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Evangelism

In this section you’ll find resources to help you in training your church for evangelism.  What could be more important?

Many of these resources are provided very generously by Michael Green from his book entitled: Evangelism Through the Local Church. These articles are full of practical wisdom and we recommend that you read them. 

Training for Christian Apologists

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

I would like to present five suggestions, which I offer only because I have found them helpful in my own ministry in apologetics!

 

Begin where the person you are talking to is now

We should have the flexibility to use any starting-point, and any road as a path to Christ. It does not matter where we start from. If we are thought to be producing some carefully prepared sermonette, it will be disastrous. Evangelism is all about personal relationships, personal sharing in an honest and real way.  So we must learn to begin where the person we are talking to wants us to begin — where the conversation springs up from.

We must also learn to take our opportunities when they occur. If we defer them to a more convenient time, that time will not happen! And let the other person make the running. We do not have to lead the conversation. He is seeking direction for his life; let him take the lead. Follow him sensitively and helpfully, as occasion offers.

And do not mind in the least if the conversation wanders off spiritual things. It may well wander on again, later in the evening. Or maybe it can be picked up another time. What will prove injurious for the relationship is pressure by you if the other person does not want it. But if you find it possible to be as natural when talking about God as when talking about cricket or baseball, you will find that your friend will be only too willing to return to a question which is, after all, one of the most fundamental in the world.

 

Do not be embarrassed to open your Bible

‘Oh no!’, I hear you say, ‘that will put them off for ever!’ No it won't!

It all depends on how you do it. If you speak from authority, the authority of the Bible, then you can expect a strong reaction in this very anti-authoritarian age. But if you use it in a non-authoritarian manner (although believing passionately in its authority yourself), you are likely to be well received. ‘Well now, that's a very interesting question you asked. Let's look at what Jesus had to say about that, and see if it helps at all.’

Or maybe your friend has been making some astonishing assertions about what he or she thinks Christianity is about, and you can say, ‘Well, it's fascinating to swap ideas about this, but why don't we get back to the original source-book, the New Testament?’ And invariably the person will agree. It is the academically respectable thing to do in all such endeavour: get back to the original source. That is all you purport to be doing.

But actually you are doing something more. You know, though your friend does not, that the Word of God is sharp and powerful. You know that its words can get through to places your words can never reach. So you want your friend to be exposed to the laser beams of Scripture. It will have its effect!

This open-ended and non-dogmatic approach is very necessary. You are showing that the Scriptures are perfectly intelligible if you come to them with an open mind, assuming only that the witnesses who wrote them were honest men. You are showing that Christians do not make up their faith as they go along, but that they go back to the original teaching of Jesus. And you open their eyes to what that teaching, that life, death and resurrection mean.

What is more, you begin to give your friend the suspicion that there is something unusual about this book, something that has a ring of truth about it. They feel, ‘Here is a book which understands me, which speaks to my condition’. When they recognise that, they are well on the way to conversion!

 

Major on Jesus and the resurrection

That is what Paul did with the Athenians - so much so that the untutored among them thought that he was wanting to add two new deities to their pantheon, Jesus and Anastasis (Acts 17:18). I doubt whether anyone could misunderstand the contemporary apologist so badly! But I have found that these are indeed the two cardinal issues to concentrate on. The person of Jesus is the most attractive in the world. And the evidence for his being more than just a man is overwhelming. I love to face enquirers with that!

And then I encourage them to go away and read the five accounts of the resurrection, to see how it reverberates from practically every page in Acts, and then to attempt to argue against it. It is a formidable case to dismantle, and they do not succeed. God has not given us the answer to all manner of questions we would love to have unravelled. But he has seen fit to provide very strong supporting evidence for the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the fact of his resurrection from the dead.

And those two points are almost enough. I well remember a young medical postgraduate in one of the Agnostics Anonymous classes I ran at Oxford University. He had come to the group in order to examine ethical issues with which he knew he would inevitably be caught up in his profession. He had gone away the week before to study the evidence for the resurrection. And as he came into the room the following week he said to his friends: ‘Well, I'm not a Christian yet, but I am persuaded that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.’  Before he left that evening, he asked me when the next ‘Discovery Group’ (for new Christians!) started. ‘I think I can't hold out any longer’, he said, `I'm committed.’ He is an active Christian doctor today!

 

Distinguish between smokescreens and real problems

This distinction is crucial, though not always easy to make. If a person has a real problem, and you solve that problem to their satisfaction, they should have no further reason for holding out against the truth of Christ. But if what purports to be a real reason for hesitation is in fact a smokescreen behind which your friend is wanting to hide, then a very different situation emerges. Solve that problem, and they will assuredly produce another. Solve that, and another will grow. It will become apparent that their heart is unwilling to move, and so their head is devising rationalisations in support.

The difficulty is that sometimes what is a real problem for one person can be a smokescreen for another. Take the problem of pain and suffering, for instance. That is the classic thing that Christians cannot fully answer: it is therefore an excellent stick to hit the Christians with. So your friend comes up with the question ‘Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?’, and sits back to watch you squirm as you attempt a lengthy answer. For them it is probably only a smokescreen; and if you answer it they will move on to ‘What happens to those who have never heard the gospel?’ or ‘What if there is life on Mars?’

But another person might produce precisely the same issue, the problem of suffering; and for them it is not an academic problem to keep you at arm's length. It is a desperately painful hurt - because only last year their mother died in great pain of cancer. If you treat an excuse as if it were a real reason, you will find that another one grows in its place, and at the end of the day nothing is accomplished: you need to puncture an excuse, not feed it. But on the other hand, if you treat as an excuse what really is a genuine problem, and seek to puncture it, you will hurt the questioner very deeply.

Remember too that some people have a whole constellation of genuine problems, and to regard their second, third or fourth problem as mere evasion would be quite disastrous. All of which goes to show how sensitive we must be in dealing with questions which are raised. If possible, we need to see what lies behind the question and why they ask it. Only so can we answer it in a way that will really help that particular person. But the distinction between genuine difficulties and mere excuses is vital to grasp if we are to engage at all effectively in apologetics. We must understand the distinction, and act accordingly.

 

Be direct

Here again I can hear someone saying, ‘But that will put people off’. That is what I was told by some Christians when I came to Canada. ‘Be very oblique and laid-back, Michael. Canadians will not take directness.’  I believe I have evidence sufficient to show that this advice, though well meant, was quite wrong. Canadians are very polite, but they appreciate directness just like anyone else!

The religious scene is bedevilled by endless talk. It is like a breath of fresh air when someone comes and speaks about Jesus, his cross, his living presence, and his claims on our lives - and then asks us what we are going to do about it. Of course we need to use tact. Of course we need to be sensitive to the wind of the Spirit, and only follow where we sense he is leading. But directness does not alienate if it is allied to love. Love someone, really love them, and you can afford to make endless mistakes, to drop barrow-loads of bricks, and you can still get away with it. The point is that you love them, and they know it. You want the best for them, and they know it. And so they do not take umbrage, as they certainly would if that vital ingredient of love were missing.

The gospel of Christ concerns matters of the utmost importance, matters of life and death. We dare not beat about the bush and hedge every statement with a thousand qualifications. We need humbly but clearly to tell it like it is. In the last analysis it comes down to the question Pilate had to face: `What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?' That is the question we must help our friends to face, with love and with directness, once we have penetrated their mindset, which may well be very different from our own.

Michael Green.

Training in Using Drama and Movement in Evangelism

Katy Kennedy

 Written by Jane Holloway

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

The truth of the gospel can be powerfully communicated using creative arts such as drama, movement and mime.

 

However, it is important to realise that although for some people these forms of expression seems very natural, they are viewed by others as inappropriate. We need to remain sensitive to this tension, and do all that is possible to ensure that these art forms are used to glorify God and not people. The incarnational significance of using the whole body in worship (cf John 1:14) is being grasped afresh in many parts of the Christian church. Worship need not be restricted to our minds and hearts; in Romans 12:1 Paul reminds us ‘in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.’ Such is the attitude in which to use these creative art forms in our churches and for reaching out to others. The limelight should go not to the performers, but to God himself in centre stage.

 

Contexts in which drama and movement can be used

In worship services

  1. Call to worship - Scripture can be read by different voices; responsive readings can involve the whole congregation; an interpretative dance can introduce the theme; or a simple procession can carry in some symbol, such as a cross or a candle.
  2. Children's time - read a story, then get them to act it out and dress up; involve other children in reading parts; teach simple arm movements to their favourite action songs, or a circle dance; use visual aids, sketch boards, puppets, mime.
  3. Scripture reading — use different readers for different characters in a passage; act (or dance) out the whole passage using biblical narrative; update a parable for today's world. Encourage those involved in the public reading of Scripture to prepare prayerfully. Find the version which is needed for the occasion and be familiar with the passage. What does it say? How should it be read? Use punctuation, pauses. Practise reading it out loud. Speak clearly and don't mumble. Learn how to treat a microphone as a friend and not an enemy. Look as though you believe what you are reading!
  4. Congregational prayer time — different prayers can be led by different people, and simple arm movements to familiar prayers (or responses) like the Lord's Prayer can be taught to the whole congregation.
  5. Communion — without detracting from the holiness of the meal, the elements can be carried in by those doing processional dance steps. The movements of the minister during the consecration are important too.
  6. Worship time — dances can be prepared for particular hymns or songs that are to be used in the service, and can be danced while the congregation is singing.
  7. Work with the preacher — either to illustrate the theme of the service with a sketch or a dance, or to dramatize a particular theme of the talk by using a short sketch.

 

In teaching

  1. In Sunday school - whether for adults or children - use opportunities to get people to act out the Bible passage under discussion. Also encourage the use of the whole body to express lessons learned.
  2. Workshops can be used to teach more about the art forms themselves, to encourage anyone interested to have a go, as well as to identify people who may be willing to give more time to using drama and movement in the life of the church.

 

In outreach

  1. Guest services in the church, incorporating any of the above suggestions into a service, can often communicate much of the joy and vitality of the Christian faith.
  2. Special church events, such as picnics and barbecues, often have a slot for a `talk'; so why not insert something different?
  3. Church holidays, children's camps — these are ideal opportunities to introduce drama.
  4. Local schools — many churches have connections with schools. Offer to go in and do an assembly using drama, or make a presentation of music and drama in the lunch hour.
  5. Open-air work — out in shopping centres, on housing estates, on the streets, and in praise marches: a mixture of testimony, drama, circle dancing, juggling, puppetry, and speaking can lead people to find out more about the Christian faith.
  6. Local arts festivals, community centres, amateur dramatics - maybe those interested in acting and dance could work together to produce something for a community event like this.
     

How to introduce the use of drama and movement

This will need much prayer and sensitivity, but it can be done!

  1. Be open to God. He is the source of all creativity, and creative arts stem from him. An interest in drama or dance may not mean you should use it in public performance. Your role might be that of an enabler of others. But be open to God, and open to have a go!
  2. Be open with the minister. Keep him informed of plans as they emerge. Is the church ready for the use of drama or movement? Is the leadership sympathetic?
  3. Share the vision with like-minded friends, and start praying together.
  4. Explore the possibilities. Where are the places that drama or dance could be used in the church or for outreach? Are there any local resources in terms of people already involved, or a neighbouring church which could help? Investigate books on the subject.
  5. Prepare the congregation. Some teaching will be necessary on how the arts can be integrated with worship and outreach. Otherwise you are courting shock, and rejection.
  6. Choose a suitable occasion. For example, a special festival - Advent, Easter, Harvest.
  7. Start with the children — they so often show adults the way!

 

Types of drama

  1. Readings and storytelling — taking a passage of Scripture, a Bible narrative, a poem.
  2. Short sketches — essentially concentrating on one theme, using a minimum of props, designed to be part of a `bigger picture'.
  3. One-act plays — less demanding in terms of equipment and actors than a full-length play, but enabling a plot to be developed.
  4. Full-length plays — using full stage facilities. The theme could be either secular (with an underlying Christian message) or explicitly Christian.

Most of these different types of drama use words as the main means of communication; however, mime, which replaces words with stylised movements, can often be even more powerful, and is invaluable in an international context, because it needs no words.

 

Types of movement or dance

  1. Simple arm movements, or gestures, to children's songs, and to prayers.
  2. Folk dances or Israeli-type circle dances.
  3. Congregational dances — where the whole congregation might process out to the last song or hymn.
  4. Set pieces by a smaller dance group: dance/mime — to a piece of music, song or narration; presentation dance — done as a ministry for healing or meditation or as sheer worship.
  5. Spontaneous movement done without any prior choreography, in response to God's love.

 

Starting a drama or dance group

In order to produce good quality pieces of drama or dance, time is needed for creation, practice and rehearsal before presenting them in front of others. Forming a small group specifically to work on this needs careful consideration.

  1. What type of group? It could be one that meets occasionally, as and when opportunities come to present a piece. It could be a more long-term group, meeting regularly, and committed to the regular production of material.
  2. The aim of a group would be to please God (and not the church, the minister or those involved), to serve the church, and to communicate the gospel to those outside the church. Ideally the aim would be a mixture of all three.
  3. Leadership involves commitment to the group's priorities and aims; being prepared to be involved as well as to learn; encouraging and caring for group members; discovering and developing creative gifts in others; and putting in time to organise and delegate scriptwriting and publicity. Some previous experience would be helpful.
  4. The group can comprise people with and without experience. The most important thing is commitment - to God, to the work, and to each other. As the group gets to know each other, prays, worships and studies the Bible together, new gifts will emerge, creativity will flow, and great love and trust will develop. Try not to have too large a group: between three and ten members can work well; anything larger tends to get a bit impersonal. However, for special productions others may need to be drawn in.
  5. Each meeting should include prayer, worship and sharing., Other elements would be: time to learn new things; drama games and movements; exercises to improve muscles and breathing, body movement, balance, and weight transference; working together as a group and synchronisation; working on different techniques; improvisation and work on new material. You could also invite outside speakers to teach, and you could go to plays, concerts and dance productions. Obviously the content will depend on how much group members know at the start.
  6. Starting off. Decide when and where to meet. Choose a large carpeted room if possible. Break down barriers gently and gradually (eg, embarrassment at moving, or at being watched, and uncertainty as to what to expect). Relax and have fun. Worship and pray together. Clarify the leadership, the aims of the group, and how often you will meet.

 

Integrating dance or drama into an event or service

  1. Work closely with the leaders.
  2. Find out the theme, and plan a piece to fit as appropriate.
  3. What is the aim of your piece? How does it start and finish? What should precede and follow it?
  4. Does the piece need introduction and/or linking from the previous item to the following item?
  5. Try not to introduce too many new ingredients into one event.
  6. If drama or dance is to be used for the first time, a short word of explanation is imperative.

 

Practical details

  1. Performance space. This will often need to be cleared beforehand. Plan what area is needed, and who will clear away chairs, microphones, etc.
  2. Visibility. Sit in the seats and find out what is visible from different places and angles.
  3. Audibility. Try not to use microphones in drama for smaller events. Teach people to throw their voices. If microphones are needed, do voice checks prior to the event, and work with the sound technician.
  4. Technical resources. If using taped music, get it all set up and have it tried beforehand. Carefully brief whoever is working the sound desk. Plan the positioning of any props.
  5. Dress. For dance, it needs to allow for full movement, and should also be modest. For drama, keep it simple but uniform.
  6. Ensure that the final rehearsal takes place where the performance is due to happen.

 

Moving Forward

Make use of books and resources. Get in contact with others working in the same areas. Share ideas. Much of the drama published is governed by copyright laws. Check these out and get the church or organisation to purchase the appropriate licences (either for a one-off performance in a worship or mission context, or for a situation where the audience is paying to see the work).

 

Creating new material

Whether it is writing a new sketch or choreographing a fresh dance, God is the creator and will give the creativity.

  1. As a group or as an individual, pray over the piece of music, song, theme or biblical passage. Write down ideas. Share these with others.
  2. The material needs to be relevant and appropriate to the place and the event. Find out what that is. Spend time with the speaker if it is to be integrated with the talk.
  3. One can begin the creative process by having several people improvise, and getting one person to write down the precise lines or movements. Or one can identify choreography or sketch writing gifts in one or two individuals and send them off to come up with the piece.
  4. There is a danger in `writing by committee', although on more than one occasion it has been known to work.
  5. The hardest part is when a dance or a sketch is produced and does not seem to work. Do not use it just because it was created by the group. Talk and pray about it, and take what is good from it and work from there.

 

Handling the responses

These will be many and varied. The same piece can evoke praise from one and severe criticism from another. Listen to where the comments are coming from, and:

  1. Direct any praise back to the Lord.
  2. Weigh the criticism, pray about it in the group, and learn from it.
  3. Be prepared to have no reaction whatsoever to a piece. Your funniest piece of drama can fall flat, without a single laugh, especially in another culture or in a context where drama is not often used. Equally, a hard-hitting serious piece of drama can evoke laughter when you are least expecting it.

Work out how you wish applause to be handled, and educate the congregation as to how they can show their appreciation of these newer art forms when they are used in the context of worship.

 

Most important— have fun!

 

Jane Holloway.

© Jane Holloway

 

 

Preparing an Evangelistic Talk for the First Time

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

It’s not going to be as hard as you may think – because the Lord is with you!  But some practical suggestions may help… 

Find out
What sort of event is it? Are they churchgoers, enquirers, fellow Christians? Is it a large or small meeting? Will it be in a home or in a larger building? How do you fit in with the rest of the meeting or service? If others are speaking, singing or acting, what are their themes?
How long should you speak for? It is very important to find out - and keep to. Most people tend to over-run.
What is your aim?  Be clear on your aim and stick to it. This is of utmost importance. Say to yourself, ‘What is this talk intended to do?’ Put that aim down on your paper as you prepare, and make sure that everything is subservient to it. Cut out all that is not, however precious it may be. Make sure the aim arises naturally from the passage itself and is not read into it. If you are not clear about the aim, nobody else will be. Do not have a split aim. It must be simple, and it must be expressible in a single sentence. This is vitally important.

