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FRIENDSHIP EVANGELISM THROUGH THE CELL CHURCH
By Joel Comiskey
Alliance Life, July 2000
When I first entered the door of Steve and Claudia Irvin’s apartment in Bogota, Colombia, the living room was filled with non-Christians learning English (an outreach tool). I politely greeted them, excused myself, and unpacked my clothes for a weeklong stay (the Irvins had graciously allowed me to stay in their home while I taught a course in the mobile C&MA seminary called FATELA).
The next morning, Steve knocked on my bedroom door at 7 a.m., informing me that he had plans to play golf with a non-Christian friend. “I hope to win this upper-class business person to Christ,” Steve said, “at this point, he won’t darken the door of a church.” While eating breakfast that morning, the doorbell chimed and in stepped a non-Christian housewife from the same apartment complex. After introducing us, Claudia said, “We’re going to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I’ll be home later.”
The next day, Steve and Claudia had to fly out of the house because they were going to exercise in the local gym. Why? You guessed it—to meet non-Christians. Two days later, the house was once again filled with non-Christians learning English. On my last day, Steve arrived home late because he was playing basketball with non-Christian friends.
“Okay, Lord,” I thought, “What do you want to teach me through these choice servants?” Even though I’ve read most of the material on friendship evangelism, I had never seen such commitment and diligence in actively pursuing non-Christian relationships.
The Irvins have learned that most people must first be won through friendship before they attend an evangelical Church. The cell church model flows wonderfully with the friendship approach.
After becoming a friend, the Irvins invite the person to a cell group. In the non-threatening atmosphere of the home, the non-Christian develops new friendships, receives Jesus Christ, and learns how to apply the Bible to everyday life.
The Oasis Church in Bogotá was started in 1996 by befriending non-Christians and then inviting them to a cell group that eventually multiplied. Now there are twelve cell groups at the Oasis Church who come together on Sunday morning to worship Jesus Christ and study His Word. Evangelism and harvesting primarily takes place within the cell groups. Steve and Claudia led the missionary team that included John and Kathleen McBride and Bill and Norma Hills that started the Oasis Church from scratch. And from the beginning, they’ve used friendship evangelism as the primary outreach tool.
Claudia, for example, began attending an Aerobics class in her community in 1994. After aerobics, she stayed for coffee and began to develop relationships with the ladies. The original instructor of the Aerobics course quit and the person who took her place used Yoga meditation as part of the Aerobic exercises. Claudia knew that she couldn’t participate. Afterwards, the new instructor asked the ladies, “What do you think?” In front of everyone, Claudia said, “I can’t continue to do this because I believe that God wants us to exclusively meditate on His Word ” Claudia thought to herself, “These women are certainly going to reject me now.” Yet just the opposite happened. They respected Claudia more and the other ladies asked the instructor to stop doing the mediation. Claudia’s stand for Jesus strengthened her relationship with the women.
Claudia eventually invited a few ladies from the exercise class to her house for informal teas. As friendships blossomed, some of the ladies would invite Claudia over to their houses for a cup of coffee and, always, some talk of spiritual things. From there, an evangelistic Bible study was formed along with Norma Hills. Many of those ladies prayed to receive Christ there. Some of those original contacts participated in the first cell groups at the Oasis Church.
Steve told me that an important value at the Oasis Cell Church is to avoid church busyness that hinders members from reaching non-Christians. “We don’t want to become too churchy,” Steve reiterated on several occasions. From what I observed from the Irvins, they haven’t strayed from the original value of friendship evangelism and cell ministry.
My stay with the Irvins reminded me of Christ’s Words: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). The Oasis cell church is uniquely positioned to touch the lives of non-Christians. This church is following our Master who modeled friendship evangelism and was known as a friend of sinners.