The Psychology of Soul Winning
By Jesse Morrell
The Bible says:
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” Proverbs 11:30
There is a real wisdom that goes into soul winning. In fact, there is a real “psychology” to it, as there are various states of mind a sinner must go through on the pathway to conversion to Christ.
Charles Finney, the great American Revivalist, taught that there were four distinct types of sinners: Careless Sinners, Awakened Sinners, Convicted Sinners, and Converted Sinners. Where the person is at in these four stages determines how you should witness and deal with them.
If a sinner is careless, they don’t care about God. They have no interest. So you start by getting them interested. When I am open-air preaching, I might start off by pointing out, “You’re all gonna die!” This get’s them interested in spiritual things.
Or, as Finney said, sometimes it’s the death of a family member or friend that first gets a sinner from a state of carelessness to a state of being awakened.
Once awakened, they are inquisitive about God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, etc. But they still aren’t ready to be converted. They have to go through an experience of deep conviction over their sin. This is when you need to talk to them about the law of God and the sins they have committed. When they see their sin and how awful it really is, when their conscience has done its work and they admit that they are hell-deserving sinners, now they see their need of the salvation that is offered in Christ Jesus.
Many people confuse convicted sinners with converted sinners but this is a fatal mistake. Just because a person feels bad over their sin doesn’t mean that they are a Christian. Preachers sometimes seem to think that the unregenerate are all careless over their sin, so if a person feels convicted this must mean they are regenerate. To the contrary. Conviction simply means that their conscience is working. It doesn’t mean that their hearts have been converted and regenerated. It doesn’t mean that they are submitted to God and obedient to Him.
Once the sinner is in a state of conviction, you must urge him to immediately repent and turn from his sins, offering to him God’s promise of forgiveness and pardon if he will simply repent. A person is not truly converted to Christ until they have forsaken all of their sins.
As you can see, it is important to recognize where the sinner is at in these stages and to deal with them accordingly. Are they careless, awakened, convicted, or converted? Every time you are witnessing or open-air preaching, think about these things and may the Spirit of God lead you with the right words to say at the right time to the right person.