My dad always said I was like my mom: I never met a stranger. I used to ask my youngest daughter when she was around twelve if she wanted to go to the store with me. She would reply, “Only if you don’t talk to people.” She knew I just had to talk.
Should we talk to strangers? Must we always be aware of strangers who try to talk to us? In the April 2020 edition of Reader’s Digest, there is an article titled “Connect with Strangers.” The author, Elizabeth Bernstein, points out there are many thoughts that go through one’s head: “How do I start a conversation? Will I talk too much? Will I tell too much? Will I be too boring?”
I always like to see the reaction of people ahead of me at the supermarket. Most clerks are trained to say something to the customer. I like to see how the person reacts. Some say nothing at all. I like to engage in a little small talk while my daughter pokes me. Bernstein, in her article, states, “Sandstrom’s research shows that people underestimate how much another person will like them when they talk for the first time.”
In this study, they asked the participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days. They found that 99 percent said they had at least one pleasant exchange, and 82 percent said they learned something from a stranger.
Interestingly, she states, “Multiple studies show that people who interact regularly with passing acquaintances or who engage with others through community groups, religious gatherings, or volunteer opportunities have better emotions and physical health and live longer than those who do not.”
Christians have this great fellowship with one another. The early church continued in this great fellowship with one another (Acts 2:44ff.). There had to be a lot of talking and caring one for another during this time. Verse 46 states, “And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart” (ASV). This seems to have continued to Acts 4, and a treasury was started from there on out (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
The point is twofold here: (1) We will never win souls without speaking to them, and (2) to care for our brethren, we must talk to them and see to their needs (James 1:27; 1 John 3:17). This leads us to the whole new avenue of opening up to strangers and to our brethren.
Bernstein gives us ten short starters to spark a conversation with strangers, and we might add with our brothers who we do not know very well. I will italicize her words, and the rest are mine.
1. Be brave. It will take “guts” in starting that first conversation, but she notes that most people do not think we are that boring, at least at first. God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness (2 Timothy 1:7).
2. Chat with someone you see regularly. The lady down at the donut shop is always asking me about my daughter and granddaughter. People always love pleasant words. Speak some (Proverbs 16:24).
3. Ask about the other person. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves? The woman at the well in John 4 is a great example of this.
4. Bond during a challenging experience. Right now, as I am writing this, we have the coronavirus going through our nation. We are on lockdown. It is not hard to start a conversation at the store, especially about toilet paper. When there was a great famine in all the land, brethren must have communicated with one another to send relief (Acts 11:27-29).
5. Ask for help. When we ask for directions, how to fix something, or what the other person would recommend, it gives that person a sense of power to help and show their knowledge. The father of the child who was healed asked Jesus to help his unbelief (Mark 9:24).
6. Focus on what you have in common. Again, everyone is focusing on the virus. Not hard to talk about at all. Many are anxious about the things of this world (Matthew 6:34).
7. Open up. Relate to what the other person is saying and feeling. Martha’s interaction with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 shows people will open up.
8. Use humor. We have a lot of jokes on Facebook about the virus, and people always like to hear a new joke. A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22).
9. Be sure the interaction is equal. Some just like to be left alone. So we have to leave it there. Sometimes you just have to leave the conversation (cf. Acts 24:25-26).
10. Do it again. It gets easier over time. Keep it up. It gets easier to teach (2 Timothy 2:2).
You can see that by doing many of these suggestions, we open up and are able in time to plant the seed, which is the word of God (Luke 8:11). Remember, as Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Starting a conversation with a new person will be of great value in winning souls and encouraging our brethren. GA