LEADING HOME CHURCH EVANGELISM
Good evangelism is God's will for the church (II Cor.5:19,20). When the church loses its evangelistic edge, the sentence is spiritual death. No amount of study, love, sharing, or serving will save the church when we have no evangelism. This is the first priority for leaders.
Although we can use a wide variety of evangelistic methods, our job as leaders is to understand and teach those principles that are most suitable and effective in our home church. The following evangelistic concepts are all evident in scripture. Included under each biblical principle are suggestions for effective implementation.
To agitate for evangelism, lead in evangelism, and empower evangelism, nothing works better than an evangelism-centered Worker's Prayer Meeting. Study the prayer meeting handout carefully. All our following comments assume you have an effective prayer offensive in place already in you home church.
I. Warm Medium (Friendship) Evangelism
A. Evangelism occurs most easily within existing ("warm") relationships, rather than by talking to strangers ("cold medium"). Our friends and family are more likely to take the gospel seriously when we share because of the credibility we already have with them. Our non-Christian friends find it easier to envision themselves becoming Christians because they identify more with us than a stranger would.
B. Scripture gives examples of warm medium evangelism. See Jn. 1:41-51, Acts 16:30-34, and II Tim. 1:5.
C. For an important source on this kind of evangelism, see Bridges of God, by Donald McGavern, He calls people who have warm relationships with non-Christians "bridges" because they open new people groups to evangelization. Although this book is about foreign missions, it applies equally to our mission field.
1. If your Home Church is regularly seeing new people (several per month) who are not "visitors", it suggests you probably have active bridge people in your group. If this is the case, consider the following measures:
a) Help the people who are bridges by making sure their spiritual and relational needs are being met so they continue to grow. Watch for Satan's attack on these people.
b) Avoid calling on them to spend so much time with Christians that they lose their relationships with non Christian friends.
c) Make sure they are aware of the opportunity they have to reach their friends and loved ones.
d) Think of ways you can help them get a vision for seeing their friends find Christ and grow spiritually.
e) Think of ways to help them reach their friends and loved ones, including going with them to social events where you can meet their friends.
f) Think through with them the basic communication factors in witnessing. For instance: the best setting, ways to come off, wording, ways to broach the subject, etc.
g) Teach them to respond properly and patiently to those who are not initially responsive. Suggest ways to respond to various questions or comments they encounter. The leader is a counselor/consultant in this situation. "So, have you had any more talks with so-and-so?" "What did she say?" "And what did you say to that?" "Not bad! Here's another idea if that comes up again..." These are the kind of questions and comments we should be making weekly to a bridge person.
h) Handling flack and rejection: New Christians are often surprised and dismayed to find the level of hostility from some people. They need help processing this without becoming defeated or timid.
- Sometimes people are defensive when they are under conviction
- Some of us were the same way, shortly before receiving Christ
- It takes time for family and friends to accept changes in one of their own
- Initial resistance often gives way you persist and your life changes, etc.
2. If you have believers in the Home Church who have
relationships with non-Christians, then they are at least potential
bridges. When working with potential bridges:
a) Determine whether people are witnessing to their non Christian friends. Try to tactfully discover whether people are witnessing without seeming to be demanding. If a cell member is not mentioning conversations he/she is having with non-Christians, there probably are no such conversations. Try asking, "What do your friends think about your Christian experience?" or better still, "What does so-and-so think of you being a Christian?"
b) We need to convince our people that outreach is right, and that it is important.
c) We have to convince our people that winning their friends is fun and fulfilling
d) Growing Christians usually inwardly want to witness, if they have been under sound teaching. What reason might there be for inhibition?
i) Not knowing what to say: We find that one of the most common reasons for aversion to witnessing is the fear that comes from ignorance. Use guides like Hybels and Middleberg, Becoming a Contagious Christian or Fay, Sharing Jesus Without Fear to give practice on sharing one's testimony and a simple gospel message.
