SEAN MCDOWELL BLOG
What are the Best Questions for Meaningful Spiritual Conversations?Posted November 15, 2016 by Sean McDowell
What are the Best Questions for Meaningful Spiritual Conversations?
I love having conversations with people about spiritual matters. If we treat people with kindness, charity, and show a genuine interest in how they see the world, most people are open to discussing religious matters. In fact, in my experience, many people are eager for such conversations.
In his excellent book Generational IQ, Haydn Shaw explains how intellectual questions are back in the minds of younger generations today:
“One of the biggest challenges we have in responding is that Millennials are asking questions again. Generation Why? wants to know, ‘How do we know that?’ Three of the six reasons Barna Group gives in their book Churchless for why Millennial Christians are leaving their churches are intellectual: Christianity is too shallow, churches seem antagonistic to science, and the exclusivity of Christianity is a turnoff.”
Shaw is right—younger generations are interested in truth-related questions. In fact, they’re asking them. I have spiritual conversations with Millennials and young people from Generation Z all the time. But these generations are also less trustworthy and more skeptical than previous generations. They don’t accept simple answers. In many cases, simple answers are a turnoff. They are used to proclaiming their opinions through social media. And if they suspect you’re mistaken, they’ll simply Google a response. It’s not enough for them to be told, “That’s what the experts say.” They want evidence.
So how do we best engage this younger generation? The key is to ask authentic questions and be willing to listen. Authentic questions are different than leading questions. Leading questions aim to get a preset answer and to direct the conversation to a particular end. Authentic questions are meant to elicit genuine dialogue. And they only work if we are truly interested in hearing how others see the world.
Some people are better at asking authentic questions than others. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. I have worked at trying to become a better question-asker, and I am always looking for good tips and even particular questions that beneficially advance a conversation. My goal is not to be manipulative, but to genuinely spur people to think, and also to learn myself. After all, if I am wrong, shouldn’t I change my mind?
Here are ten questions you might find helpful to advance genuine spiritual conversations with those who do not share your faith. If you want to probe further for specific strategies to have meaningful spiritual conversations, check out the essay, “Christians in the Argument Culture: Apologetics as Conversation” in A New Kind of Apologist.
I offer these as the kinds of questions that have been helpful to me. I would encourage you to think of your own. If you come up with some good ones, please share them with me:
- Do you have a background in religion? If so, what was it like?
- Was there ever a time you believed in God? If so, why did you think it changed?
- How important is spirituality to your life now?
- If God exists, would it be important for you to get your life right with Him?
- Do you put Jesus in the same category as other religious figures? Why or why not?
- What do you understand the core of the Christian message to be? In other words, what is your understanding of the gospel?
- Can you please tell me about the God you don’t believe in?
- Are there any things that attract you to religion? And are there any things that turn you away?
- What experiences have most shaped your spiritual life?
- What would it take for you to believe in God in general and Christianity in particular?
The good news for these kinds of conversations is that you don’t have to have all the answers. That’s right. You don’t have to be an expert! You just need to be bold enough to ask the questions and care enough to listen. If you do, you might be amazed at the depth of conversation you can have with people who hold radically different views than your own.
Many people have never been asked these questions before. Simply raising these questions, and giving people genuine space to wrestle with them, can sometimes be transformative. And you might even be able to encourage people to consider the claims of Christ.
So what are you waiting for?
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 Haydn Shaw, Generational IQ: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, And the Future Is Bright (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015), 117.