This is such a common question! For the first three years of our church’s life after we planted, we laid a missional theology, but people began asking this very question: “but how?!” At the risk of sounding self-serving, I was honored to co-write a resource trying to address that very question, called A Field Guide for Everyday Mission. Several of the concepts in that book are designed to help answer the question you’re asking. But I’d start with this: if we start seeing non-Christian people around us as “people”, rather than “projects”, we’re well on our way to missional engagement.
We do this exercise in our new member’s class, where we ask them what Christians enjoy doing together. “Spending time together,” “eating meals,” “movies [or] sport [or] concerts,” “meeting at the pub,” or “playing games” are among the most common answers. Then we ask what they think non-Christians enjoy doing together. People sometimes start to smile as they realize the answers are the same. While Christian people do talk openly about Jesus at times, that doesn’t consume 100% of the time we spend together. But somehow we’ve forgotten that we too, were at one point, not a Christian but very much a human. We can forget that God created every person in his image. We can forget that God values every human life. And we can forget God’s patience, and the years he pursued us, while we, too said “no” to him.
That forgetfulness can lead us to (wrongly) interact with Christians as fellow humans, but to treat people who don’t know Jesus as projects: we only spend time with them with a goal in mind; we try to force Jesus into every conversation; we walk away frustrated if all we did was hang out (as if “building a stronger relationship” is a bad thing?!). But once people – Christians or non-Christians, adults or children, anyone! – realize we actually care about them, that relationship may be the exact venue God ordained, to be able to one day, in ordinary conversation, share the good news of Jesus with them.
Now, if we truly care for these people, we of course want to share the good news of Jesus with them… but this is, by title, a one-question interview. So that topic will have to wait for another day 🙂 Bottom line, God opens the doors for relationships with people who don’t follow Christ, all the time: the first step toward engaging missionally is to walk through those doors, pursue a relationship, and care for the people God puts in our path even in their unbelief . . . just like God did with us, while we were we in ours.