ii) Go with the person and meet his friends. Pray for a chance to have your disciples see how you relate to non Christians and how you witness.
iii) People from fundamentalist backgrounds, or long standing believers sometimes develop the feeling that no one is interested in the gospel. What would be the best response to such a fear?
iv) People fear rejection or ridicule. Try some role-playing to show how a person can respond graciously and victoriously to a rejecter. Teach them to always ask "Why?" when someone makes a negative comment or expresses disinterest. Tell stories about ridiculers who later were converted.
v) Sometimes believers have an identity problem that leads them to deliberately conceal the fact that they are Christians from their secular friends. What would be an appropriate response to this situation?
3. If you have neither active nor potential bridges in your Home Church, you are limited to cold medium evangelism.
II. Cold Medium Evangelism
A. Cold Medium Evangelism means that we begin to focus on relationships that are relatively more distant or even non-existent in order to find those with whom we will communicate.
B. First realize that a home church limited to cold medium evangelism is not in a hopeless condition. Far from it! Many churches in this position have broken through to victory. However, this kind of outreach is usually more difficult, and it requires more patience. When the Home Church is struggling in the area of outreach, the leaders and workers must guide the attitude of the church. Rather than giving way to panic or demoralization, express confidence that people all around us are spiritually hungry and want to hear the gospel (Matt. 9:37; Acts 18:10), and that Christ will build His church (Matt. 16:18). This situation is an opportunity to teach and to demonstrate faith in the promises and power of God.
C. The best good beginning point is to approach God on this issue. With the interested workers in your group, try to add names to a prayer list over a period of weeks. Cell groups and special prayer meetings are ideal for this ministry. What scriptures speak to specific prayer about evangelism?
D. Don't make the mistake of thinking God will honor a passive attitude in this area, or that He will bring about evangelism apart from human agency (i.e. search theology). As a leader, what attitudes and actions do you need to cultivate in order to be an example to the Church in this area?
E. Practical steps: When a church has lost it's warm bridges, it is in serious danger of losing all spiritual vitality. Leaders in the group need to face the danger, and embark on a campaign of leading change--from whatever has prevailed until now, to a situation with regular effective evangelism. Remember the steps detailed in the paper on leading change.
First gather evidence that the problem exists, and take this to your fellow leaders. Agree with them that a program of change is essential. Prepare together to pay the price for change.
Then, go to the group and "thaw the situation," using your evidence and any that other leaders may have contributed. Be careful to avoid panic or undue fear. Combine conviction of need with confidence in the power of God and the integrity and competence of your people.
Next, "pursue change to the appropriate level of tension." Think in terms of a several-month campaign that results in successful outreach, not a week or two of banging the drum. During the campaign, consider steps like the following:
1. Through Home Church and Cell Group, instruct your people on the biblical basis for evangelism (without neglecting other areas of doctrine). List several truths that require solid convictions in order for a biblical basis to be built. Include the antithesis: that a group without evangelism is doomed--not this week or this month, but eventually, this is a problem the group must solve together. Agree together that there will be no complacency in your group--you must see a harvest!
2. Check to see if there are past guests who have been neglected. If so, how can this be corrected? Cold medium outreach requires very careful management of a follow up list, as we can't afford to miss any opportunity. We will discuss follow up later.
3. The leadership has to be the first to witness. It isn't important that leaders succeed, only that they try, and can recount their attempts to the rest of the church.
4. If possible, allow your disciple(s) to accompany you when you witness. This gives them the opportunity to learn by example (I Cor. 4:16; 11:1). Even if you don't get to witness, the act of going out to a venue where you can meet people will be positive.
5. Evangelism is sometimes hazardous and difficult work. Are your people being helped, praised, and encouraged for all of their outreach attempts, even if unsuccessful? See Paul's application of this principle in I Thes. 1.
6. You and your people should share your witnessing experiences with each other and pray for each other in specific cases of outreach.
