We suggest there are three main elements to a good Lunchbar talk. We call them ‘Identification, Persuasion and Invitation’. We then give you a bonus ball; Structure. You can see them in our standard Lunchbar Talk Feedback Form here.
But what are they, and why are they so important?
1. Identification: You’re at a wedding, seated between two strangers. You talk to both. The person on your left seems distant, uninterested and rather judgemental. The person on your right seems engaged, interested and smiles. Who would you want to continue talking to?
Identifying with the other person, feeling their emotions, understanding their thoughts, resonating with their hopes and fears is essential to relationships, to communication and to evangelism. Why?
Because we’re made in the image of a relational Triune God, and God shows an unparalleled willingness to identify with us by becoming one of us; God with us, Emmanual, Christ, the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). A good lunchbar talk is one in which the audience feels you understand them, sympathise, and really wants their very best throughout. A bad lunchbar talk is one in which the speaker alienates everyone.
If we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us, imploring people to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20), then the medium (us) must match the message. The speaker who demonstrates distance (“I won’t bother to understand you, but will speak from the comfort of my own little world”), will inevitably undermine the Gospel.
2. Persuasion. Has anyone ever persuaded you to change your mind? Wasn’t that an uncomfortable experience?
The Apostle Paul’s missionary approach is summarised by Luke in these words: “every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). We hear a persuasive sermon in Acts 13, and then a different one to Athenian philosophers in Acts 17 (see my workshop here). In both cases Paul seeks to persuade this audience to change their minds regarding Jesus, with the Athenians turning from their idolatry. As much as we may find it uncomfortable, a good lunchbar talk is one in which you seek to persuade your listeners to change their minds.
What makes a Lunchbar speaker persuasive? All sorts of things, but probably the most important variable is how convinced you are of the truth yourself! An unconvinced speaker is unconvincing.
Three other elements are a) how much you identify with the audience, b) how effectively you challenge the current assumptions and beliefs of the audience, and c) how compellingly you present your case as good, beautiful and true.
For these final two (modelled in Tim Keller’s The Reason for God), the speaker needs to focus on the moral issues, as that’s what people really care about; i.e. does becoming a Christian promise true good, or not? Does the non-Christian perspective actually offer human flourishing, or does it deny us the world we all want?
I heard a discussion on the radio yesterday in which facts were cooly discussed, but as soon as the points touched on how society should be everyone suddenly got very passionate. A persuasive Lunchbar speaker shows how the Gospel is true and offers real human flourishing; hope, life, peace, joy, relationships, etc etc.
3. Invitation. Imagine you went to a lecture about Buddhism, the speaker suggested you became a Buddhist at the end, and yet said nothing about what that meant. How would you feel?
Having sympathetically identified with your audience’s perspective, challenged them and compellingly shown the truth, good and beauty of the Gospel, a good Lunchbar talk is one in which you invite the audience to respond, and show what that means
This could include all sorts of things in your talk; a challenge to the audience to make up their mind and choose between two options; a suggestion to take and read a book or go to a website; an invitation to sign up for a discussion group, or a warm encouragement to pray a prayer. Don’t leave the ‘so what?’ of your talk unanswered. In fact, the ultimate invitation you’re offering should be what drives and defines everything you say up to that point. Your journey home depends on where home is.
4. Structure. Ever listened to a talk, lecture or sermon and simply drifted off? One reason may have been their lack of structure. You serve your audience best by providing signposts throughout, pointing to where you’ve been and where you are going. WIthout signposts, it’s easy for the listener to get lost.
I have tried to provide visual signposts in this article with different font size, underlines and colour. If the page had just been a mist of monotonous grey letters I doubt you would have got this far.
Speaker signposts can include explicit statements like ‘in this talk we’re going to focus on W, facing three questions; X, Y & Z’. Early signposts shouldn’t give too much away, as that’s like seeing a wrapped present under the Christmas tree and instantly knowing what it is. ‘Identification, persuasion and invitation’ are memorable, clear and yet at the beginning of this article I doubt if they were self-explanatory.
Here are some structural aids I use.
‘Right, so what have I actually said so far? Here’s what…’
‘So having recognised X, let’s now turn to Y’.
‘But surely that raises this question…’
Questions are brilliant as your structural signposts, as they provide an ‘itch’ of unknowing that will keep everyone engaged.