I have always been the type of person that longs for substantive conversations that challenge and encourage everyone involved in the conversation.
Small talk has always been something that I struggled with. I have never wanted to talk about the weather, the local sports ball team, a new movie or show, or politics.
I have longed for conversations about Jesus.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in conversations about one of the small talk topics mentioned above where I sat in silence. For me it always seemed better to silently observe rather than contribute to something that I deemed trivial.
I was wrong. Very wrong.
While small talk is not the type of conversation that I want to have; it is the type of conversation that I need to have. Small talk on its own is never edifying. I’ve never walked away from a small talk conversation that has deeply impacted me. I had thought that the problem was small talk, but the real problem was me.
Small talk is supposed to be a conversation starter — not an entire conversation. It provides a giant elephant to break the ice that allows for you to extend the conversation to something that really matters: the gospel.
Think of it like a meal at a nice steakhouse. Your goal is to get to the main course: a tender and juicy filet mignon with creamy mashed potatoes. But you don’t jump right into the main course. First, you order drinks. Then, you eat an appetizer or salad. These things aren’t what you came to the restaurant to enjoy, but they are the process that leads to the goal: a perfectly cooked steak.
Of course, sometimes you do jump right into the main course. Just like there are times that you jump right into deep conversation. But, this doesn’t happen often. You have to embrace the process in order to get to the meat.
I had been dissatisfied with only observing conversations that centered around small talk, but I had never really engaged and attempted to help shift the conversation to something more substantive. The problem wasn’t small talk; it was my resolve not to engage as an ambassador of the kingdom of God.
In order to get to the meat of conversations about Jesus, we must be willing to redeem small talk. And not just redeem it, but practice at it in order to use it to effectively share the gospel.
D.L. Moody, the great evangelist of the nineteenth century, was once on a train to Milwaukee and began to engage the man sitting next to him in small talk. He started with a simple question of asking the man where he was going and after finding out, he took the short time left to talk to the man about Christ. Prior to departing the train, the man placed his trust in Jesus.1 That man’s life was changed forever with a conversation started by small talk.
As a pastor and church planter, I have found that asking people about their work is an effective bridge to talking about the gospel. No one is ever prepared for me to tell them that I’m a pastor, but (almost) every time it allows the conversation to shift and even seems to build trust.
Chances are that you aren’t a pastor so this probably won’t work as effectively for you. Yet, there is another area of small talk that tends to work well universally: getting people to talk about how their week has been. The beauty of small talk is that it is almost always reciprocated.
If you ask someone a question, they’re very likely to ask you the same question. This allows you to share about the rhythm of following Christ throughout your week. Some things you can talk about are: the most recent sermon you heard at church, your small group, a story of meeting someone’s tangible need, or maybe a conversation you had with another believer that was encouraging.
This will likely feel awkward at first and the first few times that you do it you’ll probably want to quit. But I want to challenge you to try this at least five times. The first one or two will likely feel like failures. But the next few is where you will begin to relax and become more natural in conversation. It will feel less abnormal and more like something that is a normal part of your life. Practice is the key to redeeming small talk for the kingdom of God. It may not be easy at first, but it is certainly worth feeling awkward a few times.
Redeeming small talk is an important step toward embracing a more missional lifestyle. Some conversations won’t go anywhere. Some conversations may end poorly. But some conversations will allow you to share the gospel in a meaningful way. One of these conversations is worth a dozen that seem not to produce fruit.
Yet, even when we do not think there is fruit, it is likely that God is working behind the scenes to impact this person’s life. Let us remember Paul’s words to the Corinthian church:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
1 Corinthians 3:5-7 CSB
I challenge you to try this within the next 24 hours. Don’t put it off. If you do try it, I’d love to hear about it. Send an email with the subject “small talk” to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how it goes.
1. R.A. Torrey, Why God Used D.L. Moody, 46
Kevin Fontenot is the pastor of City Church Denton, a church plant in Denton, Texas.