4 Compelling Illustrations to Share the Gospel to Your Unbelieving Friend

When’s the last time you shared the Good News to your unbeliever friend? Did the outcome of your witnessing exceed your expectations or quickly transpired into an awkward moment? If you are like the majority, you might find yourself closer to the latter. 

Articulating our central beliefs as a Christian is so much easier said than done. Coupled with the lack of opportunity to learn the tools and tactics and lack of motivation to share our Christian beliefs have seriously undermined our role as contagious Christians.  God commanded us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). You and I should “be prepared in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

In Bill Hybels’ resourceful book Becoming a Contagious Christian, he states the overarching mission for Christians:

“There’s nothing in life that’s as exciting as befriending, loving, and leading wayward people toward faith in Christ. Nothing.”

This is so true. We are all on a divine mission – a purpose that is greater than simply having a successful career, paying your bills, loving your families, and living a “happy life.” Rather, God calls us to be contagious Christians – change agents who catches His love and then infectiously shares it to all who are willing to consider it. The plan is to spread God’s love and grace to the end of the earth until there’s an epidemic of changed lives around the world.

Now, here’s some practical, helpful tactics you can employ to structure your presentation of the gospel to effectively propagate the Good News.

There are four elements to consider in understanding the essence of the Gospel: God, Us, Christ, and You

God: 

  • Loving: “Out of his compassion He made us and desires to have a relationship with us. Even though we’re sinners who have rebelled against Him, He continues to patiently extend His love to us.”
  • Holy: “[God] is absolutely pure, and He is separate from everything that is impure.”
  • Just: “He’s like a good judge who can’t wink at a broken law: Rather, He must mete out justice.”

Us: 

  •  “When God first created us, He made us good, without sin. But we abused our freedom, rebelled against Him, and became evil.”
  • “Furthermore, as we’ve just seen, God’s holiness exposes us for what we are and His justice deals fairly with the sin we’ve committed. Unfortunately, the seriousness of our sin requires God to pronounce upon us the death penalty. This means both physical death and spiritual death, which is separation from God in a place called hell.” We become morally bankrupt with nothing in our account with which to pay off our debt.

Christ: 

  • God and Man – He was uniquely both. As God, he had the power and authority to devise a plan for our salvation. As a man, he was able to execute the plan by taking upon Himself the punishment we deserved.
  • “The central truth of the gospel is that Christ died in our place, as our substitute. He suffered the death penalty debt for us. In so doing, He expressed the love of God, upheld the holiness of God, and satisfied the justice of God.”
  • “He did all of that so that He could turn around and offer us His forgiveness, friendship, and leadership as a gift. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t pay for it, and we can’t earn it.”

You: 

  • Only those who say yes to Him will actually receive His forgiveness
  • Must individually receive Christ and His gift of salvation (one of the most undermined messages)
  • personal response is essential – someone else can’t make a decision for others and push them to make it prematurely

Illustrations for Clear, Effective Presentation of the Gospel

1.       Do vs. Done

  • Most simple and succinct tool for sharing the Gospel
  • Good for addressing the question of what part our own efforts play in attaining God’s salvation (outlining the difference between religion and Christianity)

Religion is spelled “D-O,’ because it consists of the things people do to try to somehow gain God’s forgiveness and favor. But the problem is that you never know when you’ve done enough. It’s like being a salesman who knows he must meet a quota but never being told what it is. You can never be sure what you’ve actually done enough. Worse yet, the bible tell us in Romans 3:23 that we never can do enough. We’ll always fall short of God’s perfect standard.

But thankfully, Christianity is spelled differently. It’s spelled ‘D-O-N-E,’ which means that what we could never do for ourselves, Christ has already done for us. He lived the perfect life we could never live, and He willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty we owed for the wrongs we’ve done.

To become a real Christian is to humbly receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to commit to following His leadership. When we do that, He adopts us into His family, and begins to change us from the inside out.

2.     The Bridge Illustration

  • Best-known and most frequently used gospel illustration
  • Graphically shows people their predicament and God’s solution
  • Advised to make it more personal by drawing it out on a piece of paper than carrying a printed version
  • Follow the following Hybels’ script as a guide as he brilliantly explains the illustration

I usually start by saying ‘We matter to God. He made us, and He wants to have a relationship with us,” and I write ‘Us’ on one side of a napkin placemat, or whatever piece of paper is readily available, and ‘God’ on the other: 

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Then I explain the problem. ‘We rebelled against God. Both actively and passively, we’ve all disobeyed Him. And our sins have separated us from Him, and broken off the relationship.” And I draw lines by both words in such a way that they form walls around a great chasm, separating us from God: 

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‘To varying degrees, most of us are aware of our distance from God.’ I continue. ‘I know I was, and you may be, too. And so we start doing all kinds of things to try to get back to Him, like being a helpful neighbor, paying our taxes, going to church, and giving money to charities. There’s nothing wrong with these, but the Bible makes it clear that none of them can earn us God’s forgiveness or re-establish our relationship with Him.’ 

Then I draw a couple of arrows, going over the ‘Us’ cliff. These signify our attempts to reach God that always fall short. Sometimes, I’ll write ‘Romans 3:23’ next to the arrows so the person can see the biblical source for what I’m saying. ‘Furthermore,’ I add, ‘the sins we’ve committed must be punished, and the penalty we owe is death, which means physical death as well as spiritual separation from God for eternity, in a place called hell.’ Here I add the word ‘Death,’ and sometimes Romans 6:23, at the bottom of the chasm:

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At this point, I admit that the picture looks pretty bleak. It’s important to convey the reality of how much trouble we’re in apart from Christ. People need to realize how lost they are before they’re likely to become interested in being found. 

