Sunday, 28 August 2016

Are you a space invader when you share the gospel?

How do you feel when a stranger or someone that you don’t know very well invades your personal space and stands too close to you?  Does it make you feel very uncomfortable, even to the point that makes you take a step back to maintain a comfortable distance?
“He that wins souls is wise” Proverbs 11:30
“Behave wisely in relation to the outside world, buying up your opportunities” Colossians 4: 5 Weymouth New Testament
I have seen this happen in churches many times over the years. People are so happy to see a new person arrive that they sometimes forget about normal social boundaries. They become personal space invaders without realising what they are doing.
I have even witnessed a first-time church visitor being greeted with a full-on frontal body hug accompanied by a sloppy kiss on the cheek. The person looked horrified and they never returned.
It is the Holy Spirit that convicts hearts and His word never returns to Him void. Being aware of the way you interact with a person can be the open door to build a bridge so that you can witness for Christ. It could give you the opportunity to share your faith. Sharing your testimony of salvation or the Gospel is a powerful way to be used by the Lord.
An example of space invading would be travelling on a busy train.  The carriage you are on is pretty full with a couple of empty seats left.  At the next stop, a few more travellers get on board and move towards the area where you are seated because there is a space next to you.  At this point, you deliberately fail to make eye contact with the person coming nearer to you and you may even make your body spread out and carefully place your newspaper on the empty seat while thinking, “Oh please don’t sit next to me”.  It is also very likely that you have experienced similar feelings when you have been in a busy cinema.
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” Colossians 4: 5 New American Standard 1977
The truth is that most people are like this.  When strangers keep about four feet away from us, we subconsciously feel comfortable and safe.  Scientists and psychologists believe that these feelings stem from the days of evolution.  I firmly believe that these natural instincts are the design of God.
Paul was absolutely right when he wrote about behaving wisely.  We do need to be careful about the way that we act toward outsiders or unsaved.  Importantly with regards to the way that we live our lives.  For instance, do we have a good testimony that gives us credibility when we witness to those people who know us?   See my
See my blog “Are you a credible witness”?
I believe another view of interpreting the scripture is the way that we behave in conversation with people.  Especially those that may be new to us.  In my communication classes, I often ask my students if they are aware of how their behaviour and body language effects people around them.
From experience, I have discovered that in many cases that people are completely unaware of how people read and interpret the meaning of what we say through our non-verbal communication. Added to that, people make very quick judgements about us, predominantly about our appearance and the way that we act.
If when witnessing on the streets or an outreach for example, a Christian immediately moved too close to the person they were trying to share the Gospel with. It would be made more difficult because the person goes immediately  go into a defensive mode.
You may not do this, but it is worth checking.
Some years ago I went on a door to door evangelism evening with members of my local church.  I was teamed up with a man that was quite a few years older than me.  We knocked on our first door which was answered by an elderly lady.  My colleague didn’t move away from the door at all after he had finished knocking, staying in the same place.  The lady was surprised to find my smiling friend standing so close to the door, which made her take two steps back. She held the door handle and arm’s length so that she was about 5 feet away from us.  You will not be surprised to learn that we didn’t spend very long with her.
It is really critical to understand the use of proxemics or proximity as it is known in communication psychology.  Being aware of how this can have a dramatic effect on the response or reaction of the person we are in conversation with will make us more effective.
In today’s multicultural society we need to realise that this can change with regards to differing ethnic groups. In Western society, there are four zones or distances that people use below conscious levels to determine how comfortable they feel in the presence of people.  These are as follows:
The public zone: This area starts at about 10 feet plus.  It is very often the distance that teachers and lecturers and even preachers use to get their message across.  Because people are further away, the speaker will have to exaggerate their body language movements in order to communicate more effectively.
The social or acquaintances zone: if in general terms this tends to be at around four feet.  At this distance, people will sometimes introduce themselves to strangers by shaking their hands and then immediately move back out to the zone where they feel more comfortable.  It also means that during conversation neither party needs to shout or raise their voice.
The personal zone: This starts at the area of approximately 1½ to 4 feet and is an area where you experience a degree of feeling comfortable. It is believed to be the most appropriate for when people are in conversation. In this zone, it is much easier to be able to see the other person’s eye movements and expressions, as well as their overall body language.
The friendship or intimate zone: This area, under 1 ½ feet is only for people that you close to, such as family, courting couples or close friends. Immediately entering the space of a person that you do not have a close relationship with can be extremely disturbing.
Having conversations in the personal zone, without the person moving away from you is a very good sign that they feel comfortable with you. This can lead on to them allowing you to move in closer and pray for them.
Be aware of proximity.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Does my body language matter when I share the Gospel?