Remember
Do not make the mistake of underestimating the great difficulty of preaching the good news in such a way that people may have their whole lives transformed. Mercifully, it is God's work, not ours. Only God can reveal God. Only he can shine in blinded hearts. But he has deigned to use us in partnership with him. We are his ambassadors, his messengers, his heralds.

We will be operating in a godless place in a post-Christian age. Preaching in the churches is at a low ebb. There is often little sense of authority in many a pulpit, little biblical content, little attractiveness in the message, little variety in the presentations. The structure of many sermons can be hard to follow. They are often not bathed in prayer. They do not have the seriousness of a dying man pointing another dying man the path to rescue.

Our preaching has got to be different. It has got to be striking. It has got to reach to the heart. And all this in an age which is eaten up with selfishness and materialism, has little belief, rejects authority, has sold out to relativism, is ignorant of the Bible, and is dominated by TV.

One further thing. If God is the evangelist, so are you! This is not a mission based on a big preacher; this mission is multi-faceted, and depends on you. In many a meeting, if people do not hear the good news from you they will not hear it at all.

General preparation
Be open to God. Offer yourself wholly to him. Ask him to rekindle that first love of yours. Open yourself to any gift and equipping that the Holy Spirit can give you. Open yourself to wait on God and see how he will direct you. Open yourself to the possibility that he means to use even you! You need to come to God for your message, not to dream it up and then ask his blessing.

Soak yourself in Scripture. It is dynamite. Let it speak. It will be far more effective than your own best thoughts. Present it without apology, so that it lives for your hearers. No dry bones. They must sense in it a taste of new wine. It is through the Word of God that people are in fact born again. Use it. Let it be a sword in your hand. Hide behind it. Break it up memorably and attractively so that people sense its power and see its truth.
On the whole you will thrill others most with what has thrilled you. So if you have the opportunity for free choice of subject, choose something that has spoken to you in your own devotional times recently.

Be a modern person and relate to felt needs. Learn from plays, sport, music, films, and sense where people are at. You need to be firmly rooted both in Scripture and in the modern world if you are going to win people from the modern world for Christ. Attack areas where modern man is vulnerable: lack of meaning, lack of love, lack of moral power, hunger for fulfilment, relationships, loneliness, etc. Don't start with a text, but let your handling of the theme be biblical.

Be Christ-centred. That is what people need. They will never really be helped unless they are brought face to face with Jesus, divine, human, atoning, risen and challenging. Show who he is. Show what he has done. Show that he is alive. Show the difference he can make. Show that a decision is required.

Specific preparation
a.    Read the passage you have been given, or have chosen, again and again.
b.    Make random notes of things that strike you. Arrange them in coherent order.
c.    Prune everything that does not subserve the aim.
d.    Get memorable headings and arrange material under them. Clarity needs bold headings. You know what you are going to say. They don't. All headings should be crystal clear.
e.    Make sure all your points come from the scripture. Seek to unfold the scripture and let each point lead on to the next. Thus John 3:16 lends itself to the analysis: God's great love… man's great need… your great decision (believe). Three main points is about right!
f.    Use illustrations wherever appropriate. Try to have a good illustration for each main point, but don't contrive this. Good illustrations do not draw attention to themselves, they shed light on the path. They are drawn from what is familiar to the hearers. They are not verbose. They are not too highly coloured (so that folk remember the illustration but not what it means). They serve both to let the light in and to rest the concentration as you pause in the argument.
g.    Make sure your talk is applied to the needs of the hearers, and not left hanging in the air. The challenge to do something about it may well come at the end, but need not be restricted to that. God's truth always challenges response. So should your exposition of it.
h.    Prepare your ending. The conclusion is critical. The issues of human need, God's provision, and the need for a step of commitment must be made crystal clear. Give yourself time to plead with people, to challenge them, to tell them that you are going to invite them to open up their lives to the Lord. You then need to anticipate the more obvious objections they may have, and deal with them briskly: ‘Are you afraid? Not surprisingly. Many are. But you need have no fear. Perfect love casts out fear, and you are about to invite Perfect Love on board!’ Then repeat your challenge.
i.    Have your notes on cards small enough to fit into your Bible - large enough for you to see, but not obvious to your hearers.


As you speak
a.    Your manner is important. As an ambassador of Christ you should dress unostentatiously, and speak naturally, clearly and loud enough to reach everyone. You should have your Bible out in front of you as if to show it is your authority. Practise in a full-length mirror. Avoid mannerisms and anything that will distract attention from your message.
b.    Be enthusiastic. It is unusual in a laid-back society, but is very attractive. That enthusiasm comes from having found treasure in Christ. It is sustained by keeping close to him in the face of disappointment and opposition. It is sustained also by a sober recognition of the issues. Evangelistic preaching is no optional extra, but a matter of life and death.
c.    Be bold. Most inexperienced preachers are not. They are embarrassed to put the knife in, to say ‘you’ when they mean ‘you’, and to challenge people to decision. You can be modest but bold at the same time. You have nothing to be ashamed about.
d.    Give yourself time to end. You may well do so in silence and prayer.

Silence is powerful. Do not be afraid to use it. Let them consider what you have said for two minutes of silence. And then, tell them that you are about to lead them in a prayer of commitment: those who feel ready to take this step can be invited to join in, under their breath or out loud. Suggest some such prayer as this:
‘Lord, I have kept you out of my life for far too long. It is amazing that you should bother about me when I have bothered so little about you. Thank you for showing me I need you. Thank you for dealing with the rotten things in my life on the cross. Thank you that you are alive, and willing to come and share my life. Lord, I want to ask you in, here and now. Come in, and never leave me. And I will seek to be your loyal servant for the rest of my life’.

Gathering up the results
Some of the results will not be known until eternity. But some will be there to be collected at once. Make room for this.
a.    Ask people either to come and see you afterwards or to chat to a colleague, and to sign up for an Enquirers' or Discovery Group.
b.    Challenge undecided people to read one of the Gospels, to be open to the challenge of what it contains, and to be prepared to follow wherever it may lead.
c.    Draw people's attention to appropriate material on the booktable.

Finally, be open to unexpected opportunities to speak. Don't just wait for the set piece. Evangelistic ‘preaching’ may happen on a bus or a ferry, in a bar or at a party. Don't wait for the formal occasion. And if it comes, don't let it be formal. ‘Redeem the time…!’

Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

© Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

Church Based Mission Weeks

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

 

Has our church considered a ‘mission week’?  How would it work if we did?

Many churches have found that the steps towards a full-blown mission follow some such pattern as this.

First comes the dawning of vision! We begin to ensure that our church's energies are directed into mission, not maintenance. Our eyes become opened to the fact that current church life is not proving very attractive to those who are not members. And that is often a painful realisation, because we all love patterns we have become accustomed to, and are reluctant to change.

As vision grows and we reflect on this, we may come to see the need for changes of all kinds: in those who greet people coming in at the door; in the hospitality offered to newcomers; in the creation of a team to extend a welcome to visitors during the day or two following their first appearance. Changes may well be called for in the type of service offered. The preaching may need to be radically changed in style, content, and visuals. The style of the music may need to change. A family service may need to be set up, or a new congregation started at another time of day. The dawning of vision may have all sorts of uncomfortable but profitable implications for the life of the local church!

This vision may be stimulated in a number of ways. If we have the humility, we may learn from adapting what other churches do when they grow. There may be one or more such growing churches in our neighbourhood, and then a lengthy lunch with the minister and one or two of the lay leaders could be very useful. Alternatively, we could read about some examples of growing churches and learn from them. MARC Europe did us a great service some years ago putting out a whole series of books of this nature, such as Ten Growing Churches, Ten Worshipping Churches, and so on. Many important principles can be gleaned and adapted from such books.

But perhaps the most helpful way of all to encourage the dawning of vision is to invite a team of people to come from a church you trust where renewal is already under way. I know from experience that a visit like that, if properly prepared for and if a large number of the receiving congregation turns out, can be a tremendous step forward. Careful liaison needs to take place beforehand. But an initial visit might usefully include the following elements.

A gifted teacher should be sought from the church to which you turn, along with one or more musicians, and possibly three or four people who are skilled in the Christian use of drama and dance. One or two others might be added to the team to meet your specific needs as a church, depending on what they are. The team would come for a weekend, arriving on the Friday afternoon and staying until late Sunday night or Monday morning. They would be accommodated in the homes of your congregation.

On the first night, the visiting team might be spread around, speaking at three or four evangelistic supper parties. Members of the congregation could invite a number of unchurched friends to come and have supper and meet a couple of the visitors who would be speaking on ‘A faith for today’, or some such subject. It is often wise to place the talk on such occasions between the first and second courses of the meal, which allows conversation to develop on the theme of the evening. The probable results will be that a few people actually come to the point of commitment, while others are fascinated and determine to come to hear more from these people on Sunday.

While all this is going on, the leader of the team and one of his other leaders spend an evening with the decision-making body of your church, opening their eyes to shared ministry, body life, the growth of love in a church, the need for and possibilities of training, pastoral care, and ways of reaching out into the community in obedience to Christ's commission. It is important that a ‘three line whip’ be issued to all members of the leadership, because until their eyes are opened and their hearts warmed to the possibilities of constructive change in the life of the church, they will oppose it, and instead of unity there will be disarray.

The next day, Saturday, could well be used for a conference, say from 9am to 4pm. It will begin with a plenary meeting for worship which is fresh, open and warm. This will be led by the visitors, and will include encouraging teaching on the need for all Christians to be involved in the life and ministry of the church, illustrated by recounting how this has come about (along with all the accompanying failures and hurts) in the church from which the visitors come.

The conference will then break up into a number of workshops for which people have signed up beforehand. The local minister will have planned these with the visitors well in advance, according to the perceived needs of the church. A workshop on prayer is fundamental; others might well be offered on witness, on leadership, on preaching and speaking, on drama, on youth work, on home fellowship groups, and on adult training in the church. One of the visiting team will be allocated to each of these groups and will lead it appropriately, paying much attention to where the members of the congregation are coming from, and to their hopes, fears and doubts. There will be the chance for a good time of prayer together. After lunch, either the seminars can continue with a further session, or people can join a second seminar, and so make the contribution of the visiting team broader in its impact.

The afternoon could fittingly end with an informal eucharist where personal ministry is offered to those who so desire, and opportunity given for members to bear testimony to what they have learned from the day. All this will have greatly kindled anticipation for the following day. The visiting team can have the evening off or, better, run something special for the youth of the neighbourhood at a barbeque or concert.

Sunday is an opportunity for the visitors to lead much of the services, both morning and evening. This gives a wonderful opportunity to experiment and show new things to the congregation, without their feeling that any innovations are set in concrete. It may be appropriate to make that Sunday morning service a Guest Service where members of the congregation really seek to draw their friends to church with them for the special occasion of the visiting team. If so, an evangelistic address could well be given, and this would perhaps draw to Christ some who had already been through the Friday supper parties, as well as others who may have been in church frequently (or rarely) without having made any personal commitment to Christ. If this approach is taken, it would of course require the prior preparation of one or two tried leaders within the congregation who could run a Discovery Group for those who come to faith through the sermon.

The weekend comes to a fitting close with an evening service of high celebration and praise, led by the visiting team. It needs to give scope for testimony from those who have been blessed through the visit, and personal ministry should be available at the end of the service.

 

The way ahead

In the wake of such a visit, all sorts of possibilities open up. People will surface who have been thrilled by the weekend. If there is not already a prayer meeting in your church, one will be likely to emerge, and it is something to foster with great care. It is the place where you can gather the keenest members of the congregation, while being sure to announce it at each service so that nobody can accuse it of being a clique. The people who have come to faith during that weekend will add new imagination and vitality to the church as they settle in. Someone may have experienced a healing, or want to share a testimony or some verses of Scripture which they feel God has given them, for the benefit of the congregation. New ministries may spring up. Somebody may come and offer to start a youth group, or a mothers' and toddlers’ club.

Be sensitive to what God is doing in your midst. Be much in prayer to see what his developing vision for the church may be. It could be useful, after a few months, to have a day of prayer and discussion about the life of the congregation. You could plan another evangelistic occasion and, this time, mount it from the local resources. And the planning of invitations, the subject-matter, the advertising, the music, the shape of the service, and above all the prayer, will do much to nourish the new life within the congregation and heighten the expectancy of faith. God delights to answer the trusting dependence of his people. And we are not very good at trusting God.  We are inclined to trust almost anything else: the service, the music, the minister, and so on. It is when the congregation gets to the point of expecting that God will do something through them and their worship that his hands seem to be freed to act and to draw people to himself!

 

The training of leaders

By now the vitality in the congregation should be on the increase. People may be wanting to serve the Lord, without knowing quite how. They may sense that every Christian has a ministry, but not know how to exercise it, nor even what it is. Some general principles may well be learned through the weekly prayer meeting, where you will be taking the core of the congregation deeper by your teaching. But the time will come when the pastor will want to provide some specific training of members of the congregation for the various areas of leadership into which God is leading them. He will want to put on a training course.

It is probably wise to set your sights high and send personal invitations to the key people in the church, including the office bearers. Go for a whole evening each week, perhaps with dinner supplied in the middle to break it up and to provide the opportunity for fellowship to grow. You could make it a three-month course, with twelve evenings, each divided into three parts.

The first part of the evening would be a time of informal worship, planned and led by three or four different people from the course each week. There should be time for vocal prayer, and a deep sense of worship in the singing and waiting on God. The second part of the evening should be a well-prepared address; for this, duplicated notes should be provided, and the main points presented visually. Since such a course must inevitably be somewhat general, space needs to be found within it to service the head, the heart, the knees and the feet of the participants. The head needs to be taught; the heart needs to be warmed; the knees need to bend in prayer and worship; and the feet need to be equipped to step out!

Accordingly, subjects such as these might usefully be included: every-member ministry; reasons for Christian belief; how to meet common objections to the faith; how to lead a home Bible study; how to help someone to Christ; how to prepare and give a talk; learning the art of listening; how to visit and help the bereaved, the abused and the depressed; how to lead an outreach meeting in the home; and one or two evenings on the body of Christ, first looking at the role of the family, the singles and the extended family, and then looking at how to enable  a group to function well.

There are other subjects that need to be covered. It may be good to handle these after the meal and for this third part of the evening to split the course members up into small ‘tutor groups’ (ie about six members round a leader), in which they stay for the whole of the three months. These groups will tease out the practical implications of some of the talks. For instance, the group members will all have their own problems to air on reasons for belief, and common objections that they meet with. The devotional life of the members will need strengthening, and so one or more evenings in the tutor group could be devoted to a communal time of Bible reading, prayer and sharing. On another night the group could do a role-play on faith-sharing with an interested enquirer. The care of the new believer would occupy another night, and so forth. One night would look at the practical outworking of every-member ministry; another might help the members to discover their own gifts through the perception of others in the group who have come to know and value them. And the course might end with a communion service and a commissioning.

Two other features in such a course have proved valuable. First, you could build in a full day-conference on one Saturday during the course, when you can tackle, at a practical level, some of the major doctrines they need to know: the nature of man; the reason for the cross; the fact and implications of the resurrection; and the person, gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.

Second, let each tutor plan a weekend away in another church where they can take their small team and minister in whatever way seems appropriate. They could at least join in leading the Sunday services and Sunday schools. This takes planning, but it is eminently worth the trouble. It takes the whole thing out of the realm of theory into the realm of practice. It scares the team members and teaches them to pray with passion and to trust God. It binds them close to each other. They give a real boost to the receiving church, and they return thrilled with what they have seen God do through themselves, when they scarcely imagined such a thing to be remotely possible.

A course like this will have immense repercussions among the congregation, and will certainly throw up leaders you had never anticipated, and gifts and ministries which had not crossed anyone’s mind. It will all help in preparing the congregation for the next stage in what God plans to do with it.

Faith-sharing teams

The next step may be to gather some of those who have been through your training course, and have them as a pool from which you can draw colleagues when you are invited to speak elsewhere. This can, of course, be done without the backing of the minister at all, and in various parts of the world there are acknowledged teams of people who go to other churches on request to share what their faith means to them. But it is better if it is done with the full support and active encouragement of the minister, because then it can be co-ordinated into the ongoing and developing life of the church, and not be seen as simply a piece of private enterprise.

It is very simple to arrange. Suppose the minister is asked to speak at a Harvest Festival in a neighbouring town. He could well reply by agreeing, provided he is allowed to take a team with him. The other church may be puzzled, but is unlikely to refuse. So a group of you get together, and plan and pray how best you may be used on that visit. Try to maximise it. Ask if you can have someone sing, or lead prayers in the service, or maybe speak at a meeting of the youth. Will they allow participation in a Harvest Supper the night before? Offer, perhaps, to produce a dramatic sketch in the course of the service, or to have an after-church meeting at which some of your team could speak about the growing vitality that has been taking place in their own congregation.

In a word, you make what was a solo event into a team event. And everyone is delighted. The receiving congregation is pleased and surprised to see ordinary people like themselves sharing in taking a service. They see a team in action. They notice the power of even halting lay testimony to Jesus. They are really helped if the team do well. And if not, they may well be stimulated to react by saying, ‘I think we could do as well as that!’  Either way, your object has been achieved! And your team will return thrilled to their home church, and should be given a brief opportunity next Sunday to stand up and bear testimony to what God had done through them. The minister will then find that people besiege him, asking to be on the next team of this kind.

I can think of one dear doctor friend who was a very loosely attached church member when I first knew him. Gradually over the years, through increasing commitment, lay training courses, and going away on teams like this, he has not only become confident in evangelism but now leads such teams himself with a quiet poise and assurance. Multiply growth like that throughout a congregation, and the results are very significant. That church will be ready to go further with missions.

 

Towards the implementing of a `mission’

What I want to do now is to sketch possible ways of running a mission. The principles seem to me to hold good whether it is a mission to a university, a parish or a city. I hope that what follows will be of help both to organisations and churches which are looking for missions, and also to those who are being called to lead them.  It is impossible to define exactly how a mission in a single local church takes place, because all churches are different. The basic rule is that it should be in a manner that is appropriate for the church in question.