7. If someone gets a chance to witness, be sure to celebrate that answer to prayer privately and publicly. Come back to that case in subsequent weeks and ask if anything else has happened.
8. Find ways to role-play bringing the gospel up with people, such as Pippert's questions to use in evangelism:
"How have your impressions of God changed over the past few years?"
"What is your impression of people who call themselves Christians?"
or my suggestion:
"Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?"
followed by either "Why not?" or "What does that mean to you?"
or this suggestion from Neil Cole:
First engage in conversation, looking for insight into the other person on one of three things: 1) his pain 2)his passion 3)his purpose. If you are successful in uncovering information on any of these, ask if you can pray for the person. (They usually say "yes.") Then, pray for them, there and then! Cole says they usually do this with a hand on their shoulder. Offer a short personal prayer and end it. The assumption is that by saying yes, the person has authorized God to become involved. By being in the presence of a praying Christian, they will witness how a personal relationship with God works, and also will be impacted directly by the Holy Spirit. These cases usually lead to subsequent opportunities to share more, and are also usually appreciated by the person.
or Fay's Jesus questions:
1. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
2. Who is Jesus to you?
3. Do you believe in a heaven or hell?
4. Where would you go if you died? Why?
5. If what you believe were wrong, would you want to know?
9. Another strategy in cold medium witnessing is to begin by building warm relationships with non-Christians. See teaching material on the subject of building new friendships, such as that in Organic Disciple Making, by McCallum and Lowery. However, you should never view this as a necessary prerequisite for evangelism. Always be prepared to share the gospel early in a relationship.
10. Teach your people to ask questions. We typically find Christians making the mistake of thinking that the important thing is knowing what to say. We need to convince them that even more important is knowing how to listen. See Fay's "Hmmm principle," where he never says anything but "Hmmm" to people's answers to his questions (Share Jesus Without Fear). Learning about a person's perspective and past may powerfully affect how we witness. Find out what, if any, church background the person had, and their attitude toward it. Teach on different levels of conversation wherein different questions become appropriate:
a. General- what do you major in?
b. Specific- what area of art are you most interested in?
- Why do you think people have the ability to enjoy beauty?
-Could a machine enjoy beauty?
-What is the source of beauty?
-I've always worried that it might be lonely living alone
-Do you think there's such a thing as real love?
- what do you think of when you think of God?
-Why do you think there is evil in the world?
-Do you think there is an afterlife?
11. Don't make the mistake of thinking cold medium evangelism won't work. The key here is to realize that some people are effective in a cold medium situation, while others are less so. The leader has the job of "equipping the saints for service," (Eph.4:12) which includes helping members succeed in different kinds of evangelism.
12. Activities can be planned where cold medium outreach might occur. We need a certain level of stimulation at such events in order to hold the interest of secular visitors. Conversation and Cuisine, Mom's Playgroups and evangelistic parties have all been used at Xenos with good results.
13. Don't assume that only certain temperament types can do cold medium communication. Leaders are regularly surprised to find that the one bringing in a new person is the one they thought would be unable.
14. During your campaign, regular, objective feedback is usually sufficient to raise the tension in the home church. Don't overlook any answers to prayer, but don't exaggerate success either. "Since we began praying about this, God has granted us three different opportunities to share with non Christians. However, we still haven't seen anyone new at home church." Remember that what a group talks about is what they tend to do. Make it a point to bring this subject up with such regularity (both in group and individual situations) that people realize the issue won't go away, and has to be solved.
F. Check to see if your Home Church meetings are enjoyable and edifying. Check to see what your members think. If the meeting is not perceived as fun, evaluate the reasons for this and make needed changes. Meeting quality is more important than usual under conditions requiring cold medium outreach. Are some teachers not interesting enough to be in the rotation? It may be right to consider shortening the teachings, and encouraging more group participation and discussion. A group with little or no outreach need not worry about training new teachers. Unless things change, they will never be needed! Focus on your best teachers until you see outreach occurring in the church. Consider only letting those teach who have brought someone new during the past year.
