Barneypalooza 3: Inciting a Gospel Conversation

In part 2 I talked about a six-week series of member-missionary lessons I was supposed to give. This was hard for me because I’m not a big member-missionary guy. I feel very awkward trying to push the Church on people, and frankly I just don’t do it. So I knew I was going to feel like a hypocrite teaching those lessons.

But the thought occurred to me that if I feel that way, I’m sure others do, too, and the class confirmed that that was indeed the case. So I came up with a missionary approach for the rest of us, for those of us who are maybe a little introverted or don’t want to be socially invasive. I call it inciting a gospel conversation.

Here’s the basic concept: people aren’t idiots. They know Mormons are big time proselyters. And they know you’re Mormon. So when you open your mouth and try to push something, anything, related to the Church, the drawbridge goes up, the defense mechanisms are immediately put into place, and you’re left talking to the moat. And can you really blame them?

But, as I said, people do know you’re Mormon, and there’s some definite curiousity there as well. So the key is to get them to initiate the conversation. When that happens, there are no defense mechanisms, because they’re the ones who started it. You can respond, and their question and your response can flower into an actual conversation. It might go places or it might not, but your odds of success are way better if you let them make the first move.

So how does one incite a gospel conversation? Basically just by plainly and openly living the weird lives we Mormons live. People will notice and be curious, and if they’re comfortable with you as a friend at some point they’ll ask about it.

When I had my first job as an attorney, I decorated my office with stuff from Mormon history, like that big Nauvoo map and an antiqued copy of a circular of the Nauvoo High Council (which included my GGGGrandfather, Thomas Grover). Whenever people came into my office, inevitably they would ask me about these items, and conversation would ensue and would flow smoothly and easily with no awkwardness.

If you’re on a plane, don’t try to shove a BoM on your poor seatmate. Instead, should you feel so inclined, read a BoM or some other Church book. If your neighbor gets a peek at it and asks what you’re reading, you then have permission to explain it, and that is not socially intrusive because he or she actually asked.

When you go out for drinks with your colleagues at work and order that ginger ale, you can be sure you’re going to get the question about whether you’re Mormon. Now’s your chance to tell them about the church.

When I was clerking after my second year of law school, my fellow clerk knew I was Mormon, and she kind of watched the way I acted. Out of the blue one day over lunch she asked me what it’s like to be a Mormon. That’s the kind of situation in which you can easily and naturally discuss the church with someone.

Do any of you have any experiences with incting a gospel conversation? Does that seem like an easier, more effective approach to you, or are you comfortable with initiating such conversations directly?


  1. Great ideas Kevin. I hope that you don’t mind I just sent your article to my missionary son who is encouraged to inspire members in his area to do their member missionary work. Hypocrite that I am, I have a really really difficult time in this area of the gospel.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s great, JA, I’m glad you found it useful.

  3. I think sharing the Gospel is as simple as inviting people into your life and home. If you do this, the Gospel inevitably comes up, because it is such an extensive part if who we are. The trick is opening our hearts and homes, as life is so very busy.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Exactly, Matt W. Invite people into our lives and homes, without an ulterior motive, but being open to possibities as they arise. And they almost inevitably will arise.

  5. I’m terrible at initiating conversations about the gospel. I do often have people ask me questions out of the blue, though. I think your method really works.

    The most success of all I’ve had is online. Two different people whose questions about converting to Mormonism I answered ended up being baptized. I think the instant message thing on where you can chat online to a missionary is a great idea, except it’s horribly terribly slow. I tried it out twice, and asked the fellows all about themselves. Once I was just trying to see what it was, and the second time I had a question about how best to deal with teaching the gospel to my son whom I adopted as a teenager. I wonder if they would like to put investigators online in touch with members who could answer their questions. I’d love to do that sort of missionary service!

    And since I was myself converted by talking to regular members online, friends I had made at an online forum where quite a few people are LDS, then I think it’s a most excellent path to conversion. =)

    Of my two converts, one went on to serve a mission in Spokane, WA, and is still an active member. The other eventually reverted to Catholicism.

  6. my best time doing member missionary work was probably in the UK. I found that through my work I was often having to go from church straight to work. Sunday was one of two casual days at work so it took people off guard me coming in with a tie on. That would lead to “Oi? whats with that get up?”

    So then I would explain, often it would follow up other ones. Often other fellow religious people would have great discussions, I remember a wonderful discussion with a Muslim who ended up giving me his English/Arabic Koran. I felt I made a connection.

    Honestly, most people had never heard of the LDS or Mormons so it was easier, there was not a lot of preconceived notions.

    Back in Canada, I get the chance now and again but nothing like those days.

