1,000 cups of coffee and the importance of being a good conversationalist

How to use your time with people to point them to Christ.

Building relationships was one of our main goals when we arrived in Portugal four years ago. When we first settled in our new home in Montijo, we didn’t know anybody. We soon discovered that building relationships required intentional and purposeful work on our part. Friendships don’t just happen if you stay at home and neglect to engage people. So, we did our best to meet our neighbors, get involved in the community, and initiate conversations whenever possible.

Little by little, God began bringing people into our lives. Some of these people passed through for only a brief season. Others became some of our good friends. In the process, we quickly learned that in Portugal most conversations happen at a café over a tiny cup of robust and delicious Portuguese coffee. During our first four years, I am certain that I drank thousands of cups of coffee all while in conversation with different people.

Let me give you an idea about coffee in Portugal: There are cafés on pretty much every corner. Rarely does a day go by where I do not go to one of the four cafés near our apartment building. The coffee typically costs about 80 cents. There are also a variety of pastries available, but I hardly ever get one in order to protect my weight and my wallet.

Enjoying a cup of coffee with my favorite little girl.
Enjoying a cup of coffee with my favorite little girl.

So what have I learned after drinking thousands of cups of coffee and having countless conversations? Here are a few things:

Be polite, and focus on the person you are with. Don’t look at your phone or place it on the table. In fact, smart phones are the worst enemy of healthy conversation. Smile. Make positive eye contact. People love spending time with other people that value them.

Listen. Sometimes this is a struggle for me as there are people who can go on and on about some issue or situation that I really care about very little. However, I try to keep in mind that I may be the only one who is really taking time to listen and care about the person on the other side of the table. Listening is an act of caring and showing that you value the other person.

Find ways to compliment people. Who doesn’t appreciate a sincere and well-timed compliment?

“That’s a good thought…”

“I like how you said that…”

“You seem very talented in your work…”

“Your kids are very well behaved….”

The list goes on.

Ask good questions. Sometimes I pretend I’m Larry King asking questions from his guests. Many times, my questions are simply to follow-up on what the person is talking about. But, whenever possible, I do try to steer the conversation in a way that causes the person to think about God. For example, if I am speaking with somebody who is unsaved I may ask questions like:

“How has your faith helped you through the situation you mentioned?”

“Do you think the Bible would have anything to say about this?”

“Do you feel that you are growing more or less curious about spiritual matters?”

Often these questions provoke fascinating responses and provide an open door to begin to talk about Christ.

Don’t argue about things that don’t really matter. People ask me my opinion about American foreign policy, Portuguese politicians, gay rights, and a host of other issues that are interesting, but are not primary to me. It’s easy to get distracted or even angry when you are talking to somebody about one of these issues. You can let people know where you stand without getting into a drawn out argument.

Do speak gently and courageously about things that do matter. When it comes to matters of the Bible and God, don’t hide the truth. Speak it. There are many helpful books that speak about how to do this, but here are just a few observations I have found true:

Use the Bible as much as possible.

Don’t feel like you have to explain everything at once. Be sensitive to the person with whom you are speaking. If they don’t understand or don’t want to continue talking about the Bible, it may be best to stop and pray for another opportunity another day.

Ask lots of questions. This helps you to see what the other person is thinking and what he or she understands. It’s useless to carry on talking about a certain matter if you lost the person in the beginning of the conversation.

Don’t feel like every conversation has to be about the Bible or spiritual matters. While my desire is to see as many people saved as possible in Portugal, not every conversation must be about the Bible. There are many times I talk with people about their families, sports, weather, or other topics. People need to know that you care about all of their lives.

Do pray for God to open doors to speak of him. Even as you are conversing, pray that God would provide opportunities and open doors to speak of him.

Drink coffee. Love people. Pray. Watch God use simple conversations to begin to turn people to Him.

7 thoughts on “1,000 cups of coffee and the importance of being a good conversationalist”

  1. These are very helpful reminders. And your comment about phones “In fact, smart phones are the worst enemy of healthy conversation” is so very true in the US. I believe the #1 issue in the US is that the unsaved, and even some saved individuals, do not feel loved. And I believe the Lord has been teaching me in this area of truly loving my neighbor (not just the person next door). I find this very hard. I will use your conversation helps. And it is good to see pictures of you back in the US. I hope your travels bring you my way and that I might have the opportunity to see the entire family while you’re here. May God bless. –Ann

    1. Hi Ann,
      Great to hear from you. Thank you for your encouraging comments. We will be in your area during the month of February, so we will definitely makes plans to see you then. It will be great!

  2. I loved your story and it showed me how I will approach people as I hand out information on our Healing Rooms. Thank You,Cindy Lapp

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