does listening have to do with “drawing it out?”
- Why is listening being emphasized?
What two ways can a conversation move along, and which is preferable in the beginning, and later? What does it mean to keep pace with and reflect the listener?
 A melting pot is “a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole.―Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).