But I don’t leave them hanging on the bad news for too long. ‘The good news, as I said in the beginning, is that we matter to God. In fact, He loves us so much that He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He provided a bridge over which we can find His forgiveness and restore our relationship with Him. He built it by coming to earth as one of us, and dying on the cross to pay the death penalty we owed. Here’s what the bridge looks like.” 

Then I draw a cross in such a way that it touches both sides of the chasm, and sometimes I add ‘1 Peter 3:18’ next to the cross: 

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‘That’ I conclude, is a picture of what the central message of the Bible is all about. And that’s what God wants each of us to understand. But it’s not enough for us to just know about this or even disagree with it. We’ve got to act upon it. God wants us to move over to the other side. 

‘We do this by humbly admitting to God that we’ve rebelled against Him and need His forgiveness and leadership. That simple act of trust and obedience results in our sins being pardoned and our debt being paid. Our relationship with God is firmly established, because we’re immediately adopted into His family and as His son and daughter.” 

While explaining this, I draw a stick figure on the ‘Us’ side of the chasm, and then from it an arrow over the bridge to another stick figure on the ‘God’ side, sometimes adding ‘John 1:12’: 

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Then I ask my friend if the illustration makes sense to him or if there’s any part of it that he’d like to discuss. Finally, I ask him where he’d say he is on the drawing, and if he seems open, whether he’d like to move over the bridge by making Christ his forgiver, leader, and friend. 

Let me interject here that that the most common response people make at this point in any gospel presentation is a heartfelt, ‘Hmmm….I’ll have to think about it for a while.’ That’s okay. Most seekers need time to process the message, weigh it’s implications, and consider its cost, just as Jesus suggested in Luke 14:28-33. 

3. The Roman Road

  • Effective illustration for those who want hard evidence from the Bible
  • Illustration based on three key verses from the book of Romans

The first verse to show your friend is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I explain, “According to this, all of us have sinned against God. This includes not only big sins, like rape and murder, but also stuff like moral missteps, likes, cruelty, insensitivity toward others, losing your temper, cheating, and self-centeredness. I’m willing to admit to some of these. How about you? Most people have no trouble admitting they’ve done these things, too. 

Then I turn to the second verse, Romans 6:23, and let them read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I’ll say, “According to this verse, those little wrongdoing you and I just admitted to have earned us a penalty. The penalty is death.” But then I’ll draw attention to the second half of the verse, and say, “it refers here to a gift.” God has offered us a gift of eternal life. We can freely receive God’s forgiveness and His pardon from the death penalty we owed. The penalty has been paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross. And like any other gift, we can’t earn it, we can only receive it. To find out how, let’s turn to one more verse.” 

And then I’ll let the person read Romans 10:3, where it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Do you see how simple it is to receive God’s gift? All we have to do is recognize the fact that we’ve sinned and deserve death, and then call out to God humbly for his forgiveness and the new life He’s offering to us. That’s what I did a few years back, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same.” 

4. The Airplane Illustration

  • Helpful tool for complacent seekers and nominal church-goers understand that it’s not enough to merely believe the right things about God or to just attend church

Doing these things is like studying the science of aviation and then hanging around in airports. You can learn all about the physics of flight, know which airlines have the safest record, pick the best craft to fly in, reserve your flight, drive to the airport, go to the gate, double check the cockpit crew’s credentials. But it does no good unless you get on the plane. 

Knowledge alone won’t get you anywhere. You have to act on what you know. You have to climb aboard the airplane, trusting it’ll take you where you want to go.” Similarly, it’s not enough to know all about Christianity. You can study until you’re the expert, go to church, even get involved in ministry, and not have a relationship with Christ. You finally have to take a step of faith and ‘get on board’ by receiving the forgiveness He purchased on the cross and entrusting your life and future to Him. What’s what it means to become a real Christian. 


  • I’m glad this book offers many practical application and the main point of get out of your bubble to evangelism is good. I wish the book would also address the challenges that present once one starts the conversation (example, just sees the diagram as a nice story created by human minds to help you have unique experience or why this is the only way etc.) and perhaps it’s up to other books to go more in detail for those areas. I would also caution 2 points about the book itself: paraphrasing of scripture in some parts (the wording of scripture matters to arrive at correct interpretation and correct application) and lack of recognition of the Holy Spirit’s role in the process with heavier focus on human effort. All in all, the main message is true and excellent for reaffirming the imperative of spreading the gospel and a beginner’s guide of how to start the conversation.

  • Doug Espie

    Fantastic summary Paul. Thank you very much for sharing this. I will be using these illustrations in our Youth Group.

  • shelley w

    thank you so much! i’ve been looking for the bridge illustration for a while and i’m so glad i’ve found it. i’m going to be part of a prison ministry team and i just couldn’t remember exactly how it went.

  • Tricia Simms Duke

    This is an awesome blog! Thank you – it is practical and helpful. The scripture reference is not correct in the Roman road though – don’t you mean Romans 10:9 instead of Romans 10:3?

  • Tricia Simms Duke

    The reference that you gave is actually Acts 2:21 I think – thank you!