IT'S AMAZING how some evangelists and pastors can say so little in their visits and in return accurately learn so much about the prospect. In trying to analyze this observation, it seems to me that one of the most powerful tools used is that of tactfully asking questions.
One age-old principle involved in the art of asking questions in evangelistic visitation especially stands out. It is found in knowing how to ask open-end questions. When used effectively it enables the evangelistic visitor to accurately find out just where an interest is along the road toward decision.
Perhaps an open-end question can best be defined by understanding what is meant by a closed-end question. Usually, a closed-end question demands a Yes or No answer. For example, "Mr. Jones, do you believe what the Bible teaches about the seventh-day Sabbath?" Now, in a way, Mr. Jones is in a corner. Psychologically he is put on the spot to give one of two answers, Yes or No. Here we can run into hazards. He may believe wholeheartedly almost every thing about the Sabbath, but have an unspoken hang-up on some minor point that you haven't covered yet. He may be worried about his job that requires Sabbath work or any number of other things. And because of this he may feel the Sabbath issue isn't settled enough in his mind to make a commitment. The pressure of having to give only a Yes or No answer for which he isn't ready may make him react by simply saying No!
On the other hand, the prospect, in order to please you, may say, "Yes, I believe it," when really he doesn't.
A closed-end question demands an immediate decision, rather that discussion, and under the stress of this anxiety people may become suspicious, resentful, or even hostile. Closed-end questions can bring poor answers simply because they don't bring out what a person is really thinking.
Obviously, you want to find out what's going on in the person's mind and heart so you can know how to continue working with him. Knowing how to ask open-end questions helps you to most effectively do this. This kind of question doesn't restrict the interest but lets him assume the initiative in carrying on the conversation on the subject in anyway he desires.
For example, "Mr. Jones, how do you feel about this business of the seventh-day Sabbath? I know you have given it a lot of thought; what do you think about it by now?" You have worded the question in such a way that Mr. Jones, in turn, can tell you what he is thinking and how he feels about the matter. He is free to bring out his questions. By doing this, he gives you the opportunity (knowingly or unknowingly) to learn what his hang-ups are and thus suggest directions you can take in most effectively continuing to work with him. Even the emotional overtones he ex presses can quickly give the alert inquirer fantastic insight as to where he stands. By using open-end questions, you tactfully ask a person to open his heart instead of demanding a Yes or No answer or an immediate decision he may not at the moment be ready to respond to.
Questions linked with phrases such as, "How do you feel about it?" or, "What do you think?" or, "How does it seem to you?" can be potent tools for gathering information that will enable you to work more effectively with interests.
After you have found, with open-end questioning, where the prospect is heading if he is coming along well and you know it's time for an ultimate decision then use a more direct yet positive approach, such as: "Mr. Jones, how wonderful it is to know you believe all these things and have a desire to be one of God's children. You do wish to be baptized, don't you?" Then, follow through by arranging for a specific time.