As a new missionary, Katie wanted to help people encounter Jesus in the same way she had — but she was having a hard time getting her Bible study started.
After three months of trying, she still didn’t have a consistent group. I sat down with her to see if I could help her figure out how we could turn the corner and get a small group going.
A short time into our conversation, I realized she just didn’t know that many people.
(Let’s be honest: Not knowing anyone makes it hard to invite anyone to anything.)
We decided to head out to campus and meet some new people. One block into campus, I realized the real problem: Katie had no clue how to meet or talk to new people.
This is a real struggle for tons of people. So here are some pointers for how to meet others:
When we started, Katie kept her eyes locked on the sidewalk like it was her job. If you do that, you’ll only meet a new person if you accidentally run them over!
As we walked across campus, I asked her to stop. I looked her in the eye and said, “I want you to smile at the next ten people we walk past. Don’t say anything — just look them in the eye and smile.”
This was a drastic change for Katie. Not only did it force her to engage others in a very simple way, it also changed the way she felt about what she was doing.
Gradually, her smile became more and more authentic, and she literally became a happier person to be around.
Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study Smile! It Could Make You Happier says, “It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain — there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having. It’s like a feedback loop.”
When you smile at people, you become more approachable, easier to engage and more excited to meet new people.
2. Dive In
The quicker you begin the conversation, the easier it is. I told Katie, “Just pick someone and dive in. If you wait and overthink how you will engage someone, the beginning of the conversation only becomes more challenging.”
Don’t hesitate when you encounter someone. Dive in! Walk up to them and introduce yourself!
3. I.N.V.I.T.E. Encounters
Meeting new people is actually a skill that anyone can build through a plan and practice. Here’s a super practical approach:
1. I — Introduce: First, extend your name to the other person: “Hi, I’m…” This goes against the temptation to ask for their name as an opener, and it allows them to be in a receptive mode.
JPII tells us: “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Offering a simple hello and your name is a great approach. You don’t want it to feel like you want something, but rather that you’re extending the gift of who you are.
2. N — Name: “…What’s your name?” Learn it and commit it to memory. Use it as many times as possible in the conversation. Using their name helps you build a connection with the person and lets the name sink deeper into your mind. If their name fades from your mind during the encounter, ask for their name again and reinforce it in your memory: “One more time, your name was…? Thanks, I’m…”
3. V — Value them as a person: This is a critical “how” step. Recognize that each individual is a unique creation who has a story and a divine purpose. Your encounters with others will be much smoother when you remind yourself that this person has value because of who they are in and of themselves. One great way to do this is to listen more than you talk. Prompt them to talk by asking open-ended questions. This is how you can be a gift to them!
4. I — Interest: What are their interests? Ask about hobbies, sports, books, movies or random things they enjoy. Seek to learn something new from each person you meet. Look for things you hold in common and discuss those.
5. T — Tribe: Ask about their family, hometown or places they have lived. Questions about their siblings is a great place to start as discussing parents can lead to sensitive topics that will shut the other person down in a first encounter. Keep your senses on high alert. If you hit something uncomfortable, tread lightly or try to move away from those topics until a friendship has matured into deeper discussion and sharing. Exercise prudence here.
6. E — End or Evangelize: This step is critical! Have you ever met someone new, and the initial conversation outlasted its comfort?
To End: Conversations that outlast their comfort are awkward and become even more challenging to end or even continue. A good indication of this is when there is a pause in the conversation, and someone breaks the silence with, “So, do you come here much?”
You could also find yourself backtracking to the Interest or Tribe areas. I.N.V.I.T.E. has a flow. When you go against the current, the conversation can turn into a seemingly never-ending cycle.
Avoid these like the plague since they may make one of you hesitant to connect again. Work hard to end smoothly without exhausting all topics; this way, everyone will walk away happier.
Here’s an easy way: As the conversation begins to lag, look for an opportunity to announce the end: “John, it was very nice to meet you. Perhaps we can connect again in the future. Could I get your number? I’ll give you a call when we are going to play basketball…”
To Evangelize: The Holy Spirit is always at work. Sometimes you may experience Him prompting you to share a part of your testimony, the message of the gospel or some other invitation to encounter the Lord. Be open like Philip when the Spirit led him to the Ethiopian eunuch. You be the judge; they might be giving every indication of a need for hope in their life. An encounter with Jesus could just be the beginning. “Could I share something with you that has made a big difference in my life?…”
Smile, dive in and I.N.V.I.T.E. — because “neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt 5:15).
Many of us have a tendency to keep to ourselves, but you can’t really make disciples of all nations unless you meet those nations — one person at a time.