The way that we communicate and interact on a one to one basis is very important. Recent discoveries in communication tell us that the words that we use are very important.  Even more than that, the tonality that we use when we speak and the way that we utilise our body language can have a dramatic effect on the people we are speaking with.

Whether we like it or not, people make assumptions about us according to the way that we behave. Our body language is simply a range of signals that we give off that relate to how we think or feel about something. It is nonverbal communication, where our thoughts, intentions, or feelings are communicated and expressed by physical behaviours such as our facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space or proximity. We all give off body language signs without realising it most of the time. Very often we are also unaware that below conscious levels we are constantly reading the signals that people give while we are communicating with them.

The scripture below is a very interesting one, as well as being one of my very favourites.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. Colossians 4: 5-6 NIV

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. Colossians 4: 5-6 Message. 

This scripture can be interpreted in a number of ways.  I am going to look at it on the basis of witnessing for Christ.  Especially when you consider the fact that it is something that Jesus commanded each one of us to do.

Other findings from communication studies have produced facts that have become widely known.  Understanding this information will certainly improve the way that we interact with others.

The first area is that of congruence.  When someone is using communication that is congruent, it basically means that while they are talking on a face to face basis, the words they are using, their tone of voice and their body language are all in harmony or agreement.  In other words, they are all saying the same thing.

A simple example would be to ask you to imagine me not being congruent while telling my wife Desiree that I love her.  If while saying “I really love you”, I used a tone of voice that demonstrated I was unsure, I didn’t make direct eye contact and shook my head from side to side at the same time it would be obvious that my communication was certainly not congruent.

It is essential then that we do our best to ensure that when we share the gospel with an individual or a group of people, that we make sure that our communication is congruent. When we are intentional about what we say as we witness and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us it means our effectiveness is sharpened.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “When I share the Gospel, do I really sound like I believe what I am saying and does my body language also demonstrate that belief”?  This is very important when we understand how people take in and comprehend what we are saying.

When we share the gospel with somebody, especially scripture, we need to stand on the word of God that says, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4: 12

Key Point: The word of God is powerful, and we should expect something positive to happen when we share it

Experience has shown me that it will be even more powerful if we look and sound like we believe it in our interactions.

When we talk to people on a face to face basis, we know from research that people form an understanding of what we are saying in the following ways:

Words: only 7% on what we say is comprehended from the words are we use in conversation.  This may surprise you but the facts are now well known.

Tonality: this area accounts for 38% of our comprehension. The way that we sound when we speak really does make a huge difference.

Body language: is by far the largest area because 55% of our understanding is through our reading of it.  The way we stand, the way that we use our arm and hand gestures as well as the expressions on our faces when we speak can have an enormous impact when we share the gospel message.

Think about it for a moment. That means that 93% of a conversation isn’t really understood by the words we are using.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but it’s the way that you say it”.

In my communication classes, I explain that we are all experts on the understanding of the tonality of a person’s voice, or by reading body language.  Many of us don’t realise that we are able to do this, so I will give you a few common examples.

To read a person’s tonality we don’t always need to be face to face.  I’m pretty certain that at one time you have telephoned somebody close to you, and when they answered your call, the sound of their voice made you ask the question, “Are you OK”?

If I was to come home from work to find my wife standing in our entrance hall in a particular way, I may instantly say without even thinking about it, “What’s the matter”?  Or, if a salesperson was trying to sell me a product or service without making direct eye contact with me, I would immediately detect that something was wrong and start to become suspicious.  We all do this, every one of us, every time we communicate with people.  So it would be na├»ve of us to think that people don’t read us as we speak to them.

I am only touching on this because it really is a huge subject.  I will go through different aspects of this in more detail in future blogs.

How do you think that people read you when you speak to them?  When you’re speaking, is what you’re saying congruent or are you producing a mixed message that creates confusion?