There is basically little difference between a mission based on a single church and one based on a town. Both depend on the church members praying, and inviting friends to events. But the mission of a single denominational church does not have the same wide impact in the community as a venture embracing virtually all the churches. It still looks too much like a particular church searching for new recruits. It has a real value, but a limited one. That is why I have come to prefer a town mission, with all the churches involved. In this way every section of the community can be reached, every house visited, and people begin to sit up and take notice of what the churches, together, are mounting in their town.

Here, however, we are looking at a mission based on a single church. The first thing I do, when asked to lead such a mission, is to pray about it and then meet the leadership. I want to know if there is a steady trickle (however small) of people coming to faith within that congregation: you cannot mount a mission effectively if nothing much is happening in the church by the way of outreach already. Intermediate steps such as I have outlined above need to be taken first.

The same holds good with university missions. I recall being asked to take a university mission some years ago. When I went to talk it over with the people in charge, it became apparent that they had neither seen anyone come to faith in the past year, nor were they really expecting anyone to! So I said that I would not lead a mission, but that I would come and give some talks on helping others to faith. This took place, and within a few weeks they had three new believers, much to their joy. Imagine what this did to their faith and expectancy! They did have the mission a year or so later; because of other commitments, I did not take part in it, but it was very fruitful. But they would not have been able to mount it were it not for that intermediate step.

If there are some signs of outreach from the church, I would next want to know why they thought a mission was appropriate at this time. A mission will only have real value to a congregation which is already on the move and wanting to progress. The measure of that desire is not the enthusiasm of the minister, but the solid backing that he has in the first instance from his decision-making body, and then from the church at large. Visitors cannot effectively do a mission for a local church. They can only help the local Christians with their own evangelistic responsibility to their neighbourhood, and if the church is not ready and willing to undertake that, then a mission is sheer folly. I am unwilling to engage in such a mission unless the decision-making body of the church is virtually unanimous in requesting it.

Next, you must determine what time of year is possible and appropriate for the mission, and how long it should last. At least nine months need to be set aside for the preparation of such an event, and church activities need to be geared towards it with increasing publicity and intensity as time approaches. 

The receiving church needs to have a number of points made abundantly plain to it early on in the negotiations.

First, that this is a labour of love, and no monetary reward will be received by the visitors. They will give their time and effort free. But the receiving church will need to provide hospitality, and to finance the whole venture. This financing should be done by church budgeting, special offerings and personal gifts, and should be complete before the mission begins. It is most undesirable to hold collections at events where one is stressing the grace of God and his free offer of Christ! A mission will cost a good deal of money. The team will need to be put up in the homes of the congregation, and whereas that may well be at no charge to the church, their feeding will cost something, as will their travel costs, the necessary publicity and perhaps the hiring of premises or amplification. But in financial terms a mission is not an expensive thing if it is run along these lines. At least, not in terms of money. It will, however, be costly in other ways.

Second, they need to start praying regularly for the mission. And I do not mean saying prayers in church on Sunday. I mean having special gatherings to pray for it! I mean having prayer breakfasts or a concert of prayer (music, singing, prayer, silence, on a variety of topics concerned with the mission). Prayer triplets have been found to be particularly valuable. This is a simple expedient whereby three Christian friends get together to pray for three friends each as the mission approaches. This targeting of those where there are already bonds of affection and friendship is very effective. It generally leads to the conversion of some of them before the mission even starts.

Third, a great deal of practical preparation is needed for an event of this sort. Let there be no doubt about this: it means lots of work for everyone! For, contrary to many people's expectations, the job will not be done in the main by the visiting team, it will be done by members of the local church. It is they who should plan the programme, in consultation with the visitors. Naturally, for it is their locality, and the mission needs to build on their gifts, their friendships, their openings into the community. And the better and more thoroughly that work is done, the more fruitful the mission will be.

For a missioner to take a house meeting where there is a real bond of friendship and carefully cultivated relationships between those present is sheer joy. It is easy to speak of spiritual things, because people like and trust one another. Indeed, the host himself may have such an ease of manner with his friends that he or she is able to get them to talk about their own religious situation in the most natural manner. In a recent mission one of us was in just such a home meeting, and for the first hour and more the visitors did not need to say anything! It all flowed from the leadership of the host and the ready participation of those present. Contrast that with the nervous and duty-ridden host or hostess who feels obliged to invite some neighbours in at the last moment so as to have a house meeting to notch up! A high proportion of them will not actually come, and those who do will be reluctant and nervous. That house meeting is unlikely to go well. The difference lies in the effort made to forge relationships during the previous months and even years. You reap what you sow. And if you are not prepared to work at it, then there is unlikely to be much of a harvest.

Fourth, a small committee needs to be set up to oversee all the preparation. Lay membership is generally more effective. But the pastor's backing and active promotion of the mission are very important indeed. The chairman has a key job. It is crucial to have someone who is deeply spiritual, who is widely respected, and who can work with the pastor. He would also be the major means of liaising with the visiting team.

Each member of the committee should have a particular responsibility: prayer, finance, publicity, training, youth work, accommodation, programme co-ordination and follow-up. It would be good to have a secretary who can really give himself or herself to detailed work. Early on in the proceedings this committee needs to produce a detailed profile of the church, so that the visiting team can have as accurate a picture as possible of the needs to be addressed.

 

Further preparations

It always takes the receiving church some time to understand that this is not a one-man band by a famous preacher who will do it all in church services each evening. That old-fashioned way of conducting a mission still has value, especially in some places, but it is on the way out. People simply will not come to be harangued in church these days. But they will come to a home, a dinner, a sports club or their normal meeting ground, and will probably not object to listening to one of the visiting team and discussing Christian things in such a setting. The key to effective work in missions is diversification of the team. Insofar as you penetrate different aspects of the life of the church and its surrounding area, you will have effective impact. And it needs to be done on the community's turf, not the church's.

There are some very specific preparations that need to take place at both ends as the mission draws closer. In the receiving church there needs to be a growing commitment to prayer, increasingly specific publicity, the careful selection of accommodation for team members, and the planning of any main meetings and their titles. Members of the congregation need to offer to arrange a meeting with a few of their friends in a pub, a home, a club, perhaps over lunch or dinner. Training will need to be offered in how to help a friend to faith, and how to tell their personal ‘faith story’ appropriately. So much will depend on what follows the mission week, and therefore it is important to train two groups of the most sensitive and instructed Christians available. One group needs to be able to run Discovery Groups for new believers after the mission. A second group needs to know how to lead a group for enquirers.

Equally, there needs to be a lot of preparation among the visitors. The missioner will need to surround himself with a team, probably drawn to a large extent from his own congregation. He will need to weld them into a loving, interdependent group. They do not all need to be very experienced or knowledgeable. They do need to have a personal faith in Christ, a willingness to make him known, and a commitment to give that week wholeheartedly to the mission.

This team will have regular sessions for training. Each session will aim to bind them together in worship, to give them a deep confidence in the Lord and trust in one another, to explore one another's gifts, and to get practical training for things that will be required of them in the mission. They will all need at some time or other to tell their spiritual story: so they need help in knowing how to present it. They will all give a talk: but they may not know how, until they have had both instruction and some opportunity to practice. They may all be called upon to help someone who wants to know the way to faith: so they must learn that way with simplicity and confidence. They will all have to contend for the faith among people who do not believe a word of it: so some exposure to basic Christian apologetics is required. They will all be thrown in at the deep end, far beyond their capabilities and experience: so they need to be made aware of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They will need to know about first steps in nurture: so they must be clear about the arrangements that have been made for local Discovery Groups after the mission.

In addition, there are all sorts of other practical things they need to know. How, for example, should they try to bring a meeting to a conclusion? What books will they find useful? I find it a real help on a mission to have everywhere available a small comment card. It is then easy to say something like this at the end of a meeting: ‘You received when you came in` (or, ‘You will now be handed by one of my colleagues’) `a simple card. We should very much like you to fill that in with your name, address, e mail and phone number, and tell us frankly what you made of this evening. How could we improve it? Where did we go wrong? In particular, if you are seriously considering Christian discipleship and will commit yourself to an eight-week course on getting started as a Christian, tick the box that says, “Count me in”. If you feel you are not there yet, but would like the chance to talk matters over with someone, then tick the little box that says “Tell me more”, and we will contact you in the next couple of days.` That can all be done without the least embarrassment. Amazingly, people respond!

Some time before the mission, it is advisable for the missioner and a few of his team to come and lead a day-conference for the parish. There will be things that need talking over, and he, himself, needs to give some training to the key members of the host congregation, set minds at rest over problems, and motivate those who are not sure about the whole project. Time spent in the building of relationships and confidence in this way is not wasted. People in the congregation will be much more likely to risk inviting their friends to hear a visiting missioner if they have already gained some confidence in him.

I have not yet mentioned another vital part of the preparations of the visitors. They need to develop, if at all possible, the use of the arts in evangelism, in particular the three main areas of music, drama and dance.

Music is a very powerful agency, and a judicious use of instruments and songs and modes of music is required, a good deal of it ‘upbeat’ for a mission. It should embrace the best of traditional and modern material.

The use of drama in the presentation of the gospel is very old: witness the mystery plays in the Middle Ages. It is reviving strongly these days, and those who want to begin to get a drama group together for use in church and in the open air would be wise to avail themselves of the books of Paul Burbridge and Murray Watts, Time to Act, Lightning Sketches and Red Letter Days, or Scene One by Ashley Martin, Andy Kelso and others, together with Using the Bible in Drama by Steve and Jane Stickley and Jim Belben. As the group develops it will probably want to write its own material, but to begin with you could not do better than to get a performing licence for these brilliant short sketches which go to the heart of the matter amusingly and powerfully. They are a marvellous adjunct to preaching. I often use two such carefully selected sketches in the course of an evangelistic address.

Dance is a sensitive medium. It is a powerful communicator of feeling, and can be a great help in directing the hearts and emotions of the congregation towards God. There are occasions in a mission where its use can be breathtaking. A valuable book on this subject is Know How to Use Dance in Worship, by M Berry. Many congregations are entirely unprepared for this medium, so if it is used it will need careful explanation beforehand.

Preparations in these three areas all take a lot of time, a lot of co-ordination, and close working with the main speaker. There is much to prepare at both ends before a mission takes place.

 

The mission itself

But what about when the mission comes? The week will have been carefully planned by the local committee, who will have agreed all the main matters with the visiting team. There is a lot to be said for having a central meeting on the first night, so as to motivate the church people afresh for their full involvement in the week. Experience tends to show that it is not best to have central meetings every night. They tend only to attract church members and a small ‘fringe’. It is much more effective to go for small meetings, hosted by members of the church in their homes, workplace, clubs, and so forth. And the team are the evangelists! They go in pairs (if possible) to these events. They liaise carefully beforehand with the host, and learn as much as possible about who will be there. They arrive in good time, armed with appropriate literature for sale or giving away.

If the meeting is in a home, one of the team will speak for a few minutes after the refreshments, while the other may well say a few personal words about the difference he or she has found Christ to be in daily life. The meeting could then be thrown open to questions, and usually it is hard to stop it at the predetermined time! All manner of objections and red herrings come up, and it is part of the skill of the team members to handle them as best they can. One of them should end with a brief summary of the evening, and a warm, natural explanation of the way to faith in Christ.

Comment cards could then be used, if appropriate. And it often is appropriate. I have become convinced of the value of them, although I used to be very wary. If introduced in a relaxed way, and if all are invited to fill them in, there is no embarrassment, and those who have been touched by the talk and want to take it further can tick their box ‘Count me in’ and thereby join up for a Discovery Group without attracting unwelcome attention. These cards become very valuable. They are the only tangible way of assessing response, and team members need to gather them up and hand them in daily at their team meeting.

Preferably, this daily meeting for the whole team takes place in the morning. If the team are going to be any use during the rest of the day in giving out to others, they need to be nourished by God and encouraged by each other earlier in the day. A good plan might be for the mission team leaders to meet with their host minister and his close colleagues each morning at 8am for news, a review of the way the mission is going, and to go over the plans for the day. This would be followed by a meeting of the whole team for worship, prayer, teaching, news, encouragement and forward planning. All administrative details can be handled then, before the team disperses to lunch meetings, afternoon visiting and so forth.

Other team members will be involved in the youth events that have been planned. I shall have more to say about that below, but it is crucial to remember the importance of young people. Statistics show that by far the highest proportion of conversions take place before the age of twenty-five. Evangelism that does not major on young people is courting failure in the long run.

The visiting missioner is likely to be the main speaker at the central meetings, assisted by the musicians and dramatists. The programme should be varied, and notably different from a normal church service. Use should be made of testimony, and it is often helpful if someone answers one of the common objections against Christianity. There should be a great time of celebration on the last night, which invariably draws a large crowd. In between the first and last night's central meetings, it may be sensible to include one other. But it may not. The missioner may be better employed in smaller, sectional gatherings which meet on neutral ground, like a restaurant or club. These could include business colleagues and friends of, say, a businessman or lawyer in the congregation. These people would be most unlikely ever to come to a central rally.

Maximum use needs to be made of the Sunday services. There is a lot to be said for a major evangelistic challenge on the Sunday morning, when many visitors can be expected, arising from the impact of the past few days. A challenge to commitment, followed up by an invitation to join Discovery Groups, is frequently very fruitful at such a juncture. On the last evening a Communion service may be appropriate, but one which includes elements such as testimony, exultant praise, the opportunity for people to say what the week has meant to them, and prayer in small groups throughout the church rather than being led from the front, followed by personal ministry for those who so desire. The theme ought to be forward-looking, concentrating on going on with Christ, and reiterating the challenge to join Discovery Groups. If comment cards are plentifully scattered throughout the seats of the church, large numbers of them are likely to be filled in, and the church is going to be left with a major job in nurturing the new believers, and continuing, perhaps through Enquirers' Groups, the ministry to those who are ‘almost persuaded’.

A mission such as this will do a great deal to stimulate the Christians. It will breathe fresh life into the structures of the church. It will show what a team can do, as the body of Christ, as against one talented individual. It will draw many people to Christ. It will make a lot of others think. And it will heighten expectancy in the congregation that the God who acted so powerfully in the mission can be counted on to continue with them in the future under circumstances of less frenetic activity.

 

Training the team that leads the mission

Working with a team, whatever the size, has many advantages over the single-missioner approach:

{C}a.      Meetings can happen in more sections of the community.

{C}b.     Team members learn much and return home able to contribute more to their own church.

{C}c.      Host church members realise that it is not necessary to be a `professional Christian worker' in order to speak about Christ, and will want to take part in their own evangelistic projects.

{C}d.     A team demonstrates what the body of Christ can do in a church or a community when it is seeking to `love God and love our neighbours as ourselves' — and people notice.

 

No qualifications are needed, except a personal knowledge of Christ and a willingness to speak about him and try out new things!  Members should however make the training sessions a priority and come for the whole mission. Some will have had experience, whereas others may not. They should work in pairs, with the team leader ensuring that those with less experience work with those who have had more.

 

Recruitment

As the missioner will probably take people from his own church, then a personal invitation, along with an announcement in a Sunday service, should be enough. The missioner should spend time individually with all prospective team members, in order to find out what particular gifts, interests and experience they have. Depending on the size of the team, it may be appropriate to devise a form asking for name, address, email, phone, age, work experience, length of Christian commitment, any previous experience of mission, denomination (for a city-wide event), a brief personal profile (which could be sent to the host church or city), any allergies or dietary requests to be passed on to their hosts, and whether they have a car to bring.  The team size will depend very much on whether this is a single church or a city-wide event. Estimate the number of proposed meetings and decide accordingly.

Team Training Sessions

These are important to enable members to get to know and trust one another, and to be trained for what lies ahead. Allow time for relationship building.

Worship is vital and should be a central focus of the meetings. Time for singing, silence, meditation, teaching from Scripture — all ensure that the team acknowledges its dependence on God before it seeks to do or say anything.

Prayer is needed - for individual needs as well as for specific areas of the mission. The home church needs to pray, whether there is just one person or a whole team going; information should be given in church bulletins, and special prayer meetings organised.  Each person on the team should be encouraged to find a prayer sponsor, for before, during and after the mission. Team members should pledge to pray with and for each other.

Whatever the size of the team, and whether people are experienced or not, there will be some who say, ‘Where do I fit in?’ Members need to be encouraged to ‘be themselves’ and contribute different gifts (cf l Corinthians 12). Some will be used more publicly (eg, speaking, acting); whereas others will use their gifts in listening, praying and encouraging.

Take time to keep the team informed about the mission and up-to-date on the programme, special prayer requests, etc. It may be good to give a brief written update for each meeting if working in a large team.

In the training sessions cover topics like: how to give a testimony, how to lead someone to Christ, how to counsel, handling problems, how to give a short evangelistic talk, how to use Scripture, how to lead (or host) a small home meeting, open-air work, visiting during a mission, how to fill in and use response forms.  (This course can be adapted for use in equipping both the visiting team and the congregation of the church hosting a mission.)  Amend this course to suit the mission in question!

It is important to make the sessions as practical as possible. Use both lecture-style and role-play methods; role play (when two members pair up to try out their skills) works well in highlighting weak areas, and it helps members get to know each other. Encourage homework. Use other literature, videos, books as appropriate.  Teach about the reality of spiritual warfare before going into the front line of the battle.

 

Encourage the team:

{C}a.    To make use of books such as Paul Little's How to Give Away Your Faith, Leighton Ford's Good News is for Sharing, Michael Green's You Must be Joking, World on the Run, Why Bother with Jesus? and Ten Myths About Christianity, and David Watson's Is Anyone There?

{C}b.    To prepare ahead of time a couple of outline talks.

{C}c.    To practice talking to people they do not yet know (eg at the end of a Sunday service).

{C}d.    To get used to talking about their faith, initially with friends and then with others.