  7. Peter LLC says:

    Sometimes even a discussion of current events leads to a gospel conversation. A while back, a bunch of Korean missionaries were taken hostage in Afghanistan. A colleague at work mentioned it, saying in effect how stupid is that, but it led to a conversation about missionary work and how I too had gone on a mission and so on.

    Now I get reports every now and again from this colleague whenever she sees missionaries around town. In a culture that views all things American with some suspicion and religion especially so, I think the demystifying aspect of knowing a real Mormon should not be underestimated.

  8. I definitely agree. I’ve found a definite swing in my gospel conversations since I became open to actually TALKING about the church, rather than avoiding the subject.

    If it comes up, just go with the flow, like you said. I think many people (and I count myself among them to some degree) are SO worried about pushing something on their friends and having the friendship get “weird”.

    When the reality is that people like talking about unusual things, and let’s face it, we’re kind of unusual :-)

  9. I can’t necessarily recommend setting out to do this on purpose, but something my husband and I found out really works well at his grad school functions is…

    Just wait until everybody’s had one beer.

    Deep down everyone’s really curious about the Mormons, but they’re too polite to bring it up. Alcohol does a lot to unleash peoples’ innate curiosity. : ) (Two beers seems like a little too late for in-depth discussion of gospel principles.) The department knows that we’re LDS, and once everybody’s a little loosened up the questions start coming out.

    After a year or so of this, his classmates are now starting to ask him questions when they’re sober. This is pretty exciting because they’re all grad students in history, and history grad students are pretty darn cynical about everything, especially religion. We really felt the above-mentioned need to not be pushy about our church habits as a result, but now after a year of getting acquainted everybody seems to be comfortable with the idea that we’re into our church but not those Crazy Religious Zealots you want to avoid.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the “one beer” rule!

  11. I agree that it’s hard to just talk about the Church without having some sort of shared history with friends/neighbors/co-workers.

    My best missionary experiences came when my sons were on missions. I could talk with my colleagues about where they were and what they were doing. I also had opportunities to talk about the church when my oldest son was in Iraq. I’m an elementary school teacher and many of my friends, who are active in their own churches, came each day to let me know that our family was on prayer chains in their churches. I was able to talk about my faith and even my son’s spiritual experiences in Iraq.

    Another interesting thing happened when Romney was running for president. I had four or five teacher come to me to ask me about him and how his Mormonism might affect his ability to govern effectively. They all went away from the conversation convinced that his Mormonism wouldn’t be a problem. (I couldn’t vouch for anything else…)

    I’ve also had people ask me why my family members speak so many languages. Only one person has had a negative response when I’ve talked about missions.

    I don’t know if any of these colleagues will ever join the Church. I hope my example will be remembered in the future, though. And there are a few of them that I still work with so I’ll have other opportunities to talk with them. I guess time will tell.

  12. If you can talk about real experiences as they come up and don’t shy away from mentioning them just because they’re related to your faith, chances are that sooner or later something appropriate will come up.

    My son was recently doing some campaign work for Obama, and we live in a fairly red state (not Utah). When the person who was preparing him for canvassing asked him if he’s had any experience dealing with people with people who don’t want to talk, he had a natural answer: “Yeah, I was a Mormon missionary for two years!”

    It’s the last answer the trainer was expecting. But he did get a chance to relate to an active church member as a real person, not a stereotype, and sometimes that’s a victory enough.

  13. Adam Greenwood says:

    Interesting. All of my (many) gospel conversations in basic training happened because I was reading my LDS scriptures or because people wanted to know what my garments were for.

  14. Steve Evans says:

    If people want to know why my garments are for, I rip open my shirt, hand them a pistol and declare, “Fire away, Gentiles!”

  15. #9 Whatever works :)

    This might be kind of dumb and obvious, but I have talked about the church because I have worn BYU t-shirts. Football is big here, so football fans have heard BYU.

    People will ask me which local college football team I root for. I’m not really into football, I just tell them I root for BYU since I am a fair-weather BYU fan.

  16. Bookslinger says:

    Steve, you’re not an alien, and the salt-water in your squirt gun wouldn’t hurt you anyway, garments or no.

  17. Bookslinger says:

    But seriously:

    Ask of someone who appears or sounds foreign-born:

    1. Excuse me, I don’t recognize your accent (or “that’s a cool accent”). Where is your family originally from?
    2. What languages do you speak?
    3. Would you be interested in a free church book in your language?

    Though I admit, it doesn’t work well if they’re from Britain and only speak English.

  18. I have found that when I talk about my regular experiences people get curious. Or I talk about what our daughter has told us about places and people she’s seen in England. Why is she in England? She’s a missionary. Some people shut up at that point, but many take the bait and ask.