Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to make small groups evangelistic and outward focused

Most small groups are not evangelistic. Period. This is, unfortunately, the simple truth. There are many reasons for this.

First, this is not their stated purpose. There is no intentionality for this.

Second, most small groups are study groups, and this only appeals to a limited number of people.

Third, the groups are made up of close knit, long time Christians, discussing things which only Christians are much concerned about. This is intimidating for non-Christians.

There are several different ways to make small groups evangelistic.

1. Make this the stated purpose of the group. This will drive the decisions that are made, and fellowship, prayer, and Bible study will probably happen along the way.

2. Have your group serve some group or individual in the community who is non-Christian at least once a month. When we serve others, it opens hearts and doors of opportunity to share what we believe and why we are serving.

3. Have your group study something of interest to non-Christians. Like biblical principles of money management or help for marriages. Have a specific start and stop time (8 weeks series, for instance), and let those involved know that there will be a mix of Christians and non-Christians at the study. Offer good food. Make the study portion no longer than an hour, and leave plenty of mingling time.

4. Make your group social groups that seek just to befriend and do fun things with non-Christian friends, such as having a barbeque, going to a ball game, etc. Do this repeatedly with the same non-Christian friends, out of genuine love and interest in them, and see what God will do with this.

5. Pray for non-Christian family and friends by name. This can be done every week, and I can personally testify that this is powerful.

Here is a good quote from Jeffry Arnold, in his book, Small Group Outreach, on how to make a small group evangelistic.

"As you and your group prepare for evangelism, each individual should sit down with a pen and paper. List family, friends, neighbors and work associates. To identify the people your group should pray for and talk to, look for the ones who (1) live close enough to attend the group, (2) need the life-giving offer of salvation through Jesus and (3) would be comfortable in your group."

What do you think of these suggestions? Do you have any additional suggestions for how to make a small group evangelistic?


jeremy said...

"Third, the groups are made up of close knit, long time Christians, discussing things which only Christians are much concerned about. This is intimidating for non-Christians."

At Wilshire, we had small groups of mixed ages/life stages, and as I remember they were reshuffled every year or two. Where I attend now, groups are pretty much set, new ones form. But there is no "deck shuffle" if you will. As a result, there are some groups that have met for 10 years, and have known each other incredibly well for 50 years!

I've gone back and forth on the issue, and I think I see valid points of mixing groups up or keeping them the same. Fostering group cohesion takes time, yet creating a group that is so close knit means that some wouldn't ever fit in.

What are your thoughts?

James said...

Jeremy, there are indeed good points on both sides. I think the answer goes back to the mission of the group and how best to achieve this mission.

A highly focused, missional group that has been together for a long time can be effective if it stays on mission. Without this mission, however, it can become so tightly focused that it is impossible for outsiders--whether Christian or non-Christian--to break in.

Matt B said...

The great commission is held up as our mantra. Of course, we usually do this at assigned times during the year. We plan events. They are good events and serve a great purpose, but it is vital that evangelism and getting out into the community (yes, with sinners, people with bad reputations,etc..) happens consistently throughout the year.

This is like telling your child you love them and you plan 5 events during the year that you spend time with them. The rest of the time, you just sort of see them and waive "hi". We need to be living our faith daily.

The challenge for many folks who have been blessed with growing up in the church is that many of them only let the Christians into their inner circle. Many folks I know who grew up in the church and have made good decisions like surrounding themselves with other Christians- don't enjoy spending time with non-Christians.

How many times have you heard Christians talk about wanting to get another job because of the bad work environment. Maybe it is full of non-Christians or Christian hypocrites. Hey- maybe they are where God wants them. To be a light.

Many Christians (including me) know it is easier to huddle than to go play a down.

Great points-you have made (my Yoda comment).