 

Specialist preparation may be needed in the areas of music, drama and dance. Certainly any musicians should meet together, and preliminary planning needs to be done to decide how the team's resources can best be deployed. Drama needs much preparation time, and the missioner needs to do advance planning on themes and subjects so that material can be chosen and rehearsed. Any dance in the worship services may be in the hands of a small dance group, but circle dancing can be done by anyone, and it is good to teach a few dances to the whole team, so that if a dance needs to happen spontaneously, as it may in the open air, anyone can join in.

It is in the team training sessions that the teaching is given, and on the mission itself that the lessons are learned.

 

The Missioner and/or Team Administrator

This may be one or two people. If two people are involved, they need to work closely together at all stages during the preparation for the mission, in getting to know and equip the team, as well as being in close touch with the host city or church. Their responsibilities include five major areas:

1. Discerning the gifts of the team. Many gifts will emerge during the mission, but use those you already know (eg, if you have someone good at leading worship, playing an instrument, or teaching, then use them in the team meetings). Individual time spent with team members will give many insights as to where their strengths and weaknesses lie. It is good to have a few experienced members to boost the team initially in confidence and numbers.

 

2. Training and teaching the team in specific preparation for the particular mission ahead.

 

3. Liaising regularly with the host church or city:

  1. Keep the host church informed about the team. Send short profiles of the team members ahead of time, and perhaps a team photograph.
  2. On the basis of the profile received from the host church or town, adjust the training of the team accordingly (eg, if the team needs specialist information about a particular cult).
  3. The missioner or team administrator need to make at least two or three visits (depending on the distance) to attend committee meetings and get to know the committee, as well as speaking at some pre-mission meetings or training days. They need to be able to get to know the church or town.
  4. The programme needs overseeing as the planning develops. A visitor can often perceive local needs more easily than can a resident. It is important to ensure that the team can cope with what is outlined on the programme, that there is time built in for regular team meeting times, and, if the mission is over a week, that a complete day off is insisted upon for all the visiting team. The programme should be available at least a week before the mission starts.
  5. The missioner should give advance thought to what titles should be given to any of the larger meetings, and agree these with the committee in good time for publicity to be printed.

 

4. Caring for the team. Often, especially when the programme is busy, team members can easily go at the whole thing in their own strength for the first two or three days and then collapse. They will need love and encouragement to finish the task, and a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit. Depending on the size of the team, it may be best to divide the team up into small groups of five or six around a more experienced member to pray together, both before and during the mission. Do encourage team members to look after each other.

 

5. Practical planning.

a. Attention needs to be given to practical arrangements such as the provision of transport and the organisation of a team base in the host town.

b. Counselling: As all of the team will have been trained in counselling skills, they are available to act as counsellors, whether in an informal home setting or in a larger meeting. Outline to the team what is expected of them at each event, and how they will work alongside any locally trained counsellors.

c. Literature. Ensure that whatever counselling literature is to be used on the mission is made available to team members beforehand, so that specific instructions can be given and they can know how to use the material.  The team will need a supply of Christian literature (mainly evangelistic books), which can be used to supplement the spoken message at all the different meetings. A local bookshop may be asked to supply these, on a sale or return basis, and they can be set up in a large bookstall at the team's base. The team will then be able to take a small number of books to each of the meetings they attend. Detailed instructions need to be given on which are available for sale and which can be given away, to ensure that the money is accounted for at the end of the week.

d. Response forms. These will need to be circulated to the team in advance, and detailed instructions given as to how to fill them in. The team needs to know what are the follow-up procedures for the mission, and what a Discovery and Enquiry Group is, so as to be able to explain them to people they meet. Clear instructions should be given to the team as to what their responsibilities are in contacting those they have counselled. In some cases it may be that team members need personally to follow-up each person within twenty-four hours; but in some cases, by agreement, the local counsellors will do that.

e. Accommodation arrangements.  Staying with hosts during the mission can be daunting for some team members.  Mention needs to be made of the need for punctuality, friendliness and helpfulness at all times!  Practical matters like asking for a key to the house (in case they need access when hosts are out), and giving plenty of advance warning if an evening meal is not needed, should be highlighted. It may be appropriate to remind team members to buy their host a small gift too, before they leave, and to write a thank-you letter afterwards.  Do not assume that your hosts are keen Christians, and be sensitive to their children. Ministry with hosts, formal or informal, may be the most useful thing team members do on a mission.

 

Allocating the Programme

{C}a.    Ensure that a complete programme has reached the team administrator well in advance of the mission. There may, of course, be additions or deletions, but it enables preliminary allocation to be done.

{C}b.    Prayerfully allocate the team to events, matching experienced members with less experienced members; also, using the completed information sheets (see above), match people with suitable gifts to particular events.

{C}c.    Plan who will speak at the larger meetings. Obviously the missioner will address a fair proportion of these, using experienced team members for others.

{C}d.    For youth events, choose the most experienced youth speaker. If working with a musician or group, ensure that both parties have had a chance to talk over the event.

{C}e.    The Sunday service during the mission is important. If more than one church is involved, allocate the preachers at least two weeks or so in advance, so that it can be announced in the services the week before. Then build a small team around the speaker, to read lessons, give testimony, do a children's spot, act, dance or sing. The service is usually geared towards people inviting friends and guests.

{C}f.      For the smaller home meetings, try to match age and background with those who will be attending.

{C}g.    Team members would probably do about two meetings a day, and the missioner probably not more than two evangelistic addresses in a day, in addition to the regular team meetings.

{C}h.    Stress to team members that it is all right to take some time out for quiet and for rest.

 

The Team during the Mission Week

{C}a.    Allow time for the team to be briefed on local details after arrival.

{C}b.    Have daily team meetings. Obviously the length of time needed will depend on the size of the team. Ensure that no events are put into the main programme when the team is scheduled to meet. Have an open session of worship, news sharing, prayer, and a short `thought for the day', followed, after coffee, by time for detailed planning and allocation of people to events.

{C}c.    If working with a large team in a city-wide event, suggest that the first part of the meeting (ie worship, news sharing, prayer and `thought for the day') is open to anyone in the community — this encourages involvement by local Christians.

{C}d.    For a large team (fifty plus), a starting time of 8.45, with a half hour coffee break, should mean that the team is available for events from 1130 am onwards. A few members may need to arrive late if involved in breakfast meetings.

{C}e.    Daily meetings for the missioner, team administrator and chairman of the mission committee are needed, to ensure that all is on course for that day and to deal with any last minute changes. This meeting is often best held before the team meets together.

{C}f.      All the local ministers need to be invited to meet with the missioner towards the end of the mission, to look back over the mission and to encourage the unity among the different churches in the community after the mission is over.

{C}g.    Discovery Group leaders should have a final training session towards the end of the mission to which the missioner can go and give some input and encouragement before the groups start in the week following the mission.

{C}h.    At the last team meeting warn team members about the difficulties, when tired and excited, of re-entry into the normal world, and of relating to those at home who have been praying.

 

Debriefing the team after the mission

{C}a.    Plan a time after the mission is over for the whole team to meet again, to debrief, to share what personal lessons have been learned and what new gifts have been discovered, and to praise and to pray. This will also be a valuable way of learning lessons on general mission administration for the next time!

{C}b.    Have a detailed reporting back slot in the Sunday services of churches from which the team members come, to encourage those who have been praying.

{C}c.    Think ahead to the next mission!

 

Summary: Preparing for a mission in your church

Clarify the aim

This is the first essential. Is this event to be directed within the church, to renew the life of the community and to sharpen churchgoing into joyful commitment to Christ? Or is it aimed at the wider community who have little or no links with the church? Clarity on this issue will determine all that follows. Confusion at this point will have disastrous results.

Once you are clear on the aim, you can then proceed to the closely allied issues of the length of the mission and its content. Should it last for a week, two weeks, or one or two weekends? Should it be based in a church or in a neutral location? Should it concentrate on large meetings, or rather seek to approach different interest groups in the milieu where they are most at home? Alternatively, should the focus be a series of small home meetings?  The time of year may well be critical. Once an answer has been found to these questions a church is well placed to move on to the next imperative.

 

Choose the missioner

This is of vital importance, and you need to bear in mind the church's strengths and weaknesses, along with its ambience, as you make the decision and issue the invitation. Usually the missioner will be known to the local minister, either personally or through books and videos.

Once he has been approached, it is important to invite him over for an exploratory meeting with the church leadership, ordained and lay. It is helpful to combine his visit with a main Sunday service if at all possible, so that the congregation can begin to get to know and trust him. People in the church need to be clear what the aims of the mission are, how it fits in with the ongoing life of the church, and roughly what is envisaged. They will also need to be taught the value of his bringing a team with him on the mission. After his visit, there needs to be a firmly backed decision by the leadership of the church to invite him and to support the mission at all levels. Meanwhile, the mission needs to be given a high profile in the notices of the church so that all church members begin to grasp the vision and see where they fit in. It is no bad idea to get someone other than the minister to do this, so that the mission does not look like his personal hobby. Now is the time to begin detailed planning. It should start at least nine months before the mission itself.

 

Plan the build-up

The sequence of events may helpfully be as follows:

{C}a.    Form the mission committee and get members active on their portfolios.

{C}b.    Make sure the goals (and dates) of the mission are crystal clear to all concerned.

{C}c.    Choose a title, in co-operation with the missioner. It needs to be short, attractive, descriptive and related to the locality, not to the visiting missioner. It must be designed to communicate to people outside the church.

{C}d.    Distribute a short information document to the congregation.

{C}e.    Plan the training and teaching programmes leading up to the mission.

{C}f.      Organise a rough outline for the mission week.

{C}g.    Recruit people for counselling and follow-up.

{C}h.    Publicise the mission widely.

{C}i.      Start the training course(s).

{C}j.      Make careful final preparations for the team, the programme and the publicity, and move into the mission itself.

{C}k.    Start the follow-up immediately the mission is over.

{C}l.      A few weeks after the end of the mission, new members will be transferred from Discovery Groups into the small home groups of the church. Enthusiasm may even run so high that the church's own mission team is formed.

 

Form the mission task force

Once the mission invitation has been accepted, it is time to set up the administrative framework to enable the church to be fully mobilised, informed and trained. It is sheer folly to rely on one person, especially the minister, to be responsible for the many tasks that need to be done. It is best to form a small lay Mission Task Force from among your church leadership. This may well mean temporarily releasing them from regular church commitments in order to allow time for preparing for the mission, without unduly encroaching on their family time or work load.

This must be a working committee. Choose people because they have the necessary gifts, not because of their standing in the church. Certain areas have to be covered: prayer, finance, publicity, youth work, counselling and follow-up. Other areas may well emerge as plans develop. Some of these tasks can be handled by a single individual, but there is much to be said for forming small sub-groups, composed of two or three people, who can handle different sides of the enterprise. Each of these sub-groups works in its own area, and is represented by its co-ordinator on the mission task force.

The chairperson needs to be selected with especial care. Such a person needs to enjoy widespread respect, and to be able to motivate the congregation and envisage the course which the mission may take. He or she also needs to be able to maintain oversight over the whole development of events leading to the mission.

A vice-chairperson is also often very important, to work alongside the chairperson, and to share the load of responsibility. If the chairperson is ordained, the vice-chairperson should be a layperson. One of these two needs to be charged with the task of keeping in regular touch with the missioner.

A mission Secretary is essential, to record minutes and handle correspondence. This could well be the church secretary. But if so, then extra help will be needed in the church office before the mission, to ensure that church matters are not neglected. The mission Secretary could be the ideal person to co-ordinate the mission programme.

 

Assign the responsibilities

Small sub-groups, or individuals, will need to attend to a number of different areas.

Prayer: This needs to start first, for without prayer, nothing is accomplished. There are a number of ways in which prayer can be encouraged:

{C}a.    Introduce ‘prayer triplets’, encouraging three friends to meet weekly and each to pray for three of their friends who are not yet Christians.

{C}b.    Design a prayer card with the mission title on it. On one side encourage people to pray for a specific number of people. On the other, give general prayer needs for the mission, preferably arranged under the days of the week. This could be in the form of a book-marker.

{C}c.    Mention the major prayer needs for the mission in church each week, and get them prayed for.

{C}d.    Inform and encourage any prayer groups in the church and engage their prayer backing.

{C}e.    Supply details and news, as it emerges, in the weekly news sheet, giving both requests for prayer and answers to prayer.

{C}f.      Organise special prayer meetings, concerts of prayer or half nights of prayer for the mission.

 

Finance: A draft budget will need to be drawn up. Church members may be asked to contribute, using specially designated envelopes in the services for this purpose. One Sunday could be set aside both for prayer and for all the offerings for the mission expenses. Try to raise all the necessary finance before the mission, so as to avoid having to ask for money at any of the mission meetings. The most costly items are usually the hiring of any special meeting rooms, technical equipment, travelling expenses for the visiting team, and materials used for counselling and follow-up.

 

Publicity: This might possibly be handled by one person, but it is better dealt with by a small sub-group of people skilled in publicity. It will be needed both within the church congregation, and also for alerting the wider community. This group will need to work in close liaison with the rest of the committee, producing art work as required, and handling all the designing and posters required for the mission. Three areas are particularly important:

{C}a.    Design a simple sheet for church members, giving information about what the mission is and how they can be involved.

{C}b.    Approach the local newspapers, radio and TV as appropriate, for advertising and with news items. If the missioner can be interviewed, so much the better.

{C}c.    Design small, attractive cards, inviting people to various mission events, which could also be useful in door-to-door visiting.

 

Youth: The youth leader of the church should be involved from the outset. He or she needs to create a programme for the young people of the church and their friends. The leader(s) need to work in close co-operation with the older members of the youth group to plan, pray for, and facilitate the programme. They could organise a concert with a Christian guest artist who has skills not only in music but also in presenting the challenge of Christ. They could plan and host a sports event, a film evening, a pizza party, a barbecue, or whatever might be the way in to the lives and interests of the young people in the area who are currently strangers to Christ. They may well be able to publicise these events in local schools. The visiting team, of course, is likely to comprise several members who have expertise in youth work, and this needs to be explored and taken into account early on in planning the programme. It may be right to plan some events for the younger children, if these are within the plan of the mission. It may sometimes be possible to visit classes, take an assembly, or do lunchtime events in a local school.

 

Counselling: Members of the congregation could profitably be trained in how to act as counsellors for those who have responded during a mission. They need to know how to lead someone to Christ and how to deal with the more common objections and difficulties that are usually encountered. It is wise, therefore, to devise a short training course in personal counselling, to publicise it widely in the church, and personally to invite those who you feel ought to be involved. If a public invitation for volunteers in this area is issued, those who apply need to be screened for suitability at the end of the course.

 

As the mission draws near, make a rota for each main meeting so that counsellors do not have to feel they are on duty every night, but can be encouraged to invite friends. See that they know exactly what will be required of them, are familiar with the materials which they will be giving out, and that they have a session with the missioner at the outset of the mission to ensure that all is in place for them to operate confidently and naturally. Do not have a special meeting for counsellors (even a prayer meeting) just before the event where they expect to be used, as this can discourage them from bringing friends; and they are probably the most highly motivated members of the congregation to do just this. You will need to ensure that all briefing is complete at the final training session.

 

Discovery Groups: The plans for the nurture of new believers need to be in place well before the actual mission. This will require the oversight of a couple of people who have great spiritual sensitivity and organisational skills. They will need to work closely both with the counselling group and with the chairperson of the mission task force. They will need to decide what follow-up materials to use, and to familiarise all the leaders of these Discovery Groups with the materials.

 

But more is needed. They will need to train leaders for these Discovery Groups, which will emerge as people come to faith in Christ during the mission. However skilled the leaders may be in home Bible studies, they will need at least two careful training sessions on the handling of these groups for new Christians, for they present particular challenges and call for love, dedication and considerable skill.

Those responsible will need to find out what time of day the leaders of Discovery Groups can offer, and organise these leaders into little teams accordingly, putting a more experienced leader alongside one or two who have had little or no experience of running groups with new Christians.

During the mission itself the leaders of the follow-up will need to monitor the response cards as they are handed in, and immediately after the mission they must ensure that the names are sorted out sensitively into appropriate Discovery Groups, and that the leaders of those groups are immediately informed who is in their group, so that a start can be made in the week immediately following the mission.

The person in charge of follow-up needs to keep in the closest contact with the Discovery Group leaders, so as to effect any necessary changes of personnel. He or she will retain a master list of all the groups, and also be responsible for ensuring that there is a smooth transfer of members from the Discovery Groups to the regular home fellowship groups of the church, at the end of the course.

The above portfolios will always be needed. Depending on the size of the church, a small sub-group may also be needed to co-ordinate hospitality for the visiting missioner and his team, and another to handle the musical requirements if, for example, both a singing group and a choir — let alone a small orchestra — are to be involved. It may be wise, also, to have a small and skilled group, rather than one individual, in charge of the technical aspects of the mission, such as PA systems, staging and seating.

 

Plan the programme

It will only come together nearer the time, but it is wise to get the main thrust of the mission preparation in hand early on. As the mission task force approaches this responsibility, it will need to compile a profile of the church in its surrounding neighbourhood, so as to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the church and the extent to which it relates to the needs of the community. Not only the mission task force but also the missioner will find this invaluable.

First, the mission task force will need to determine general policy, then move into specific planning, and in all this ensure congregational involvement to a high degree. It is important to decide how best the team can be used, to find out how often the missioner is willing to speak each day, to determine whether you are going to major on main meetings in the church each evening or whether you are going to make meetings in the homes of the congregation the main objective, or whether, perhaps, it would be best to go for sectors of society - professional people, business people, night workers, working people and so forth. It may be possible to get involved with some local event such as a music festival taking place the same week as the mission. Or there may be some imaginative means of reaching the community through tackling some obvious need in the community with the whole team. General issues like these will determine the whole thrust of the mission and need to be carefully thought through, and prayed over. Throughout, the views of the congregation need to be considered: they will expect the mission task force to take the initiative over the mission, but they will naturally want to have a say in what goes on.

