Asking Questions that Build Bridges


When you want to help people come to know Jesus, how often do you find yourself groping for a question that could bridge the gap between everyday conversation and spiritual matters?

Sean McDowell, a leading apologist, author, and speaker, keeps his finger on the pulse of Millennials and young people from “Generation Z” (currently college-age and younger). He wrote an excellent article about asking questions that open up spiritual conversations, especially with young adults.

McDowell starts out by emphasizing the importance of how you ask questions:

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.

After establishing the principle of not being manipulative, but of coming into a conversation as a learner who also spurs others to think, McDowell provides these questions that he has found to be helpful for opening up genuine spiritual conversations:

  • 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?

These questions are likely to help you understand where someone is coming from, giving you information that you hadn’t known before. Then you can allow your curiosity to lead you in asking more questions. From what you have learned, you can also pray more effectively on your own and then continue to circle back to similar topics in ongoing conversations.

While thinking about starting a spiritual conversation can seem daunting to us, McDowell shares that in his experience, many people are eager for conversations like this!

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.

Editor’s Note: Check out more ideas for great questions in this Q Place Answers blog post.