By Chuck Lawless
Small groups are critical to a healthy church. There we experience teaching, fellowship, prayer, and pastoral care. In that context, life on life occurs.
Small groups can also be central to a church’s evangelism efforts. Most small groups turn inwardly at some point, though, and lose their evangelistic fervor. Listed here are some steps to avoid this inward turn.
- Evaluate the numbers at least twice a year. I realize people are much more than numbers, but numbers help us evaluate a small group’s direction. At least biannually, evaluate at least these numbers: how many non-believers are participating in the group? How many new believers attend? What percentage of members shares their faith regularly?
- Expect small group facilitators to be faithful evangelists. Facilitators have other roles, of course, like teaching the Word and guiding discussion. To have a facilitator who does not faithfully evangelize, though, is almost to guarantee that the group will not be evangelistic. Frankly, I would require potential facilitators to give evidence of an evangelistic DNA before giving them the position.
- Hold members accountable for sharing their faith. This step may not be popular, but it’s important if you believe evangelism matters. At least monthly – if not weekly – ask members to report the number of non-believers for whom they’re praying, the number of relationships with non-believers they are developing, and the number of times they have shared the gospel message. If the group is uncomfortable with the approach, start with only a few members.
- Plan for different group members to share their testimony once a month. Group members are not likely to share their story with non-believers if they have never done so among believers. Let your small group be a safe place for evangelism practice.
- Pray for non-believers at each group gathering. Don’t let a meeting pass without focusing the group’s attention on non-believers. Some small groups always leave an open chair to remind the group visually that others remain to be reached; if your group does that, be sure to pray by name for persons who should be in that chair.
- Assume nothing about the group’s Bible knowledge. Guide the group in locating texts within the Scriptures. Explain theological terms and church jargon. Show how a text fits within the overall story of the gospel. If the group believes their non-believing friends will not be intimidated when attending, they’ll more likely invite them to hear the gospel.
- Include one evangelism training series annually. Regularly include training like “How to Share Your Testimony,” “How to Pray for Non-believers,” “How to Initiate a Gospel Conversation,” or “How to Evangelize Family Members” in your group curriculum. Newer believers will need the equipping, and longer-term group members will need the reminder. Guide your groups to expect and look forward to evangelism training.
- Plan quarterly events that emphasize outreach. Outreach by itself is not necessarily evangelism, but groups usually must turn outward first before doing evangelism. Do prayer surveys in the community. Carry out servant evangelism projects. Plan group events (e.g., baseball game, hiking trip, movie night), with the goal of each member bringing a nonbelieving friend.
- Celebrate conversions. Throw a Luke 15 party when someone involved in your small group becomes a follower of Jesus. Give gifts to help the new believer get started in his Christian walk. Invite his own non-believing family and friends to join the party – and encourage the new believer to share his story. If we learn to rejoice when God works a saving miracle, we’ll do more evangelism.
- Have a discipleship strategy in place for new believers. Young believers are usually on fire for Christ, and they have recent connections with non-believers who need to hear the gospel story. Thus, they can be great evangelists – if their passion for Christ continues. Discipleship is one means by which we help them keep their fire burning. Strongly evangelistic small groups have their “discipleship nursery” ready to feed baby Christians God places under their care.
What other strategies would you add to this list?