The specific programme could well include special Sunday services led by the team; home meetings; meetings for young people, for doctors, lawyers and other peer groups; debates; special meetings in a neutral location; Rotary meetings; a church midweek meeting opened up to guests; open-air work on the streets and in shopping centres.

The mission will be ineffective unless the congregation is behind it. Every effort therefore needs to be made to involve them at all levels. Constant publicity and regular prayer are vital, and it helpful to offer some training to the congregation in hosting home meetings and helping an enquirer to faith. It is best to devise and circulate a response form to the whole congregation, highlighting the main areas where personnel are needed, and inviting volunteers. These could include visiting, helping to counsel, leading a Discovery Group, offering meals or accommodation, offering creative gifts in music, drama or dance, technical skills, etc. It would be good to hold a congregational meeting early on, preferably with the missioner present, to clarify vision, answer hesitations, maximise participation and arouse enthusiasm for the project. Out of this enthusiasm imaginative ideas will flow, and the mission task force will find their job immeasurably eased.

Launch the mission

All too soon, in view of all that needs to be done, the mission will be upon you. Careful thought needs to be given to the accommodation and transport of the team throughout the mission, and the visitors will need to have a complete list of their engagements in their hands a few days before they come. Daily meetings for prayer will need to be arranged in the church, and the visiting team will need time to meet daily, pray, plan and be encouraged, for this is tough work. It may be good to get a church leader to come and commission the team for their task. At all events a gala launch, preferably at the main service on Sunday, is an enormous help in getting the mission really well supported in the local area.

Ensure that someone well informed about the mission is available to answer the church phone throughout the week. The daily time for team worship, news and teaching can be opened to members of the congregation, who will be thrilled as news of answers to prayer emerges and be drawn even more closely into the whole enterprise.

It is impossible to know in advance how the mission will turn out. Everyone involved needs to be closely attuned to the Lord, seeking to discern his will in the unfolding events of the week, and ready to adapt plans as required, even at the last moment. Always the team will have exciting stories to tell of how they found the guidance of God time and again throughout the mission, often when they had no time for preparation or were intending to do something quite different! A mission will not only be fruitful outside the church: it will bring great blessing to a congregation which throws itself into the enterprise, and most of all to the team who accompany the missioner. It is often no less than life-transforming.

Before the team leaves, it is important for the local leadership to have a time of debriefing and a look at the way ahead. Encourage such debriefing meetings in other sectors of the church's life, in order to learn from mistakes and to implement lessons learned. A few weeks or months after the mission, it is very helpful if a duly-considered appraisal is sent to the missioner, and if he responds with a similar evaluation of the efforts of the local church.

 

Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

Michael has written a whole book on this topic drawing on his wide experience of such outreaches, titled Forgotten Dynamite: rediscovering the power of an evangelistic mission.

© Michael Green and Jane Holloway. 

Training in Open Air Evangelism

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

The term ‘open-air evangelism’ is used to describe the many ways we can communicate our faith on streets, beaches, and shopping malls, in attractive and thought-provoking ways, to people who do not normally go near a church.

The manner in which this is conducted is just as important as what is said, sung or acted.

 

Background preparation

Permission needs to be obtained for most open-air work from local authorities, shopping mall managers, etc. Many cities are willing to allow a mission team to do something once and see how it goes down with the local shopkeepers. Each mall manager will have his own special instructions. Make sure all the team is aware of what these are.

You need to choose a time of day when many people are around. This is important. It is not worthwhile planning something, and just hoping people will turn up. We need to be where people are: for example, in the middle of a busy shopping day, a place where people eat their lunch is good.

 

‘Set-piece’ presentations

This can use whatever medium is appropriate - drama, music, circle dancing, puppets, juggling, sketchboard. It usually requires a small ‘stage area’, which focuses people's concentration on a planned programme.

There are two different groups of people in such a presentation. The ‘upfront’ people (musicians, dramatists, speakers), who need to remain free from engaging in conversation while the programme is going on; and the ‘crowd’, who will gather around the performers, watch, and engage in conversation with those who stop and watch. Contrary to what is often thought, the ‘crowd’ is more important than the ‘upfront’ people.

The performers will have planned a programme (usually no more than twenty minutes), so that the material follows in a logical sequence, presenting different sides of the gospel. Every sketch, testimony or song is linked by a speaker. The idea is to have a fast-moving programme (with no pauses) that will attract a crowd.

The team needs to meet together for prayer and praise before going out on to the streets. We are entering hostile territory whenever we take the gospel out, and we need the cleansing and protection of the Lord before we go.  Each team member needs to have an ample supply of literature advertises something where people can learn more.

At the time arranged, all involved will meet to start the presentation. The `crowd` should form a fairly close circle around where the presentation is to be done, allowing enough space for actors, and yet not blocking walkways.

When you’re in the `crowd', watch, pray and be sensitive to those who gather around you. After a sketch it is often a good idea to turn to some person and ask, `What did you think of that drama?', wait for the reply, and take it from there. You may well not be used to speaking to complete strangers - nor are they! You will get both friendly and hostile responses. Keep your conversation light, and yet be bold in inviting people and handing out literature.

Other `crowd' members may well stand further away, handing out literature and engaging in conversation. Again, be alert to those around you. Allow people space to stop and watch before going up to them. Never pester passers-by. Smile!

Be sensitive to the ending of the presentation. That is the time for all to get involved in one-to-one conversations. If people have indicated an interest in coming along to an event elsewhere,  look out for them when it happens.

 

Questionnaires

This is another, quite different approach that is sometimes helpful in the open air. Singly or in twos, team members go out with a simple questionnaire and conduct a random sample of views, which can sometimes develop into really good conversations. At the very least, such encounters will give the person you are talking to a close-up view of a committed Christian chatting on the street, which may be unusual to him or her! It will also develop your own skills in chatting informally about important issues with complete strangers.

Here is a simple questionnaire used during a city-wide mission called ‘Celebration of Hope’. It had three questions in it:

  1. Do you think there are any solid grounds for hope these days?
  2. Do you think the Christian church has any real hope to hold out to people?
  3. If you could meet Jesus Christ, would you want to?

 

The encounter might go somewhat like this:

Q: Excuse me, but I wonder if you could spare a moment to help us with a short questionnaire we are conducting from Celebration of Hope here this week?

A: Very well, but I haven't long to spare.

Q: I quite understand. Here, then, is the first question: ‘Do you think there are any solid grounds for hope these days?’

A: Well, I suppose we have a great country - and our homes mean a lot to us.

Q: Right. But of course many people live wretched lives without much hope. So here's the next question on my list: ‘Do you think that the Christian church has any real hope to hold out to people?’

A: Well, I'd never thought about that. They seem to keep themselves to themselves.

Q: Alas, that is often true. But Jesus wasn't like that. He was always moving out among people, offering them the most wonderful things to celebrate, and the most solid grounds for hope. So here's my third question: ‘If you could meet Jesus Christ, would you want to?’

… and if that does not open up the chance for personal testimony to the living Jesus, I should be surprised!

There is of course no knowing how people will respond to your questions. But you can see how a simple three-question questionnaire like this can be used (with a minimum of imagination) to lead to a conversation which could be profitable. There is a progression about the questions. They start where you are — Celebration of Hope, which is happening as they speak to you; and with a question about the hopes which everyone must cherish in their hearts one way or another - for nobody can live long without hope. You then find your way to a narrower front in your second question, asking what they feel about the church, but more specifically planting in their minds the possibility that it might have some hope to offer, and something to celebrate. No matter what the response to that, it is easy to move on to the source of hope, and the solid grounds we have for it in the historical Jesus, crucified and risen.

Remember the following points:

  1. Your manner is more important than what you say.
  2. You are not there to argue, but to invite the person to answer questions which may gently lead them towards the light.
  3. You must not delay people long - unless they want to, and a good conversation develops.
  4. Your aim is to point them decisively to the hope that Jesus offers, and to show why it is so solidly grounded.
  5. You want to leave them with an invitation to join you and attend some further event — and maybe after a good encounter, you could leave them with something to read.

 

 

Bookstalls

Hosting a booktable - often in a shopping mall - is another way to publicize your faith and engage in conversation with those who are interested. Posters and leaflets will also be needed. Free cups of coffee go down well.

 

Praise marches

These are a very powerful way to make a statement to a city, by drawing the local Christians together. All are encouraged to join in, from children on bikes to seniors, as the march moves slowly along a pre-arranged route, usually following a music group, singing and praising God. Banners can be carried. Leaflets can be distributed to those who watch. People can be invited to join in. At one or more points along the route there could be a pause to give time for more singing, some drama, music, circle dancing and possibly a short message aimed at those who have joined in.

Open air work can be enjoyable, if rather terrifying. Remember God's encouragement to Paul: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:9-10, NIV).

 

Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

© Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

Training in Giving a Testimony

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

One of the most important things we have to offer to a friend who is not yet a Christian is our own ‘story’.  Here are some tips to keep in mind.

 

What is testimony?

It is not about yourself. Those testimonies which give the impression ‘once I was very bad, and now I am very good’ are sickly.

It is not about the past. Many people, when asked to give a testimony, tend to speak only about their past experience, when they first met Christ. That could seem stale. People will be much more helped by what Christ means to you today.

Witness in the New Testament means testimony to Jesus and the fact that he is alive! This is so important, because most people have no idea that Jesus (as opposed to creeds, churchgoing, or ethical conduct) is the centre of Christianity, and less still that he is risen and can make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. So your testimony is quite simply telling in your own words the life-changing reality of Jesus. The spotlight of what you have to say should focus on him, and only incidentally on yourself.

 

What is the value of testimony?

There are many values in it!

First, it is intriguing. Just imagine the impact that the testimony of the woman of Samaria made among her colleagues when she ran back and told them about Jesus (John 4:28-30). It was the major feature in starting a Samaritan movement towards Jesus (John 4:39-42).

Second, it is a very natural thing to do. When we have found treasure it is only natural to want to share it! It is not like a pre-planned address. It is spontaneous, shaped towards the circumstances of the person we are talking to.

Third, it is simple. This is something everyone can do. We all have a story about the impact on our lives which Christ has made. Testimony is simply sharing that with one person or with a crowd. It is always first person singular: ‘I have found…’

Fourth, it opens up conversation. You have only to say, in the course of a supper party, ‘May I share with you the greatest discovery of my life?’ and they will inevitably say ‘Please do’. You respond: ‘It is that Jesus Christ is alive, and he has come to make a massive difference to my life’. I can promise you an interesting supper party!

Fifth, it brings Christianity out of the expected area, the church building, the church book, the church professional. It comes right into the real world. And here you are, a perfectly ordinary person, telling them of the difference that Jesus can make. It will be likely to take their breath away!

Finally, it is unanswerable. There is a lovely story in John 9 about the blind man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees were furious, and grilled first his parents and then the man himself. They posed him difficult theological issues like ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath’ (John 9:16, NIV). But the man was very wise. He did not attempt to answer their theological point. He simply stuck to what he knew: ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!’ (John 9:25, NIV). This kind of thing is unanswerable. People cannot controvert our experience. Let's make the most of it.

 

General principles for giving your testimony

  1. Pray and ask the Lord for guidance as you prepare and as you speak.
  2. Centre it on the person of Jesus, not on yourself. What was life like before you met Christ? How did you meet him? What are the main benefits you have discovered?
  3. Be selective. Try to assess the position of your hearers, and leave out details that will not mean much to them. Prune the irrelevant.
  4. Be disciplined. Stop when you have finished, and stick within the time allotted.
  5. Be warm and natural. The way you speak and your body language is just as important as what you say. Smile! Testimony is not meant to be something to get apprehensive about. It is simply overflow. That is what Paul recognised in his Thessalonian converts: he speaks of their ‘assurance’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5), which literally means their being so filled with the Lord that they spill over.
  6. Total honesty is vital. Never claim that faith in Christ has done more for you than it has… we all have a long way to go.
  7. Be courteous, but bold. Many people have simply not heard that Jesus Christ is alive and can be met today.
  8. Be intriguing! When Jesus met the woman in John 4 he fascinated her with the idea of water that could well up within her very empty heart (v10, ‘If you knew…’):

 

Things to avoid!

  1. The use of Christian jargon.
  2. Preaching to your listeners. `I have found' is what you are there to say, not `You should'.
  3. Too many references to Scripture.
  4. Speaking critically of another church, denomination, or individual.
  5. Giving the impression that the Christian life is easy.
  6. The use of notes while speaking (though it may be wise to make some notes beforehand).

 

Specific situations

Testimony in a larger meeting or church service

The aim here is to show that the aspect of Christian reality which the speaker is concentrating on is something which really does make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. Accordingly, you will need to work closely with the speaker and see that your testimony chimes in with the thrust of the message.

Spend time together beforehand. Decide which are the areas you should concentrate on, how much time you have, where you will stand, whether you will use a microphone (and if so, know how to use it), and where in the meeting you are expected to come and take part. Sorting these things out saves possible confusion in the meeting itself.

It is often best and most natural to get yourself interviewed with two or three questions which you know beforehand, and round which you can build what you want to say.

Remember not to over-run the time allotted to you.

 

In a smaller meeting (eg a house meeting)

Here the situation is different. You are not the icing on the cake of someone else's talk; you are the presentation! It is very easy to move into testimony in a house meeting. After all, you are visitors and have been invited to give some input into the meeting.

Your testimony will often form the beginning of such an event. Start off in an informal way, introducing yourself and your team member if there is one, explaining that you are not professionals but are just here because you want to share something of the joy of knowing Jesus Christ. Then go on to explain what you have found about this joy. Keep it short. Select those parts of your story with which your hearers are most likely to be able to identify.

Depending on how you have planned the meeting, you may want to open it up for questions or for other people to share their ‘spiritual stories’. Your coworker can keep gentle control on the ensuing discussion, and ensure that you finish at the advertised time. Emphasise that no two individuals come to Christ through identical routes.

Be watchful for opportunities to change the subject and move into spiritual things. We are called to ‘redeem the time’ (Ephesians 5:16), to snap up the opportunities like bargains in the market. That requires imagination and enterprise. And it can all stem from your testimony!

 

Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

© Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

Ways Forward in Our Evangelism

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green

 You can download the PDF of this resource here.

Has your church considered – visiting the homes in your neighbourhood?

A disenchantment with visiting the homes around our church marks so much modern Christianity.  It’s both understandable - and misguided!

It may not be true any longer that a `visiting pastor` produces a church-going people.  But it is certainly true that a church which does not visit in its neighbourhood becomes more and more of a ghetto, and its members more like patrons of a club than soldiers of Jesus Christ.

Visiting pays off in all sorts of ways, especially if it is shared between the staff of a church and its members. It shows people that the church cares. It reminds people of God in an age when it is all too possible to squeeze him out. It begins to build relationships in the locality between churchgoers and those who do not go. It opens the eyes of church people to the needs around them. It reveals some areas where help can be offered. And it draws some people into the church!

Christian youth movements have shown the way in visiting. Two of the most vigorous parachurch organisations are Youth With A Mission and Operation Mobilisation, and both make great use of visiting and street work. They do it with young volunteers from the West moving into Europe, Asia or the Americas to work with local young people from indigenous churches. This brings a tremendous infusion of confidence to local Christians who might never have ventured on such a bold and direct approach. Often it is very simple: giving or selling Christian literature in the streets and shopping malls. On each of those pieces of literature is an address where the reader can learn more. And this apparently crude approach is proving one of the most effective ways of reaching into countries dominated by other major world religions. And the enthusiasm rubs off on the local Christians: the leadership of OM in India, for example, is wholly in the hands of Indian Christians now.

In the USA, Evangelism Explosion is an evangelistic method based on visiting. It hinges on two basic questions, which receive slight modification from time to time. But the first is: ‘Have you reached the point in your spiritual life where you would be sure of going to heaven if you died tonight?’ And the second is: ‘Why do you think God should allow you into heaven?’ These are brilliant diagnostic questions, for they enable the visitor to learn a lot about the assumptions and real faith - or lack of it - of those who are visited. This works well in a culture where there is still a residual belief in heaven and hell. In strongly post-Christian cultures such as Canada, and to a large extent Britain, it is a less effective tool; nevertheless it has had very good effects even here. It has given a simple but shrewd method of approach to ordinary Christians, which they can introduce into conversation at an appropriate point and see it produce a reaction. It gets Christians out visiting – minister and people together. It produces results. And when it fails, it drives the visitors back into renewed prayer and research so as to be better at it next time.

A useful and less heavily structured approach has been devised in Britain by Michael Wooderson, Vicar of Chasetown. He discovered it by accident. It all began with a man at a funeral at which he was officiating saying, ‘I would be interested in finding out more about the Christian faith’. That man was totally outside the ambit of the church, and his question got Michael thinking. How could such a man find out what he wanted to know? He was not the sort to read books. Church would be a totally alien world to him. How could he find out?

And then Wooderson hit on an idea which he has developed ever since. It is highly successful, and he has written about it in The Church Down Our Street and Good News Down Our Street. He was influenced by some aspects of Evangelism Explosion, seeing that that was a method which mobilised the whole church for evangelism, was built on the concept of learning by doing, took the good news to people in their homes, and made evangelism a continuous activity and a normal part of church life. He was also influenced by the Jehovah's Witnesses visiting on his estate. They embodied three important principles. One was systematic visiting, aimed at uncovering interest. A second was setting up study groups in the homes of interested people. And the third was immediately sending out new converts visiting, giving them no time to become lukewarm.

He developed these principles into a very simple method. Michael himself has a flair for making relationships, and discovers people in the area who would like to learn a little about the Christian faith in the course of a home visit, and would be willing to welcome a small team coming to their home. Michael trained the congregation in running a simple course for six visits in the homes of interested people, giving them enough information about Jesus to enable them to make a decision for or against him. It was all very informal. In home contexts, questions flow and misunderstandings are cleared up. People are surprised to see lay folk like themselves feeling so enthusiastic about the gospel that they are willing to take the time and make the effort to share it. They go in threes in order to train inexperienced people on the job, to incorporate new converts immediately, and to deepen fellowship among church members.

