Taking the Church to the People

Evangelism and Multiplication

By Joel Comiskey

Appeared on Small Groups Network (http://www.smallgroups.com), April 2005

Many remember a time in North America when the Sunday evening church service was labeled “evangelism night.” Many were won to Christ through those services. Few such services exist today. Most churches have discontinued the Sunday evening services for lack of attendance. The North American, post-Christian culture no longer feels obligated to go to church—whether it’s church on Sunday morning or evening.

Now it’s time for the church to go to them. The church must move from being the inviting church to becoming the invading church. Gibbs says, “It is commendable for the church to be ‘seeker-sensitive’ . . . but now, the church must itself become the seeker. More often than not, they [those being sought] will first need to be befriended by a Christian and linked to a small group of believers who can demonstrate the benefits and challenges of following Christ” (note 1).

Penetration means living as the community of the King where people live, work, and breathe. It means getting everyone involved in the process of penetrating a neighborhood, job site, or wherever the group is meeting.

Fishing with nets

The group aspect of small group evangelism takes the burden off the leader and places it on everyone in the small group. It’s net fishing as opposed to pole fishing. Pole fishing is done individually, while net fishing requires the help of many hands. Net fishing is a group effort and results in catching more fish, while fishing individually with a pole catches one fish at a time. When Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” He was talking about becoming net fisherman—that’s the way they fished back then. The beauty of small group evangelism today is the casting out and drawing in as a result of the group effort.

For our small group, this primarily meant regularly walking the streets to pray for people in the neighborhood. When we saw people outside, we greeted them in a friendly, loving way. Sometimes one of the members felt led to speak about Christ and invite the person to our small group.

Other group evangelism strategies include barbecues, picnics, friendship dinners (instead of the normal small group meeting order), evangelistic videos, special outreaches at Christmas and Easter, and placing an empty chair in the small group meeting and praying for someone to fill it.

One small group leader who attended my seminar near Portland, Oregon said, “Our small group plans evangelistic outreaches every six weeks. We’ll go to a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game or something else at least every six weeks. In this way, we’re constantly reaching out and befriending non-Christians. The consistency prevents us from neglecting small-group evangelism.”

The small group leader must remember that instead of doing everything himself—which will never create a feeling of community or develop new leaders—he should involve the team by

  1. delegating the various parts of the weekly meetings to others and watch them learn as they do it
  2. asking each member of the small group to pray over non-Christian contacts for several weeks before actually inviting the people to the small group

Though group techniques abound, the primary emphasis should be on developing relationships with non-Christians with the goal of eventually inviting those non-Christians to the small group.

Befriending sinners

Net fishing begins with each member of the small group getting to know non-Christians. Before conversion, there must be communication, which involves building relationships with non-Christians.

Jesus was a friend of sinners. The religious establishment, in fact, cast him out because he was always hanging out with sinners—those who needed him the most.

My family and I began developing relationships with our non-Christian neighbors in 2001. We didn’t preach to them about Jesus right away, preferring to let them see our lives. The neighbors on one side accepted our invitation to come over for a barbecue. Several months later we invited them to our house to see a skit that my daughters performed.

We were disappointed when we invited them to our small group and they turned us down, noting their crowded schedules on Sunday night. We made the same effort with the neighbors on the other side. We were not successful in getting them to come to our small group either.

The neighbor two doors down, however, did respond and started attending our small group. He was the divine appointment that God had been preparing. This particular neighbor loved the atmosphere in the small group because it provided a non-threatening place where he could talk and express himself. Small group evangelism works best when each of the members is proactively getting to know non-Christians and then inviting them to the small group.

Being transparent

Small groups provide a great atmosphere for non-Christians. Most small groups, like our own, begin with food and an icebreaker. What was the first car you remember driving? and What was the first trophy you received? are examples of friendly icebreakers. We often have one of the children pick the icebreaker, and then the icebreakers are more down to earth: What is your favorite kind of donut? or Share what your favorite color is and then share why it is your favorite color.

Transparency is the best evangelistic tool to reach non-Christians. People without Christ appreciate authenticity. They’re thankful when Christians share struggles, because often the non-Christian is going through situations far worse but without Jesus to help. Small group evangelism is a very natural activity and penetrates the defenses of those who would never darken the door of a church building but need love and a sense of belonging.


Small group evangelism in the western world is about pressing on in the face of difficulties and obstacles. Emphasizing evangelism and refusing to be deterred by the lack of fruit isn’t easy. It requires persistence and diligence. Brock, one of the leaders under my care, faithfully invited non-Christians week after week. People said they would come but didn’t show up. Brock persisted, although discouragement and doubt resided not far from the surface. What a joy it was when Brock came to my house one evening saying that two of his invitees had shown up on the same night.

I was reminded of the man who attended my small group seminar in Canada. During the seminar he raised his hand and said, “Joel, I appreciated what you said about persistence in small group evangelism. I work for a direct marketing company, and we’re taught that every no we receive on the phone is just a step closer to a yes. How much more should we persist in the cause of winning lost men and women for Jesus Christ.”

Adapted from chapter 8 of Comiskey’s new book, Cell Church Solutions: Transforming the Church in North America (2005). Buy HERE or by calling 1-888-344-CELL.


Eddie Gibbs, “Churches in Cultural Transition,” Strategies for Today’s Leaders (Summer, 2000), p. 7.