Post Author: Bill Pratt
In the previous post, we looked at the halo effect, as explained by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. We saw that the halo effect causes us to overweight our first impressions of a person so that subsequent impressions are largely influenced by those first impressions.
If we like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to like everything about them as time goes on. If we don’t like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to not like anything about them as time goes on.
The halo effect has many implications for apologetics and evangelism. Say you want to discuss the gospel with someone. If that person already sees you as likable, based on their positive initial impressions of you, then when you present the gospel message, they will most likely be receptive.
If, however, the person with whom you want to discuss the gospel dislikes you, based on their initial negative reactions to you, then they will most likely reject anything you say to them about Christianity. They will simply assume that you are wrong about everything because of the halo effect.
I have had many skeptical visitors to the blog over the years who, after interacting with me initially, decide that they just don’t like me. In their minds, I lie, I don’t understand evidence and rational thinking, and I’m just not someone who can be trusted. How do I know? Because they tell me. Once these people have formed their initial opinions, I know that no matter what I say to them, no matter how I say it, they will never accept anything coming from me. This is the halo effect.
On the other hand, there are people who interact with me and immediately like me; they find me to be trustworthy and reasonable. With those people, the halo effect works in my favor. They are quite willing to hear what I have to say, even when we don’t agree on everything.
If a person doesn’t like me, for whatever reason, they are not going to listen to what I have to say about the gospel. I can rest assured, however, that God will bring along someone else who that person does like. There is usually no point in me banging my head against the halo effect to change that person’s impression of me. They have formed their opinion and it is probably not going to change, at least not without substantial effort on my part and theirs.
I think the halo effect is one reason that Billy Graham was such an amazing evangelist. Most people, after first seeing or listening to him for just a few minutes, immediately like him. There is just something about him that people like. The halo effect, undoubtedly, helped him bring thousands and thousands of people to Christ.
Alas, we all can’t be Billy Graham. This is a hard pill to swallow for an apologist or evangelist, but swallow it we must. Most of us know at least some people, even in our families, who just don’t like us a great deal. The fact is, we probably cannot reach those people, but, we do need to reach those who do like and trust us. They are ready to hear what we have to say.