This is an evangelistic strategy that is making solid headway in some of the most unchurched parts of England. How effective it has been can be seen from the figures. Of the first two hundred people visited (by eighty-nine teams comprising 120 members of the congregation), five completed the six-week course, fifteen were already Christians, 136 made a commitment to Christ, four made a commitment subsequently and forty made no positive decision. They have now reached the point where church members regard evangelism like this as a normal part of their Christian life, and feel deprived if they are not assigned to a visiting team fairly frequently. As Roy Pointer of the Bible Society said in his foreword to The Church Down Our Street, ‘This story reads like the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles all over again!’ But there is nothing here that any local church could not emulate - if it had the will and the commitment.

 

Has your church considered - community service?

The good news of Jesus is communicated not only by word, but also in action. It is when people see the difference Christ makes that they begin to listen to what he has to say.

It was when he saw water gushing from the drill which TEAR Fund had brought into his parched village in Sudan that the headman said, ‘Now I believe the gospel of Jesus’. It is likewise not accidental that there are a great many conversions in the refugee camps set up after disasters in Thailand and the Sudan. Roman Catholic Christians have been far ahead of their Protestant brethren in this matter, as a rule. I recall the terrible shanty towns spreading all around Lima, Peru, where a mass of humanity flowed down from the Andes to seek illusory wealth in the capital, and ended up on the streets with homes made of little structures of sticks and corrugated iron. In the midst of all this misery a genial Catholic friar made breakfast free for all each day, and Catholic teachers started a school for the shoeshine boys, the poorest of the poor. That is very attractive. It is very like Jesus.

Service to the community is also one of the best ways in which a local church can make an impact on its area. It must discover what the real needs are, and set out to meet some of them, however weak it may feel and however scant its resources. It may be to run a coffee house for unemployed youngsters. It may be to visit in the local prison on a regular basis, and perhaps to inaugurate a halfway house for prisoners upon their release if they have nowhere else to go. I know of one prison chaplain, who is also a Baptist minister, who shares his chaplain’s responsibility with a dozen members of his congregation. How he has got this past the prison authorities I do not know, but I have seen them at work in that prison, and it is highly impressive to witness the love of Christ being communicated so naturally and so relevantly in a very difficult situation like that. The very success of one ministry like this led to the creation of a halfway house, so that those who had come to faith had some initial nurture and continuing Christian teaching and fellowship in the early days after their release, and were not simply turned loose one morning on the street.

I once knew a group of doctors who wanted to make Christ known through meeting a genuine need. They were unwilling on principle to take innocent life, by performing abortions on their patients. But they did not leave it at that: they set up an adoption agency for unwanted pregnancies.

I was with a friend the other day whose church wanted to do something about the unsavoury reputation that the local beach was getting. So they are proposing to run open-air services there all summer, and to provide food for penniless youngsters who haunt the beach, or the old men who doss down there. A church like that has the right to be heard.

Many churches run youth clubs and gyms. But what about running your own restaurant? Church like St Michael's Chester Square in London, and St Aldate’s in Oxford, do just that. It is a lot of work and continuous hassle! But it meets a local need and provides a warm, welcoming atmosphere in which friendly conversations of all kinds can go on.

My predecessor sensed the need for overseas students to have some much-needed accommodation in the heart of Oxford, where the church was situated. And his initiative achieved housing for more than sixty. There was a small but steady trickle of conversions within that housing complex, but that was the secondary aim. The primary aim was to relieve need, and when the church does that, the hearts of people are often open to what the church has to say… and they often are not!

Another aspect of community service which is appropriate in some areas is to hold community events like street parties and, fiestas. These fun occasions catch the spirit of the community, and they show that the church has a heart which beats with the heart of the people all around. There may well be no immediate result in spiritual terms. But in due course it would be surprising if some people did not start moving into the life of the church, perhaps becoming part of it gradually, by osmosis.

 

The same is true when the church initiates marches to protest against injustice, or inhuman conditions for the people. The prime moving of the Catholic Church in Poland in the rise and success of Solidarity, or in the Philippines through the bloodless expulsion of the notorious president Marcos, is not only a mark of moral leadership in the respective nations, but is a powerful spiritual attractor, as the passionate Christian commitment of the Poles and Filipinos amply demonstrates.

 

Has your church considered – outreach in the open air?

Jesus Christ was an open-air preacher. Most of his followers are not! The infant church was born in the streets on the day of Pentecost. Most church members these days would not be seen dead in the streets! We are very different from our founder and our forebears!

And we are impoverished as a result. Churches like the Pentecostals, who do make a big thing of getting out on the streets, win both respect and converts. I remember teaching on evangelism one Sunday afternoon in a large Australian city. The church had glass doors, so that it could look out on the busy world passing by. A good number gathered for this teaching session; I made it very short, and got them out on the street to join me in open-air witness to the crowds outside. We had song, some basic drama and dance, and preaching along with testimony, and they were thrilled to bits. This was a red-letter day.

But later that afternoon my wife and I walked a little further along the street and found a Pentecostal open-air witness in progress. It was ragged, loud, and theologically illiterate. But it was passionate. I enquired how long they had been Christians, and for most of them it was all very recent. I enquired how often they did this. The answer was every day. No wonder they grew. They deserved to!

But there are many ways of using the open air effectively. One is to have a Christian concert in a sunny climate on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone is out enjoying themselves. Another is to have a walk of witness, say on a Good Friday or at Pentecost, preferably binding all the churches in a town together for this act of witness. If somebody is carrying a great cross, the point is made a lot the more sharply. There is power in the cross of Jesus! One of my erstwhile colleagues, Canon David Hawkins, actually held an open-air service in a shopping precinct one Good Friday when a member of the congregation was erected on a cross, with hands and feet bound to it. You can imagine the impact that made, and the way the preacher's words went home. In a lighter vein, he had been known to lead a procession down the street while dressed as a clown and playing his violin. On his front was ‘A fool for Christ’, on his back ‘Whose fool are you?’ There are many ways of using the open air!

Another way is a public eucharist in a large football arena, or a public baptism in the sea or river. Most baptisms used to be conducted in this way, and the habit of doing it within the four walls of the church is in some ways rather regrettable; it misses out on one of the most dramatic acts of witness that a Christian can ever give. We would sometimes conduct open-air baptisms in the river in Oxford. A procession would start from the church, growing in size as it moved down the towpath on a busy Sunday afternoon. When we reached the appointed place there was a large crowd in attendance, drawn by the spectacle and by the singing and joy of the participants. Each of the candidates would give a testimony to what Christ had come to mean to him or her, and then my colleague and I would immerse them in the river in the name of the Trinity, and there would be great praise and rejoicing as each emerged from the water. It was unusual if other conversions did not spring from those public baptisms.

There are many other ways in which the open air can be captured for the gospel. It may be a quiet giving out of leaflets advertising some event: that often leads to profitable conversations. It may be going on to the streets, two by two, with a simple questionnaire. It may be going with love, literature and a guitar, to work the bus queues in the centre of some town. It may be a major procession, a Praise March, when hundreds or thousands of Christians combine to march through the city, singing the praises of God and flowing with his love to passers by. Such marches make a major impact both on the local population and on the television station sent to report them! These are all opportunities for evangelism which derive from an imaginative use of the open air.

But the sort of open-air work which I love most is the most basic of all. It consists of a group of Christians proclaiming the good news of Christ in a very earthy way in the shopping malls or market squares of a city. It can, of course, be disastrous, especially if you choose a place where people do not normally go. But if you go to a populous area and are loving, happy, relaxed, self-effacing, and confident in the message you are charged with, many people will listen.

It can be done in a wide variety of ways. Drama is perhaps the most important ingredient. It always draws a crowd, and if your group performs a sequence of short street playlets, each lasting a few minutes and making one clear, arresting point, it is only too easy for a compere to draw out the implications of what has been seen and apply them to the crowd which has gathered. Meanwhile members of your congregation are mingling with the crowd, chatting with onlookers. Singing can help, but curiously enough it often drives people away in the open air. A visual aid, progressively unmasked if possible, is a big attraction, and some people are brilliantly gifted at painting in the open air while they preach. Sometimes a juggler or karate expert can be invited to operate first of all, and that is guaranteed to draw a crowd. The secret is a fast-moving, attractive, relaxed presentation of the heart of the gospel in terms that people really understand. I often find myself preaching from the road signs or the names of shops, turning them to advantage in what I want to say!

The main value of such open-air operations is to heighten the Christian presence in the community, to sharpen the courage and zeal of those who take part, and to broadcast the good news that was intended not for the church person but for the person in the street. But often it goes further than that. I have seen many people quietly put their faith in Christ when hearing in the street of his love and sacrifice and his claim on their lives. I have seen people kneel down on the pavement and ask the Lord to accept them. And I have seen many people drawn from such meetings to hear the gospel in another place which gave them more opportunity for a considered response.

I think of May Morning in Oxford, when all the city is alive and on the streets by 6 am. So were we, complete with jugglers and singers, speakers and dramatists! It was such a joy to proclaim Christ in the historic main street of that ancient university city with hundreds of people clustered round. And it was a further joy to invite them back to the church hall where we offered all and sundry a free breakfast and a talk on Christian commitment. An operation like that led people to the Lord year after year. And we did not restrict it to May Morning! The gospel is good news. It is too good to confine within the four walls of a church!

 

Has your church considered - how to use neutral ground?

One of the important lessons the modern church needs to relearn comes from the school of Tyrannus!

We know nothing about this Ephesian pedagogue, except that the apostle Paul made daily use of his school at a time when Tyrannus had no use for it. One ancient manuscript tells us when he did it: ‘from 11 am to 4 pm.’ When you consider that in Ephesus more people would be asleep at 1 pm, during the midday siesta, than at 1 am, that says a great deal for the attractiveness of Paul's dialectic!

But the most noteworthy thing is Paul's use of secular ground. People would feel quite comfortable in going to cross swords with this tentmaker-teacher in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. That is the point. And we need to take it very seriously. Many of our attempts at evangelism are doomed before they start, because we insist on doing them on our own property, where many unchurched people feel very ill at ease. We Christians believe that Jesus Christ broke down all barriers between the sacred and the secular by his own incarnation. Right: we should therefore carry out that principle in our evangelism. We should reach out to where people are, not expect them to come to where we are. In a word, much of the best evangelism will not happen in church at all.

There now follow some suggestions for evangelism on neutral ground. They are not by any means exhaustive, but I hope they may prove suggestive for your own creative thinking on the subject.

Debates are a marvellous way of stirring interest, which can ripen into commitment. They are particularly valuable as a centre-piece in a mission or campaign. They are attractive because Christians come out into the open and are not afraid of having their position exposed and criticised. They are attractive too because there is opportunity for many believers to get up and say their piece from the floor. They lend themselves to refreshments afterwards, and the chance to take things further at a more personal level. They are easy to publicise, and readily draw a crowd which would not normally attend a religious meeting.

The more well known the person with whom you are debating, the better. I have found that when debating with politicians, celebrated atheists or well-known local personalities, all manner of people turn up for the fun, and stay out of interest. The danger in this sort of enterprise lies in the very nature of debate. It is `eristic`: it is designed for victory. And if you gain victory in argument about Christ, but alienate or fail to show love to your opponent, you have lost everything. Consequently, great courtesy is called for, along with rigorous logic, and if it is possible for you and your opponent to have dinner together beforehand it is all to the good in building some relationship between you.

Jesus engaged in a stringent debate, and on neutral ground at that. We are neglecting a wonderful opportunity if we fail to do likewise. And it is so profitable for the cause of the Kingdom of God. I think of one occasion in Australia where a friend and I took on all comers for several hours one night - and there were hundreds of them. The outcome? Much interest, the continuation of the genre, and six people signing up for a Discovery Group.

Only the other day I debated with a remarkable New Age artist, a delightful character, and very well known locally. This encounter packed the hall and provided an excellent opportunity for two very contrasting world-views to meet head on, with great grace and goodwill, but with considerable trenchancy. It was broadcast, all two and a half hours of it, the next night, and without doubt it stirred the interest of the city where it took place more than almost anything else we did all week.

If Christians often shy off debates, they are even more cautious about bars and pubs. Yet this is where so many normal citizens go for recreation without any thought of getting drunk. Should Christians not be among them? Conversations move very easily in such a setting: people are not wary and defensive, and it is not hard to move discussion on to things that matter. Alternatively, by arrangement with the management, it is sometimes possible to bring in a singer who can communicate the gospel with occasional comments, and that tends to open things up for talking about Christ.

If the local minister goes in, and becomes trusted, he will have endless pastoral opportunities opening up before him. On one occasion I sat myself down in a pub, was asked what my job was, and that developed into a marvellous conversation about Christ. Soon the whole bar was involved, either taking part in the discussion or watching. One man came to put his faith in Christ then and there, as he sat on a bar stool. I think of the sportsmen's club in Oxford, and of the many evenings I spent there with university athletes, speaking on some aspect of the Christian faith, and then repairing to the bar, where the whole conversation all round the room was about Christ, and where twice in succession somebody came to Christian commitment then and there in that bar. Sometimes some music, drama, or poetry helps. Bars can be places of great opportunity in the cause of the gospel, if we will have the courage and imagination to make use of them. You don't have to drink. You do have to be at ease — and then others will feel at ease with you.

Public lectures are another way of drawing a crowd to think about the claims of Christ. It helps if the lecturer is well known, if he is speaking on his subject, if the event is well advertised, and if Christians are primed to bring friends. It may be a Christian bishop or a Christian trade unionist, a Christian cabinet minister or a clean-up-TV activist. I have invited all four, and a good many more, to relate the Christian faith to some aspect of life in which they were expert. It has always drawn a crowd and proved a very valuable evangelistic or pre-evangelistic enterprise. I am sure a lot more could be done in that way.

Luncheons are very popular. Business people use them regularly in the course of their work, so for them it is a very natural form of meeting. A local church can host such luncheons for the leaders of management or labour in any local enterprise with which they have any links, or for the police or lawyers. It is simple enough for a few committed Christian lay people in business to get together across denominational boundaries and put on a monthly Christian Businesspeople's Luncheon. I have known towns where this was so much the thing to belong to that there had to be a waiting list for people longing to join! If speakers are chosen with discretion, and the proceedings kept strictly within time, and if literature is made available, and the opportunity to talk things over is regularly offered, there can be a continual trickle of people coming to faith through such means.

Recently in the USA I met a lady who had felt it right to start women's lunches across the country, and they are spreading like wildfire. But it does not even have to be an `event`. When you take a friend out to lunch, or entertain him or her in your home, it is an ideal opportunity to talk about Christ if the conversation moves that way. You can always stop if your friend does not want to pursue it. But all too often they will want to talk, and will be thankful that at last they have found someone willing to listen, able to help them.

If lunches work well in the midst of a busy day, it stands to reason that dinner parties are even more fruitful, coming at the end of the day when people are more relaxed. I have often found that professional people like to meet others in their own walk of life to hear a talk on the Christian faith.  Lawyers, doctors, and teachers especially come to mind, but I shall never forget a town hall reception full of builders who had come to hear Sir John Laing, the architect of the British motorway system, speaking simply and powerfully on building your life on the rock of Christ. Some years ago a dentist, a hotelier, a doctor and I planned a series of evenings during the course of a winter, when we would welcome a hundred or so of our friends into a large private home for a dinner and then to listen to a Christian in some walk of life speak about how his faith interacted with his work. On another occasion my wife got called in to speak to a gathering of doctor's patients, young mothers who wanted to teach their children about God and prayer, but had no idea where to start. The evening gatherings begun there led several of them into Christian commitment. The point is clear. Evening events in private homes are very useful in evangelism today, just as they were in the first days of the church, when homes were all they had.

Music is such a powerful medium. There are all sorts of ways in which it can be deployed in the cause of the gospel. One way is to get a popular singer who writes his own songs, to come and sing and explain why he wrote the songs he did, and what is most important in life to him. People flock to carefully chosen events like these. They pay good money to come in, which looks after the finances of the enterprise and allows you to concentrate on making the most of the impact. Complimentary tickets need to be given to people who are thought to be not far from the Kingdom! If the artist himself has not got the gift of evangelism, an appropriate evangelist may be sought to draw things to a conclusion, though this is a particularly delicate task after such an evening and if done badly it can easily backfire. If done well, it can be extremely productive.

Carol singing is another very popular musical medium which many churches do not make enough of. Let it take place by candlelight. Let there be drama and dance as well as song. Let there be an address about the one who came at Christmas and still seeks access to the hearts of men. And it will remain as popular as ever: but it will be far more fruitful.

The same applies to something like Haydn's Creation or Handel's Messiah, especially if sung by an all-Christian cast who really mean what they sing. The effect can be immense, and the drawing power is formidable. It is sometimes appropriate to weave a challenge into the ending of such an evening, especially if it is closely related to the Christian commitment of the composer. And with Handel that is not difficult.

Dancing is one of the most popular of all recreations. It can get out of hand: hence the common Christian distrust of dance. But it need not. And why, when people are rejoicing and celebrating together, should it be inappropriate for the world's greatest cause for joy and celebration to be mentioned? It takes a very charming and relaxed evangelist to draw people together in the middle of a dance and speak of the Lord of the Dance. But it can be done. It has been done. And it has led to firm conversions. I like it! It shows initiative and imagination, and they are often sorely lacking in evangelism!

If dancing is one of mankind's favourite recreations, sport is another. That area, too, needs to be permeated by the gospel. Top sportsmen are so wrapped up in their sport that they are very hard to reach except by those within it. In recent years this has been recognised on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in Africa, and organisations like Christians in Sport and Athletes in Action have gone a long way towards spanning the yawning gap which normally exists between sports people and Christianity. In America now there are Christian ‘chapters’ in many of the top-line football, basketball and baseball clubs. At the international level, Christians are getting together in the athletics, soccer, cricket, tennis and golf worlds, to name but five.

