A great place to start is by simply making yourself available to listen. And by that I mean, you be available to listen without giving advice or comments. This is not easy! Often the impulse is to “fix” or "correct’, but that is not this kind of listening I’m suggesting. If, as you’ve noticed, your friend is sensitive about this topic, then listening to them - about this subject or anything else that’s going on in his life - at the very least will build (invaluable) trust and respect between you.
Here’s some guidelines I found somewhere (can’t remember where) about listening that I try to keep in mind:
· When I’m thinking about an answer while others are talking, I’m not listening.
· When I give unsolicited advice, I’m not listening. (Unsolicited advice always seems like criticism.)
· When I suggest they shouldn’t feel the way they do, I’m not listening.
· When I apply a quick fix to their problem, I’m not listening.
· When I fail to acknowledge their feelings, I’m not listening.
· When I fidget, glance at my watch and appear to be rushed, I’m not listening.
· When I fail to maintain eye contact, I’m not listening.
· When I don’t ask follow-up questions, I’m not listening.
· When I top their story with a bigger, better story of my own, I’m not listening.
· When they share a difficult experience and I counter with one of my own, I’m not listening.
Whatever the reasons this person has for leaving their faith, remember that to them those reasons are legitimate and valid. There’s a story there that’s worth understanding from their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it!
One of the worst things we can do when listening is to immediately go to a divisive, combative, or corrective approach, without giving the person, and their story, a respectful and reflective listening!
Finally, and this may be a tough one, consider that you may not be a good candidate to talk to this person about returning to their faith. Perhaps your roll is to just listen for a while. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate topics for pray if/when this person opens up to you, and prayerfully consider your responses.
I can certainly understand your concern and the sense of urgency these kind of situations bring. It is hard to see someone we care about leave the faith - for whatever reason. Your friend’s decision to leave the faith probably didn’t occur overnight. So, it’s reasonable to expect that returning to the faith also won’t occur overnight. Be patient, commit to your friend long-term, and know that the Lord is doing all He can to call him back too. All prodigal sons are welcomed upon return!
I hope this is helpful.