G. A winsome home church meeting (not to mention larger meetings) must exhibit a level of enthusiasm. While we want our teachers to lead in this area, this part is not just the teacher's responsibility. We must convince our members to come outside of themselves, to resist their inhibitions, and to outwardly express their excitement and gratefulness to God in emotional ways. Times of discussion and prayer are ideal for verbal affirmations of excitement about God. We may have to lead a dual campaign struggling for outreach and for enthusiasm at the same time. Enthusiastic responses must become habitual, and this means practice, even when no outsider is present. We need to sell our people on the idea that a Christian meeting should always be enthusiastic in view of what God has given us.
H. Urge your people to take the Sharing Your Faith class offered quarterly at Xenos, and go with them. Discuss together where you think your group is in relation to the ideas taught. This class has proven motivational power.
III. Using the Decision Continuum
A. People usually make big decisions (like coming to Christ) by going through a process rather than all at once. This process has been called the "decision continuum."
B. As leaders, we should ascertain that our people are not trying to move people from dim awareness of the gospel to a decision to receive Christ in one step. Rather, they should be aware of where the person is in the decision-making process, and whether they are moving realistically towards the point of final decision.
C. Carefully teach your people that they are trying to help others to come to an informed, freewill decision to receive Christ. When this principle is disregarded, people are usually either needlessly scared off, or they make insincere decisions that don't last. See Paul's application of this principal in Acts 17:1-4.
D. Make your people aware of the negative stereotypes most Americans have of Christians, and discuss how to anticipate, detect, and overthrow those views.
E. Beyond teaching the theory of proper outreach, practical teaching is also important.
1. Reading The Situation. Christians sometimes have trouble sensing what the other person's response is. Yet this kind of discernment is crucial to many areas of Christian work, as well as building relationships in general. Since it is a subjective skill, step by step teaching is impossible. What is the best way to teach this ability?
2. Appropriate Response Options. Based on the worker's discernment in a communication situation, a response must be chosen on the spot. The response chosen should be appropriate and effective. Such a response could range from simply encouraging the non-Christian to continue questioning, to a more direct invitation to deeper involvement.
a) There are no firm rules for making this decision. The worker is left to his/her own sensitivity and experience in matching the present attitude of the new person to the response. Follow the general rule of thumb that one should offer more to a responsive person, and should offer less to an unresponsive person.
b) Advancing & retreating--teach your people to advance toward responsiveness and retreat from unresponsiveness. Periodic advancing and retreating has more effect than constant advancing.
c) In what ways can you know if the workers in your home church are aware of, and are using the decision continuum in their ministry to both non-Christians and disciples? Can you list several general principles that would be helpful in determining which response would be appropriate for a given situation?
IV. The Power of the Gospel
A. The central message of Christianity (that salvation is a free gift and that one can have a personal relationship with Christ), has the ability to profoundly affect people on a spiritual level. The Holy Spirit works in cooperation with this message to convict the hearer of its truthfulness and of their need for Christ. This is why Paul said he was careful to stay focused on declaring this message ("I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." I Cor. 2:1-5). The effective evangelist trusts the power of this message and knows that it will impact the hearer, regardless of the hearer's initial, visible response.
B. Teaching Evangelistic Content
1. We often discover that inexperienced Christian communicators are engaging in debate with non-Christians regarding peripheral issues, rather than explaining the grace of God.
a) One of the best ways to determine this is to ask them to recount a conversation they have already alluded to. Another would be to watch them witness.
2. One reason for misdirected communication is lack of knowledge. We suggest that believers learn about a half a dozen salvation verses to use during witnessing. They should learn to stress the difference between religion and a personal relationship with Christ. The use of contemporary language, not churchy or theological words, is also helpful. Study in cell group what words are churchy and which are evocative.