Just before the Olympics, representatives from more than 120 nations met together in Seoul with the purpose of setting up sports ministries at pool, club and national level throughout the world, and I believe that since then more than ninety nations have begun this type of outreach. It is something in which the local church can get fully involved. Athletes and sports people are no more important in God's eyes than anybody else, but it is undeniable that they are high among the cult figures of modern society, and if Christian values and faith are represented widely in sport it is going to make a great difference to the views which the man in the street has about the faith.

Holidays are of great importance to us all, and yet we are sometimes at a loss to know what to do with them and whom to go with on holiday. This is where the parish holiday or youth camp comes into its own. There is a tremendous amount to be said for a parish organising its own holiday for all ages. This brings members of the congregation together in the most relaxed and natural of circumstances, and the fellowship of the church will benefit from it for a long time to come. But a holiday like that also gives every opportunity to invite people who are on the edge of the Christian community, or not part of it at all, to come and join in. It is a very attractive and effective way of making use of neutral ground.

These are only a few suggestions in an area which is limitless. We are called to use our imagination in the cause of Christ. One church I know did it by gaining possession of a shop in town, and making that a drop-in centre for coffee: it was thronged by youngsters. Another church had some gifted musicians and dramatists who found a regular welcome in the local schools, places that are so often devoid of any positive Christian teaching these days, but often are not averse to a Christian message in a fresh medium.  I think of another church that was always making new contacts for Christ through hiring a space in the local market and taking a barrow of Christian books down for sale there each Saturday. Others find that a simple crèche and investigatory Bible study for hard-pressed mums (and exuberant toddlers) is not only a service to what can be a lonely sector of society: it is also a very natural way for people who already have so much in common to find Christ as the one who binds all life together.

Perhaps the last word is this: We should cultivate godly opportunism! If we are people who are not dominated by church buildings and religious hours, but are free to talk about our Lord and seek to introduce others to him wherever we are, then the opportunities will come. Willingness is the key to usefulness. If we get into the habit of praying, `Lord, use my life and lips as you want to today,' more often than not he will. And he may not wait until we are in the church on Sunday to provide the opportunity. For there are many ways than one to communicate the good news of Christ; and most of those ways occur on neutral ground!

Michael Green.
© Michael Green 2013.

Training in Door to Door Visitation

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

Door to door visiting is largely neglected by the churches, and left to the sects and the travelling salesmen!

But still we may be led to visit selected people, or to visit down a street.

In either case, we would be wise to keep these considerations in mind.

 

The preparation

Preparation is needed even for something so unpredictable as visiting.

 

We need a warm heart

We need a heart full of Jesus’ love, before we will give ourselves to such a daunting task. Maybe read Luke 15, or 2 Corinthians 4 or 5 or John 21, before going out. I often go back to Acts 9:11, the story of the reluctant visitor!

  1. The Lord called Ananias because he needed him (v10).
  2. The Lord told him to go and visit a home (v11).
  3. There was someone in that home in deep need (v11).
  4. God had already prepared that person to be receptive (v11).
  5. Ananias was reluctant: this man was too prejudiced, too tough, too hostile (v13).
  6. At the second attempt, Ananias went, no doubt in fear and trembling (v17).
  7. His approach was natural, friendly, direct (v17).
  8. His message was of Jesus, who can open blind eyes and fill an empty life (v17).
  9. He found a very practical ministry was awaiting him in that house (vv18-19).
  10. His obedience was rewarded in the conversion of Saul and his filling with the Spirit.

 

We need a cool head

We need to listen carefully to the instructions we have been given, familiarise ourselves with the geography, and if possible know the names of those to be visited. Go equipped with a pen, a notebook (to take down the details of each visit), and a few tracts, booklets or Gospels which could come in handy, along with a leaflet about forthcoming events. Have a good grasp of what goes on in your church for all ages, so that you can offer appropriate suggestions for the household.

 

 

You may feel happier visiting two by two: there is a biblical precedent!

  1. Don't work your way down one side of the street consistently: people may see you coming and not let you in.
  2. It is easiest to fill in information about your last visit when you are standing in your next doorway, before you actually knock. You are practically invisible then.
  3. Pray on the doorstep; pray for your initial impact, for humour, self-forgetfulness, and warmth.
  4. Remember, if you are afraid, that you have the initial advantage. They are not expecting you, and may be busy, defensive, suspicious. So smile. God loves you!
  5. If a child opens the door, ask them to go get one of their parents, and if the child accompanies the adult, make sure you involve them in the conversation.
  6. First impressions are crucial. So introduce yourself with a friendly `Hi' or `Hello'. Announce your name, your authority (from the church or the mission) and your purpose.
  7. Be cheerful, be unfailingly courteous, be natural. Make it plain you are not out to con them or get something out of them, but to love them and give something to them.
  8. Don't be dismayed if you are seldom invited in. But get in if you can. Don't outstay your welcome.

 

The visit

There is, of course, no blueprint. Keep your eyes open for any lead, any common ground. Here are some possible aims you might bear in mind:

  1. Aim to establish a good relationship. Let them see you are not odd. Never argue, never be rude. Open the way for a return visit, which will often be much easier.
  2. Aim to gather information about the house and family which could be handy for future use - are there kids who could be invited to a Sunday school party, is there a one-parent family which could do with some practical assistance, etc?
  3. Aim to impart information about forthcoming events. Concentrate on a single event, and see if they would like you to pick them up before going to it - they might well not bother (or dare) to come on their own. ‘Come with me’ is powerful; ‘Do go’ is not!
  4. Aim to speak of Jesus, to mention his name one way or another. It is he who can meet their need. He is indeed the only card in our pack! And many people do not know that the heart of Christianity is not a system but the person of Jesus. It is at this juncture that a word of testimony can be so effective.
  5. It may be suitable to pray for the house, or the person, or some need you have discovered. People often value this, even if they do not pray themselves. NB: Use a natural voice!
  6. It could be good to leave a bit of literature behind.

 

The questions

These are sure to emerge if you get into a conversation of any length. Sometimes they will be excuses: ‘The minister has never called… I went to church too much when I was young… I can worship God in my backyard’. Sometimes they will be real difficulties, such as the divided state of the church, the New Age movement, the implausibility of Christianity in a secular age, the problem of suffering, the aching heart of a battered wife or a single mother.

Try to analyse whether it is an excuse or a problem you are dealing with. Excuses come from hard hearts; problems come from confused minds. I sometimes say, ‘If I were able to answer this to your satisfaction, do you think that the way would be clear to your opening up your life to Christ?’ If not, don't bother with the excuse. Answering it won't help. Showing that you have seen through it may.

Always be courteous, humble and loving. Never seek to score points. Always seek to find out and maximise any common ground.

 

The sequel

  1. When out of sight, jot down any comments you have, and any information that is not confidential which might be passed back to those who sent you.
  2. Pray for the house you have just visited.
  3. Decide if a further visit in a day or two's time would be fruitful.
  4. Do not be discouraged. If you are, it will show in your manner, and you will not be a good witness. Read Isaiah 55:11. Claim Christ's power as you go. Claim Christ's presence, and as he bade you, go (Matthew 28:18-20)!

 

Michael Green and Jane Holloway.

© Michael Green and Jane Holloway. 

Training for Home Based Evangelism

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green.

You can download the PDF of this resource here.  

The home is probably the main place where friendships flower into the sharing of the good news, and where personal conversations about Christ are most likely to take place.

Personal conversation about life in general, and the most important issues in life in particular, is undoubtedly the best way to share the gospel, and any move towards emphasising friendship as the bridgehead for evangelism is very healthy!

But events as well as friendship can happen in the home. Here are some that I have found to be effective, but the home is such a flexible tool that all sorts of other ways of using it could readily be dreamed up.

The easiest thing is to have one or two people in for a meal, and look for a chance to share your faith. Another route is to throw a party. It might be a supper party. It could be for dessert. But it would be for friends and acquaintances. You might well choose to organise it in partnership with one or two other friends or couples, and this would widen the range of those invited. It is important to be very open about the purpose of such a party; nobody must there on false pretences. But if you have, for example, a judge speak on the ultimate basis for law, or a Christian politician to speak on politics and the gospel of Christ, or a leading businessman on ‘My God and my job’, or an ex-convict on the difference Christ has made to him and his family - people will be interested. They will want to come, and you will get a high response to your invitation. The rest depends on prayer, a welcoming atmosphere, a clear address, and the opportunity for people who have been struck by the evening to take the matter further in personal conversation. Often a small bookstall is appreciated as well, with carefully chosen books designed to help people to faith.

Another way to use the home is to have an investigative Bible study there on a regular basis. Publishers like IVP and Navpress produce particularly good material for interesting friends and neighbours in this sort of thing. I know of a whole church in Canada which was founded through this method. A few Christian friends visited on a new estate, and said they were going to hold an investigation into the basis of Christianity. They invited their neighbours to come along and look into the Gospel of Mark with them, the earliest of the Gospels. The result astonished them. Many people wanted to come. The course was much enjoyed. The longer-term result was the founding of a church. And further still down the track it has now founded two other churches, one with several hundred members. Not bad for one home Bible study!

Another way to use the home is to mark some particular crisis or discovery. I think of a crisis where a man's only son had been killed in a farm accident just before he was due to go up to university. The parents - and the son, too, for that matter - were Christians. And the father decided to mark the tragic event by inviting all his dead son's friends (seventy of them!) to the house for a reception. He asked me to speak on this occasion, and he gave each person a copy of a little book I had written about the resurrection of Jesus and what it can mean for us. It was a very moving and very fruitful evening, and a wonderful use of the home in a time of great adversity.

I think of another couple who threw open their home to celebrate. They wanted to express their joy at welcoming Christ into their lives! It had been a slow business, talking, arguing, reading the Bible for a number of weeks in their front room. But they reached the point of clarity about Christ and immediately wanted to share that joy with their friends, none of whom were Christians. So they invited a housefull, and in the context of the wonderful supper they produced, I spoke of Jesus' parable of the great supper and the many excuses offered for non-attendance (Luke 14:15-24).

Another way of using the home is to have an enquirer's group meeting there. It needs someone with a fairly good knowledge of the Christian faith, and of the reasons for believing in its truth, to lead it. It is best not to have more than one, or at the most two, Christians present, and to dare others to join this Agnostics Anonymous group for, say, six weeks. All sorts of people who have some links with the church, usually through a personal friend or relative, can be drawn into such a group. For one thing, they think they can shoot you out of the water. For another, they are emboldened by the company of other agnostics. The very name sounds good. Offer some food and a warm and friendly atmosphere, and then you can handle it in a variety of ways. You could perhaps feature a series of crucial subjects, ranging from the existence of God through the meaning of the cross, suffering, other faiths, and the resurrection, to Christian commitment. You could study some key passages from a hard-hitting and controversial Gospel like John. Or you could ask them what they do not believe about the Christian faith, and work out your group agenda from there. This is a good idea, for you will find that they all tend to have different blockages, and their arguments will tend to cancel one another out! It is a short step, but a humbling one, to move from one of these Agnostic Groups to a Discovery Group. But many make the transition. It is a very effective use of the home for evangelism.

Many of these smaller meetings happen during a mission. Local Christians invite friends or colleagues to meet team members, to hear about the mission and the Christian faith. These meetings are hosted by the local Christians, but usually the main input is given by team members, who work closely with their hosts.  This ‘home meeting’ format can also take place in a workplace or in a restaurant as well as in a home. It may be for a group of neighbours, work colleagues, or a specialist group.

These smaller meetings constitute the main part of a mission programme. They enable team members to meet with people in a context where it is easier to talk one-to-one about the Christian faith.

What happens at a home meeting?

These meetings can take place over breakfast, coffee, lunch, supper, a BBQ, in a sauna - i.e. anywhere and anytime! After people have been served whatever food or drink is being offered, the host will usually welcome them, announce the shape of the meeting, and then hand over to the team. One of them will then speak on the relevance of Jesus Christ; discussion will follow, and the meeting be drawn to an end by the stated finishing time. The whole thing needs to be informal, relaxed and Christ-centred.

The host's responsibilities

a. To pray and decide what sort of meeting is appropriate.

b. To make it clear to guests that this is a gathering where the Christian faith will be discussed.

c. To select the place, and the time of day, to suit those invited.

d. To organise all the practical details (layout of room, food and drink).

e. To communicate to the mission organisers as much information as possible about the meeting, particularly the numbers and sort of people.

f. To work closely with team members.

g. To pray for the meeting itself.

h. To be involved in the follow-up of their guests.

The role of the team members

Contacting the hosts

Once the programme has been allocated, it is the responsibility of team members to contact the host, if possible forty-eight hours ahead of the event. This enables the host to get to know them, as well as to co-ordinate plans for the meeting.

a. Introduce yourselves to your hosts. This may need to happen over the phone if time does not permit a visit. Give them confidence. They may be Christians, or church-people, or completely outside the church. Don't expect them to know how to run such a gathering. They will look to you.

b. Find out as much as you can about those who have been invited.

c. Agree with the hosts the specific aim of the meeting. Some meetings will be much more pre-evangelistic (i.e. raising questions, and inviting on to other mission events), while others will be directly evangelistic.

d. Decide whether the refreshments should precede or follow the meeting. It may be best to have something both on arrival, to help people relax, and afterwards, to encourage personal conversations around the room. Stress that nothing elaborate is needed, just simple food.

e. Discover the layout of the room where the meeting will be held. Try to avoid the hosts setting out rows of chairs beforehand.

f. Hosts are not always sure about who is actually coming, even if they have received firm acceptances. Reassure them. Encourage them to call their friends or neighbours. Most important, keep them praying.

Preparing to lead the meeting

This can feel daunting, especially the first time. However the team will work in pairs, one of whom will have had some experience.

a. Meet up with your partner, as you may not know each other. Introduce yourselves, and briefly share your story. Pray together for each other and for the meeting.

b. Find out from each other your strengths and weaknesses; for instance one might be good at guiding a discussion, rather than giving a formal ‘talk’.

c. Decide which of you will open the meeting, give the testimony, do the talk; how the meeting should end, who will bring the bookstall. Be clear on transport, and arrange if possible to meet up to pray with the hosts before people arrive.

d. Go armed with the outlines of two short talks: one for a mixed group, consisting of believers and others; another in case all the guests turn out to be Christians.  In this case, something to encourage them and show them ways in which they could reach out would be valuable. Remember that you can always discard what you have, but it is hard to do a succinct off-the-cuff presentation.

Suggestions for topics and format

On the basis of the information received from the hosts (and sometimes it is very limited), prayerfully decide on what you think would be appropriate in the meeting. You could:

Use a short talk (10 mins maximum), as a discussion starter. This can help people to relax, and at the same time thrill them with the person of Jesus, prompt questions and initiate conversation. You could deal with:

a. One of the mission titles

b. What is so special about Jesus?

c. What's wrong with the world?

d. What is a Christian?

e. Why bother?

Try to start from questions which people are really asking, and move from there into the relevance of the gospel to those questions.

Use testimony - from each of yourselves, your hosts and perhaps others in the meeting. It may be that your hosts take more of a lead, introducing their own ‘stories’, and then asking their friends to say where they stand, with the team members coming last. One of them can then give a succinct challenge to faith.

Use a book that you know, and think will help to answer questions people are asking. Have some copies available; you might use some thoughts from a chapter to start a discussion.

Use a video - if you know, or your hosts know, of a short arresting presentation which would start a discussion.

As suggested above, always go prepared with two talks - one for those who do not yet know the Lord, and one for Christians. Don't be downcast if nobody but Christians are present. This can often happen. What do you do? One possibility is to go through what Christianity is not — not creeds, conduct, ceremonies, churchgoing (though it embraces all four) - and then show what it is: Jesus Christ himself, and a vital relationship with him. Then you could ask around the room what Jesus means to each person. It should warm the hearts of those present, and it should not be difficult to encourage them afresh to reach out to others with the good news of Jesus. You may well find among them those who know about Christianity, but do not know Christ. They need to be encouraged to open up their lives to him and to join a Discovery Group after the mission.

Alternatively, you could develop the headings for two brief talks: one of encouragement (such as the growth of the faith in Corinth from one man to a lively church, Acts 18:1-11), and one of challenge (such as the differences which happen to people when the Holy Spirit is welcomed among them, e.g. Acts 2:37-47). Choose which to use. Then get discussion going. Trust God to make you a blessing, even if it is only the hosts of the home meeting that are present. Time spent in encouraging or challenging dispirited church people is never wasted. Gently turn their orientation outward. It is sometimes most rewarding to discuss with them how they might share their faith at work. And if only Christians are present, why not encourage them to pray out loud? This could be the opportunity for some to ‘break the sound barrier’.

Leading the meeting

a. Arrive ahead of time to pray with the host. Perhaps not many people are expected, and it may even be appropriate to go out and invite the neighbours yourselves. Try to chat, however briefly, with each guest as they come through the door, so that you do not come over as an invasion from Mars!

b. Come with a bookstall; arrange that and other mission materials on a small, obvious table. Work out where you will stand, or sit. You need to be able to have eye contact with everyone.

c. Encourage the host to introduce you both, and to indicate when the meeting will end.

d. Be at ease, full of the Holy Spirit. Then you will put others at ease. Have your team member pray for you constantly as you speak, and vice versa. Expect God to work. A little humour at the outset works wonders if it is natural.

e. Treat spiritual things as the most natural in the world. Be prepared to move easily from natural to spiritual things and vice versa.

f. Use the Bible naturally, without apology or explanation, as the sourcebook for Christianity, and use your own experience as ‘icing on the biblical cake’.

g. Your talk should be seen as a discussion-starter. Do not go on for more than ten minutes. You want to see where they are, and that will emerge through the discussion. Your opening needs to be arresting.

