By Joel Comiskey, check out coaching
The church of the first three centuries spread rapidly without the use of mass media, large public gatherings, or famous evangelists. Why? Because everyone was an evangelist and intent on sharing the gospel to friends, neighbors, and work associates.
This is true of effective groups today. Facilitators who consistently encourage members to bring friends produce thriving groups that multiply significantly more than groups that do so only occasionally. In fact, facilitators who weekly encourage the members to invite visitors multiply their groups twice as much as those who do so occasionally or not at all. Thriving small groups, in other words, empower each member and see more people come to Christ and attract more visitors.
Jim Egli and I recently wrote the book, Groups that Thrive, and one surprising conclusion from our research is that mobilized groups evangelize more effectively than depending on a gifted evangelist. Each person participates in reaching out to new people and makes them feel at home. There is a clear connection between empowerment and leading others to Christ.
Groups that empower their members naturally attract more visitors. Because members are encouraged to invite their friends, more people actually come to the group. Helping members find their voice is what makes small groups thrive internally and externally.
People invite others to “our” group much more than they do to “your” group. Why? Because there are multiple entry points in the group, rather than just one—the leader. Visitors build friendships with various people in the group, not just one person. Before they leave, they’ve been greeted and interacted with group members who have different gifts, talents, and personalities. Some connect better with quiet types, while others seek out the verbal, more sanguine personalities.
When members feel needed and take ownership for the group, they naturally reach out to others. Members, not just leaders, know what visitors need and how to meet them. Newer members remember their own experiences and can understand the conflicting emotions that occur when entering the group for the first time.
There are many natural ways to build relationships with non-Christians. Birthday parties are an easy way to include both groups at a fun and relaxing event. Other friendship-building activities include holidays, meals, neighborhood parties, and sporting events. Common hobbies and interests are also good ways to bring people together.
Special events such as a dinner, picnic, or thematic small group (e.g., one focusing on an issue like marriage, God’s existence, etc.) are great ways of reaching non-Christians. On one occasion, a group in which I was involved watched 15 minutes of the movie Schindler’s List, and then prepared questions on the meaning of eternity. On such occasions, you can invite people because of the special event taking place.
Empowering members in thriving groups can influence the course of history. Facilitators must not take on the entire evangelistic load. Rather, they should be like Jesus and empower each one to reach out and ultimately to make disciples of all the nations.