Part 4 of this series discussed the power of the Holy Spirit, the use of prayer as a convicting tool, the value of keeping a list of your studies and students, and the importance of praying for each student daily. Part 5 offers tips for your first or second contact with a potential candidate, and strategies to keep their interest.

Your primary objective should be discovering a new contact’s interest in spiritual matters. It is best to get straight to the point with new contacts who are not believers in Adventism or God, or those who may have believed at one time but have since backslidden. Frivolous small talk decreases your potential to influence for good when it comes time to talk about spiritual things. This does not mean that a reasonable amount of smiles, laughter, and warm-up conversation should be avoided. Indeed, you should break the ice and develop a rapport and mutual appreciation and trust. But a person skilled in soul winning can usually discern a person’s spiritual interests in the first or second contact, providing they have sufficient one-on-one time. Ten or fifteen minutes with a person is usually enough to get to the crucial questions.

First show that you like talking about spiritual things and would be delighted to pass some time with that person. Spend one or two sessions an swering his or her questions. The goal is not to answer everything but to spark curiosity. Then offer a regular study. At this point, avoid the phrase “Bible study” or—even worse for most beginners—“baptismal class.” Rather, call it “an overview of the message of the Bible.”

It is important to establish the frequency of your Bible studies early on—soon after your contact has agreed to have them. Experience has shown that two studies per week is the most practical for maintaining continuity. More than two studies will introduce too many new ideas and too much material for most students to retain without getting bored or tired. One study per week usually isn’t enough to maintain a continuity of thought, since some studies build upon another in order to reach a conclusion (such as the Law of God and the Sabbath—it is important to build the case for Sabbath keeping). Also keep in mind that it’s better to have shorter Bible studies more often, rather than long subjects studied in one sitting.

But if your student is nervous about committing to regular studies every week, try suggesting only one or two sessions to answer his or her questions or to explore the desire to know more about the Bible. Afterward, if you see sufficient interest, you could suggest a series with a frequency the student is comfortable with, according to his or her schedule and interest. The important thing, if at all possible, is to acquire from the student a firm commitment to take the studies. Be sure that the student takes a decision after each Bible study lesson. This helps you evaluate his or her interest along the way, and also avoids overwhelming him or her at the end.

Unless the student insists, it is best not to tell the student exactly how many studies or weeks/months are required to cover the full set of doctrines. The church has twenty-eight official doctrines, but for some students certain teachings are too heavy and complicated to understand immediately, such as the 2,300 days and the sanctuary. Use your judgment as to which studies to drop due to time constraints, but the testing truths (Sabbath; unconscious state of death; abstinence from unclean meats, alcohol, and tobacco; second coming of Christ; Jesus our Savior; the Trinity; literal heaven; spirit of prophecy and Ellen G. White; and terminal hell fire) should not be left out.

Some Adventist beliefs are difficult for non-Adventists to accept, and therefore must be presented with great care. The ideas of the never dying soul and going to heaven when you die, for example, are very hard for most Christians to dismiss. Believing your dead loved one is in heaven, enjoying life to the fullest with Jesus and looking down at you, is very comforting. The idea that they are in the cold and lonely grave until Jesus comes can be extremely disappointing and upsetting. This is why a study about what happens after death should be reserved for after you have gained your student’s confidence with other less traumatic beliefs. Another sensitive topic is the idea of everlasting hellfire. Most Christians believe that if you are lost when you die, you go to hell and burn forever. As strange as it may appear, this idea seems to be cherished by most religious denominations. It seems hard for them to accept that a loving God would not cruelly punish someone unendingly, even though God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek 33:11). Again, this is another subject that should be dealt with during later studies.

It is important to support the crucial points of your study with credible reference material. For example, during the study on the change of the Sabbath to Sunday, offer historical references: Constantine’s edict from AD 321 in which he said that the inhabitants and businessmen of Milan could rest on Sunday; material regarding the Council of Laodicea in AD 336 when the solemnity of the Sabbath was declared to be transferred to Sunday; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church that accepts the biblical veracity of Sabbath keeping but asserts that the Catholic Church had the authority to change it. These and other references are important to establish and maintain your credibility as a reliable student of the Bible and a purveyor of truth.

You should also show your student how to read the Bible for himself or herself, and encourage your student to do personal reading. You might take fifteen minutes or so before each study to answer the questions the student has gathered from his or her reading.

However, you may find that sometimes the traditional Bible study format is not the most engaging for certain students. For example, it may be most effective to simply show up as a visitor, without having made a prior arrangement for study. Then once in the house and having a peaceful visitation, suggest a quick study or take out your Bible to show the person some answers straight from the Word of God, thus entering into a study informally. If the student likes this, you could suggest something more formal. Or, for postmoderns or those with a short attention span, you might try giving a ten- or fifteen-minute PowerPoint study on your laptop with appropriate pictures. Ensure that these presentations concentrate on the crucial points of the study.

You should, by the end of the studies, encourage your student to find two or three other persons who may be interested in similar studies. Start meeting with them too, with your student as co-pilot, trusting that through prayer and your encouragement, your trained students will be able to lead groups of their own. But occasionally a visitor will join your Bible study without knowing the context of why you are meeting, or without any knowledge of the subject. Sometimes they bring confusion to the study by asking questions that require repeating something already explained, or they may inject an argumentative spirit into the meeting. However, you must show them respect. They might join the group later, or become part of a new group, or be influenced to change some of their own behavior. The important thing is not to offend them. Be patient and try to integrate them into the study if possible, but do not let them take over or ruin your study.

Do not be intimidated or discouraged when students start to show disinterest. This can happen in various ways: They may call and say they are going out of town, or are sick, or have some engagement that prevents them from participating in the study. Or they may stop answering the door, or simply tell you they don’t want any more studies. Continue visiting and giving studies until the student makes it crystal clear that no more studies are desired. Express how much you enjoyed making his or her acquaintance and studying together. Wish them the very best and, if possible, have a parting prayer together. Never show disappointment or say anything disparaging. Remember, you can’t win them all. If you have done your part, it is left to God to do whatever He sees best. If, over time, you discover that your contacts are only interested in small talk without making any decision or applying what they hear, you should consider moving on and using your time for more motivated people.

Pray that God will show you how to use each lesson study to share the good news which you have the privilege to proclaim, and guide you in reaching each student in the way most suited to touch their heart and spark in them the desire to know more about God’s Word. The article in the next issue will address more about it.

Lamar Phillips is a retired minister and church administrator who served for thirty-nine years in six world divisions.