3. Believers should be able to explain the testimony of their own conversion. Many believers find it necessary to write out for themselves a one-page personal testimony with appropriate content, and learn it. The following is a good outline:
a) Your life before you met Christ.
b) How and why you received Christ.
c) The specific changes that have occurred in your life since then. Key words such as purpose, meaning, direction, loneliness, fears, etc., should be considered and remembered.
V. Teaching Things to Avoid in Witnessing
A. Postmodern hearers expect and demand that we show "respect" to other world views and religions. Any suggestion that we know something is right while others are wrong will be interpreted as arrogance and will give offense. How will you teach your group to respond to these new conditions in postmodern America? Consider an exercise based on quick response to typical postmodern comments.
B. Make sure your people have learned to avoid argumentation and direct negation where possible, at the same time that they avoid compromise in witnessing. Do they allow the other person to express his/her own views, and do they truly understand the view of the other? Experienced evangelists know that argumentation and put-downs don't help, but rather hinder witnessing except in rare cases. (When might a good argument be warranted?) However, we would err if we assume that the inexperienced know this. In addition, they have to learn to avoid argumentation in some way other than failing to make their points. This ability is very difficult for some to grasp.
C. Think through with your group what might be some good ways to practice Socratic witnessing (witnessing through questions rather than declarations). What are some questions that are more or less always safe and good?
D. Shame and defensiveness on the part of a believer will ruin his/her witness. How can we cause our disciples to have the outlook Paul had in Rom. 1:16 and I Cor. 1:18ff? Are they able to express openness without fear? They have to be convinced of the truth in order to convince others. They should not project that they expect rejection and should not take rejection personally. How can these qualities be taught?
E. Teach people to avoid the appearance of condemnation and self-righteousness (see Phil. 4:5). It is not enough to point out that non-Christians are turned off if they sense judgment from Christians. It is also necessary to point out that the secular person is expecting judgment, and will misinterpret statements sometimes unless we take care to demonstrate love! Genuine warmth and acceptance are absolutely essential. How can we ensure that our disciples have the ability to do this?
VI. The Subjective Witness of the Body
A. To maximize the corporate witness of the church, we need to teach clearly the reasons for resorting to a corporate witness.
1. In Jn. 13:34,35 and Jn. 17:21,23, Jesus stated that the unity and love Christians express to each other is compelling evidence of the truthfulness of Christianity. Since this evidence is more subjective than objective, it has to be felt and seen, rather than explained. The atmosphere produced by a group of Christians who love each other will often do as much to convince the nonbeliever to respond to Christ (especially initially) as the teaching he hears. A scriptural example of this is Andrew (Jn. 1:40- 51; Jn. 12:20-26). Andrew brought many to Christ by asking them to investigate Christ for themselves. (See also I Cor. 14:23-25)
2. In the event that a Christian is involved in a very dynamic group that is actually practicing body life principles, it would be foolish to ignore that avenue of witness. For this reason, it is sometimes (but not always) wise to invite a questioner to a fellowship or teaching meeting even before having spoken the Gospel.
3. Another reason is that we may only get 5 or 10 minutes at work or school to try to explain the gospel, which is difficult. Such a small amount of time is rarely as effective as a full-length, well reasoned teaching. It should, however, be possible even in a few minutes, to make certain statements of a suggestive character that will create curiosity even though they do not answer all of the questions. Teach people to be creative in devising such statements.
4. Finally, there are varieties of gifts in the church, and the biblical Christian will look for opportunities to derive help from other gifted people. Teach your members to call ahead to good evangelists to arrange for help with a guest, or to bring it up at a prayer meeting.
