Like other Christians, I’ve had both very encouraging evangelism experiences and, well, some not-so-encouraging ones.

It’s easy to feel encouraged when you come away from a gospel conversation that was thoughtful, friendly, and truth-seeking.

However, I’m guessing that most of us have had those dialogues wherein even if we were conversing in such a manner, the other person very clearly was not. In those oftentimes unpleasant situations, you quickly begin to wonder if you are, in fact, wasting your time.

What I would like to suggest, however, is that there can be at least one redeeming factor with such seemingly dead-end conversations: the presence of spectators.

No, no, I’m not saying that we’re trying to put on a show. What I mean is that when there are other people listening in on your gospel conversation, what’s said in the exchange can be for their benefit, too.

In fact, even when it seems like you’re not getting anywhere with the person with whom you’re speaking, you might be making a significant impact on some of those seeing and/or hearing all that’s being said from the sidelines.

Watching from Behind a Screen

Let’s be honest: social media doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to being a place that fosters thoughtful, friendly, truth-seeking conversations about Christianity. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some of us from trying to change that.

I don’t really like to engage in back-and-forths on social media as they can be very time-consuming and mentally draining. However, I do my best to reply to comments on the posts I’ve made in order to answer some of the questions and objections that come up. These have occasionally hit on hot-button issues like the abortion debate, sexuality, and God-sanctioned violence in the Bible.

What I’ve found surprising in these online exchanges is that even when the other person is being less than thoughtful, friendly, and truth-seeking—and I feel like I’m getting nowhere with them—there always seem to be spectators watching from the sidelines who are getting something out of the dialogue.

On several occasions, I’ve had non-Christians connect with me after following one of these seemingly unproductive social media conversations. Sometimes they’ve simply wanted to tell me that while they disagreed with my position, they appreciated the attitude with which I approached the exchange. Other times, they would want to have a one-on-one follow-up conversation with me that was, indeed, thoughtful, friendly, and truth-seeking.

However, my favourite experience of this sort came not from a social media exchange but a relatively recent speaking engagement.

Listening from a Few Feet Away

Last summer, I was invited to deliver a series of apologetics talks at a weekend-long conference. While most of the conference attendees were Christians, there were a handful of non-Christians who tagged along.

One young person who was particularly skeptical—let’s call her Jane—attended all but one of my sessions. While she didn’t particularly want to be at the conference, Jane seemed to enjoy spending the weekend thinking up all sorts of questions and objections to raise. However, while she was certainly more thoughtful than some of the people with whom I’ve engaged on social media, she was nonetheless pretty snarky in her approach and didn’t seem particularly open to the possibility of Christianity being true.

By the end of the weekend, I was feeling pretty discouraged about Jane, and I was feeling like I was getting nowhere with her. But before the conference came to an end, I found out that those back-and-forths weren’t for nothing.

There was apparently another skeptical young person attending my sessions—let’s call him John. Unlike Jane, John only observed and listened, both to my talks and to the conversations that followed, including with our much more vocal skeptical friend.

Little to my knowledge at the time, while it didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere with Jane, God was very clearly working in the heart and mind of John, because bit by bit, his doubts were removed. John didn’t want to come to the conference in the first place, but by the end of the weekend, he was very glad he did because he had now found faith in Jesus Christ.

Don’t Lose Heart

It’s easy to feel discouraged when our gospel conversations simply don’t go the way we hope. And if this happens enough times, it can even become a deterrent from wanting to do evangelism.

However, even if your gospel conversations with others seem to be discouraging, don’t lose heart. You simply never know who might be listening from the sidelines.

It could be that there’s another, more open unbeliever paying close attention to the seemingly dead-end conversation being had in the comment section of your social media post.

Or maybe there’s another set of ears listening in with great interest on your back-and-forth with the hard-nosed skeptic in your class or workplace.

There might even be an attentive unbelieving family member watching carefully as you and your atheist cousin go head-to-head on whether Christianity is true and good for the world.

Whatever the case may be, such gospel conversations aren’t just for the sake of those actively involved in the dialogue. They’re for the spectators, too, and you never know how God might use these conversations to reach those listening from the sidelines.