5. This witness of the Body probably won't work too well if your meeting lacks enthusiasm (see above, II, G.)
B. Things to teach regarding inviting people.
1. The best inviters are very matter-of-fact in saying that they are a part of an interesting Christian group that they would like the other to check out sometime. All dishonesty or "bait and switch" tactics should obviously be avoided. At the same time, it is correct to point out that there is no pressure at the meeting: the people are nice, there is an interesting talk by a good speaker, and afterwards the people go out together if they want to, etc. We need to point out that some of our people will be surprised at how many are interested in such an invitation, especially if the Christian has been perceived as an appealing person already.
2. It is very desirable when appropriate, to offer to pick someone up rather than expecting him/her to come alone. People are usually unwilling to go to a strange place alone. If they are driving themselves, they should have a good map. Consider meeting people for dinner before home church or Central Teaching.
3. Christians need to be willing to socialize with non-Christians. This is directly implied in Christ's command that we not only "love them that love us"(Mt. 5:46,47). Also, if we are willing to accept invitations from others (to a movie, game, party, etc.), they will often be more willing to accept one from us. Remember that this means time must be allocated in our people's schedules for socializing with non-Christians.
4. A person who is cynical, or very cognitively oriented, or who is afraid of being cornered by a small group of people, should be invited to a Central Meeting. Such meetings avoid a lot of Christian activities (singing, sharing, etc.) which might be menacing to certain people. People also enjoy more anonymity at the large meeting, so they tend to feel less "on the spot".
5. The Home Church is geared towards someone who has nothing against Christians or Christ, or who would appreciate the intimacy of a smaller group.
VII. Concluding Considerations
A. Is it possible that people are equipped for evangelism, but that they are not motivated to do so? Thinking both theologically and practically, what motivates people to do evangelism? If negative momentum has built up on this point, how can the leadership turn the tide in the outlook of the Church?
B. Perhaps there is adequate outreach in the church, but new people are not followed up adequately? Be sure you are not beating the wrong drum! Check the numbers. There are study materials available on Home Church follow-up.
C. If we have not cultivated a grateful attitude in the church, our people will probably not appreciate the things that God does do. Remind your people that God is answering your prayers and lead them in thanking Him. Evangelism comes to evangelism. That is, when people feel the church is victorious, they have better morale and witness more. Excitement is contagious.
D. In a situation where little successful evangelism
has occurred for a long time, and yet eventually a new convert is
won, remember: this may be the opening we have been waiting for.
Such a convert probably has a complete circle of close and casual
friends that are warm medium relationships. It is essential that
such an opportunity not be squandered by any one of the common ways.
1. Sometimes the Church is overanxious to get the new person to do their work for them. In this situation, people might clumsily call on the new convert to go witness to his/her friends, without any theological under-girding, or without the rudimentary growth that sometimes must precede any desire on the part of the new person to bring others.
2. Sometimes several friends are brought around, but they are not followed up by the mature Christians, and do not reappear. This is natural, because the new convert is not able to give satisfying answers to the guests. They should have been given help by older Christians. Eventually, a good church will win whole affinity groups, as they did in Acts 16:31ff.
3. Sometimes the leaders fail to teach outreach, and monopolize the schedule of the new convert to the point that he/she loses contact with old friends. Instead, the mature believers should realize their opportunity to do low end work, and should accompany the new believer to parties, sports activities, etc. in order to meet his/her friends. It is often best to go to these events with no other intention than to meet and make friends with the group. If the gospel comes up, be ready. If it doesn't, let the new believer explain it later.
4. Sometimes the church has adopted a "fortress" mentality, and sees its main goal as sealing the new convert away from his/her friends, especially those of the opposite sex. In this way, it is hoped to "protect" the convert from temptation. The best protection from temptation is to win those same friends, rather than avoid them.
VIII. Suggested Reading
A. The Master Plan of Evangelism, R. Coleman
B. The Universe Next Door, Sire
C. Say It With Love, Hendricks
D. Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World, Pippert
E. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell
F. To Tell the Truth, Metzger
G. Winning Ways, Eims
H. Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense, McCallum
I. The Death of Truth, McCallum, et. al.
J. Share Jesus Without Fear, Fay
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