Hints on working in small groups

a. No two groups are the same. The same ‘formula’ will not necessarily succeed because it worked with a previous group. Team members must quickly try to get a ‘feel’ of the group and continue to be sensitive to its character.

b. People will attend the meeting for a variety of reasons, and many of the guests will be nervous and apprehensive. Team members should try to put them at ease. This will enable more people to contribute in sharing or discussion.

c. Team members should identify the main characters in the group (i.e. the dominant, the talkative, the humorist, the deviant, the angry, the confused, the silent, the co-operative), and act accordingly. Remember that most will bring with them some burden of soul or body, however well disguised.

d. Do not make quick decisions about people - you could be terribly wrong.

e. Do not get into an argument or allow others to do so. There is a great difference between unprofitable argument and lively discussion. Relationships with the people is more important than winning the point at issue. You may well allow several unprofitable issues to pass you by until you find one which will open up profitable discussion.

The discussion

a. Try not to dominate the discussion, but be ready to change direction if needed.

b. If possible, use your colleague, who has not done the talk, to steer the discussion; but work very much together.

c. Do not be embarrassed to answer questions from Scripture. It is powerful, and carries its own ring of truth.

d. Avoid the situation where all the remarks are directed exclusively to team members. Open it up for others to contribute. Do not let one person dominate the meeting, or allow the discussion to wander into irrelevance.

e. Never try to impress: ask yourself, ‘What answer would be most helpful for the state where the questioner is right now?’

f. Keep in touch with the Spirit. Expect the unexpected. Keep the discussion on Jesus.

g. At some point the way of salvation will almost certainly need to be covered in simple, well-illustrated and non-theological language.

Closing a meeting

a. Close by the pre-announced time. If discussion is still going on, then it can continue as some leave and more coffee is brought in.

b. A closing prayer may be inappropriate, but that depends on how the meeting has gone. For some it could be the time of decision. Have a simple prayer prepared, and encourage people, if they feel they are ready, to repeat it silently after you.

c. A useful way of concluding might be to say, ‘We want to be of help to you and to encourage you in every way possible. Before we leave today I'm going to pass round these blank cards and pencils, because we'd like to know what you thought of what we had to say.’ Get these items passed round. Ask for three things to be put on the card: ‘Please write 1) your name, 2) a comment on what you thought about what we had to say, and 3) if you have opened up your life to Christ, just put a tick in the top right-hand corner. We would like to give you some material that will be of help in developing that relationship with Christ, and invite you to join a Discovery Group.’ Not everyone will fill in such a card, and no pressure must be exerted, but some will. Collect the cards, and afterwards go through them with the hosts.

d. Personally invite all the group to another mission meeting, and have information ready to hand out about dates, times and places.

e. Use literature to sell, give, or lend as appropriate.

Afterwards

a. Circulate. You may well have noticed that some of the group have been touched by what has been said. Try to make sure everyone has a personal word. Team members should take the initiative in approaching people. Such conversations after the meeting are usually the most profitable of all.

b. Offer to pray with people about their situation then and there, as you sit or stand.

c. It may be appropriate to arrange another house meeting later on in the week for further discussion. Sometimes a guest who has been intrigued by this meeting will offer to invite a group of friends round for a similar evening.

d. After the guests have gone, assess with the hosts how the evening went. Go through the response cards. Pray together. Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the meeting. Learn from it. Encourage the hosts in following through with their friends in the next day or two.

e. If anyone has responded wanting a Discovery Group, remember to take the form with all the information to the next team meeting.

A word about other types of meetings

Specialist groups

It may be that you will be assigned to a grief support group, or a meeting with parents of handicapped children. Remember, you are not expected to be an expert on this subject. Team members will be allocated on the basis that one of you will have had some experience in the area. The aim is to draw alongside, to be understanding, and all the time to show people how Jesus Christ is applicable to their situation — however hopeless they may think it to be.

Restaurant meetings

If your meeting is held in a restaurant, plan the seating arrangements with your hosts, where the team members should sit, who is paying for the meal, how it will be ordered, and at what time in the meal the team members should give some input. Try not to get stuck in conversation with those on your left and right. At the end of the meal, leave your seats and be available for personal conversation.

Summary: Hosting a House Meeting

(These notes are intended for those considering hosting a meeting in their home.)

What actually is a house meeting?

During a mission a house meeting provides the main means of reaching people who would not otherwise come near a church. It is the name given to a gathering of people in someone's home to hear more about the Christian faith. It is not a formal supper party - though food may be included. It does not need best china, nor does it mean that the house has to be clean, tidy and especially neat. It does not mean that you need a big house, or a big room, or that you need elegant furniture - it is informal. The team will provide the main input.

What happens at a house meeting?

After people have arrived and been served with refreshments, get everyone seated, with the team members clearly visible and audible. 

Then welcome everyone who has turned up, and introduce the team members, who will take over at that point, usually giving a short thought-provoking talk, interspersed with testimony and questions. The meeting is then brought to a close, and personal conversation goes on throughout the room.

What if I am a member of a small Bible study group, fellowship group or prayer group?

Good news if so, because for the purposes of this mission week the group can be split in half, so that you can make enough room for each member to invite a non-Christian friend. It is a good idea if you can get the half of the group that is not meeting first to pray for the other half, and vice versa.

How do I go about setting up a house meeting?

a. Pray. If you are able to run a house meeting with another member of your household (or with a friend), then get together to pray about it. Pray about what you should do, whom you might invite, what sort of meeting you will run. Prayer triplets could be set up now, specifically to pray for those you could invite.

b. Plan. Whose home will the meeting be in? What sort of meeting will it be? What time would suit people best? Nearer the time, these questions need to be sorted out.

c. Invite. Your aim is to invite non-Christian friends, acquaintances from the neighbourhood and/or from work, social contacts, children's friends' parents, etc. It may well be right to include some people from other churches who may or may not be committed to Christ.

How should I go about inviting people?

Whether you ask people face to face, by phone or by written request, be natural when you issue the invitation, and make it clear what you are inviting people to (e.g. ‘To a talk by a member of our team on…’ or ‘To a short talk on… by…,with an opportunity for questions and discussion’). Experience has shown that you need to aim for a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reply to the invitation, rather than an ‘I might’.

What about contact with members of the team?

The team will be involved in many of these meetings. Once the details of the house meeting date, time and place have been given to the church representative and they have confirmed that it is on the programme, then rest assured that members of the team will be assigned to you.

Normally two members of the team will come to your home, though it may be that you are more than willing and able to co-lead the meeting with a team member, thus enabling more house meetings to take place.

One of the team members will be in contact a day or two before the meeting, to introduce themselves. Together you can finalise the exact order of what is happening, when the refreshments are to be served, etc. Allow time before the meeting starts to pray with your team members.

What about the day itself?

a. Follow up your invitations by phone a day or so before the meeting is due to take place.

b. Be clear beforehand about the seating arrangements (not rows of chairs, please!), and allow time and space for people to mix as they arrive and to meet the team members.

c. Be clear who will be serving the refreshments, and when.

d. Have a small table for the bookstall that the team members will bring.

e. Pray before, during and after the meeting.

f. Avoid Christian jargon at all times.

g. End the meeting in a natural way, inviting people to stay on for coffee and to deal with any unanswered questions.

What about follow-up?

It is the hosts' responsibility to follow-up those who attend the house meeting. It is therefore very important that the hosts think about what events or groups they can invite people to after the meeting. Aim to get everyone who came to your house meeting to go to another event, a church service, or a Discovery Group.

The team will have brought with them a small bookstall in case people would like to buy booklets or books. You may want to provide a small number of books you could lend yourself. Make a note of the borrowers, and follow them up later, when the book is returned.

The team may hand out blank response cards for people to jot down what they thought of the evening. That will be talked through with you. The information on these cards can help you to carry out follow-up work.

Michael Green.

© Michael Green 2013.

Training Others to Lead People to Christ

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green.

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

We are all called to be spiritual midwives!  It is to be hoped that the time will come, in our conversation with a friend, when we can actually help him or her over the border into faith in Christ. We have the immense privilege, sometimes, of being midwives at a spiritual birth.

Every physical birth is special; each one is a thing of surpassing wonder. And when you put it like that, it is easy to see two contrasting errors to which you could fall prey. One would be to treat all births alike, with professional competence, but miss the individual needs and be blinded to the glory of it all. That way is sad, and potentially disastrous, especially if there are any complications in the birth; and spiritually there usually are! The other mistake would be to be called upon to act the midwife and yet not have the slightest clue what to do!

Some ministers are like that with spiritual births. It is not an enviable position to be in. Somehow, therefore, we need to have the flexibility of Jesus or Philip on the one hand, and also to have some idea in our minds of how to bring a person from unbelief to faith. We must not offer people a hard-line, tightly-packaged, programme: but we must not be like the fisherman who was asked by his wife on his return home, ‘How many did you catch?’ and had to reply, ‘None, actually. But I influenced a good many.’

What follows must therefore not be taken for a technique. We are not manipulators but introducers. And we have reached the point in conversation when our friend genuinely wants to start a relationship with Christ. How can we help him to begin?

I generally have the first four letters of the alphabet at the back of my mind at this point. However flexibly I approach it, however often I am diverted by his questions or concerns, there are four things that seem essential if he is to come to know Christ. There is something to admit: his falling short, and its consequences. There is something to believe: that God in Christ has done everything for his restoration. There is something to consider: what it will all cost to be a disciple. And there is something to do: reach out in faith and personally appropriate the proffered gift.

There is something to admit

Our friend needs to be brought to appreciate that he has the ‘human disease’ of sin. It consists in breaking God's law, coming short of his standards, and rejecting his love and authority over us (1 John 3:4; James 4:17; John 3:18). The results of this disease are very serious. We are estranged from God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Eph 2:1), and we are enslaved to self-centredness (John 8:34; Titus 3:3). The disease is fatal, if it is not dealt with (Rom 6:23). In order to begin a living relationship with Christ, our friend needs to admit the truth of this biblical diagnosis of the basic problem in his life. He needs to recognise that he is in the wrong with God, and to be willing for changes to be made. Nothing he can do will be able to remedy this bad situation. Even if he could live a perfect life from today onwards, that would still leave unrelieved the guilt of the past. As the epistle to the Romans laconically observes, ‘None is righteous, no, not one’ (Romans 3:10). And a God who is holy and just cannot overlook such a thing. He cannot have defilement in his holy presence. It stands to reason. 

There is something to believe 

The contents of belief are not necessarily large, though they are demanding. It is not possible to be a Christian, surely, unless you recognise who ‘Christ’ is. He is no less than God come to our rescue. The earliest baptismal confession was ‘Jesus is Lord’. That says it all, really; it is proclaiming that Jesus (and the word means  ‘God to the rescue’) is exalted as Lord over all. The one who became incarnate for us, died on the cross for us, is alive for ever through the resurrection, and calls for our allegiance. We need to take time to show our friend that Jesus came to deal with the fact of human sin. He died on the cross to atone for the guilt of human sin. And he rose from the dead in order to be able to break the power of sin.

You will need to spend time explaining the cross. Few people understand the heart of it. Not surprising, for it is the ultimate mystery! But it is certainly not just an example of how much God loves us. It is certainly not a good man coming to a sticky end. It is certainly not a martyr stoically enduring his fate. It is God himself dealing with our sins by taking the weight of them on his own shoulders. Verses from the Bible like Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 21; Galatians 3:10, 13; Mark 10:45 all help to show some sides of the mystery. I find it almost incredible that God should love people like us enough to come among us and stoop to the most horrible death that could ever be designed by the brutality of man.  More, that he should allow the world's evil to be poured out in vile concentration on his sinless head. But he did. And that is why it is Good Friday for us, terrible though it was for him. That is why we can cry with confident exultation, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

But one of the verses I find most helpful in taking people to the heart of what Christ did for them on the cross is 1 Peter 3:18: ‘Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.’ Immensely simple, and extremely clear. The sufferer on that cross was none other than the Christ for whom the world had been waiting since the Garden of Eden. It was the supreme rescuer who ended up in naked agony on that terrible tree. Why was he there? ‘For sins’. He, the just one, took the place which should rightly have fallen to us, the unjust, if we really got our deserts from a holy God. And why was it needed? ‘To bring us to God’. Had there been any lesser way, we can be sure he would have taken it. But there was no lesser way. There on the cross, he did all that was necessary to bring us back to the one we so earnestly desire to keep away from. And it happened ‘once’. The Greek word does not mean ‘once upon a time’, but ‘once and for all’. The job has been done. The rescue is complete. Christ's death can clean up the sheet of our past, guilty life. Christ's resurrection can release in our lives the power to effect radical change. The risen one offers to come and take up residence in our lives, so as to release in us the power of his resurrection (Romans 5:10; 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 4:13). He will progressively break down that bondage to self-will which spoils us, and set us free to be sons and daughters in his family (John 8:36). That is what we are asked to believe. Not many things, but things of vast significance!

There is something to consider 

That is, the cost of discipleship. The entrance to the Christian life is free, but the annual subscription is everything we possess. Jesus is not merely Saviour, he is Lord. And we shall save ourselves and our friend a lot of trouble later on if we make very plain at the outset that it will be a costly thing to follow Christ. Jesus laid it on the line very clearly in Luke 14:25-35, immediately after emphasising in the parable of the great supper that the Kingdom is gloriously free for all comers. He asked the crowds to consider whether they were prepared to face obedience to himself, even before family and self. Were they ready for a lifetime of commitment? Were they willing to be opposed, and to cope with being a minority movement? Dare they be salt in society? Such were some of the elements in the cost of discipleship which Jesus stressed.

Of course, all this lies in the future. Your friend cannot at the moment of commitment have any realistic idea of what it will cost him, any more than the bridal couple have any idea of what it will cost them to be pledged to one another for better for worse, for richer for poorer. But there needs to be that willingness in principle to put the other first, come wind, come weather. And it is like that with Christian commitment. Jesus himself put it very sharply in Matthew 6:24: ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (the Carthaginian god of wealth). It is costly to be a Christian. We must not disguise the fact. But it is also costly to reject him, very costly indeed. It is interesting that despite the cost of mutual commitment for life, most married couples do not regard it as prohibitive!

I often summarise it in three questions: Are you willing to let Christ clean up the wrong things in your life? Are you willing to put him in the No 1 slot? And are you willing to be known as a Christian and join the Christian community? That is about as far ahead as they will be able to see, for the present.

There is something to do

Your friend needs to receive the gift which is Jesus Christ. All God's other gifts are wrapped up in him (Ephesians 1:3). There are many metaphors in the New Testament for the way in which we in our weakness and Christ in his love and power get together. We ‘believe in Christ’ (John 3:16), enter ‘into Christ’ (Ephesians 2:12-13), accept the juridical verdict of ‘acquitted’ (Romans 8:1), `receive adoption' (Galatians 4:5), ‘find access’ (Ephesians 2:18), ‘come to Christ’ (John 6:37).

I often find it a help at this stage of the discussion to begin with John 3:16; stressing as it does God's great love, man's real need, and the importance of a step of belief. It has the advantage of being probably the best-known verse in the Bible. My friend may well think he does ‘believe’, so I take him back a page to John 1:12, to show what ‘believing’ in biblical terminology means. It is tantamount to ‘receiving’. He may believe about Jesus in his head, but never have received him into his life. His faith in Jesus is intellectual but not volitional. He has assent but not affiance.

It is worth making this very plain to him. Hold out a banknote to him and say, ‘Do you believe this is for you?’ He will smile, and say ‘Yes’ — without making any move. You reply, ‘Then you don't believe at all!’ — and withdraw the note! In a short time he will see the point: real believing means receiving. It is when he reaches out and takes the note that it really becomes his. That is just what he needs to do about God's divine gift, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And before I move on, I use verse 13 of John 1 to show how you donot get into the family and become a child of God. It is ‘not of blood’ that you are born into this family — it never comes automatically with parentage or nationality. It is `not of the will of the flesh' — no amount of effort, hairshirts, trying hard, and religious observances can make you a child of God. It is ‘not of the will of man’ either. Nobody else can do it for you — no parent, no priest. It is ‘of God’. He alone adopts us into his family alongside his one and only Son Jesus Christ. And he does it for those who ‘receive’ Jesus. But how can that be done?

Revelation 3:20 is a verse that has led millions to faith. The imagery is so basic and so clear. It forms part of a communication from the risen Christ through his servant John to the church at Laodicea. That church is very formal. The members congratulate themselves, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing’. But they do not realise that they are ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’. Christ offers to meet them in their need, with ‘gold… that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see’. But as things stand, Christ is the excluded party. They represent that paradox — a church which has everything except Christ. He tells them that they need to make haste and repent, and then to receive him into their lives as they would receive a visitor into their city or their home. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev 3:20). Jesus is the one who can give life and reality to this churchly but spiritually dead community. And he stands outside, knocking. His hand is scarred. He died for them. He lives to make a difference to them, if only they will let him in. It is up to them.

This imagery is superb and wonderfully clear. Your friend will get the point at once. He will see that he too has left Christ out of his life. He may well know about him, believe about him, but he has never ‘received’ him. He has never let him come in. And the marvel of this illustration is that it is more than an illustration. For when a person opens up to Christ, then his unseen but real Spirit does come in. The image is not only pictorial but ontological. Something happens. The person is not the same as before. The Spirit of Christ has come in.

Some people object to the use of this verse because it is written to a church and therefore cannot illuminate initial commitment. I beg to differ. The whole point about this church is that it was a Christless church. The Saviour was excluded by their insane self-satisfaction. They were very much in the place of the non-committed, although they went to church. The religious and the pagan are precisely on the same level if they have not ‘received’ or ‘believed in’ Jesus. In a word, if they have not asked him into their lives.

So it is not difficult to point out to your friend that he can think of the house, in the imagery of Revelation 3:20, as his life. The Lord who made the house, the Lord who bought it back when it had been wrenched wilfully from his ownership, stands knocking for admission. He is willing to enter and cleanse the house. He wants his light to shine out from its window. But he will not act without the agreement of the tenant. The promise is unconditional, ‘I will come in’. The offer is universal, ‘If anyone opens the door’. Christ will not force himself upon us. He will not enter by his Spirit until and unless he is invited. When he is, that brings a person into the family of God (John 1:12). He must decide what to do with the Saviour who stands at the door and knocks. Shall he ask him in? Or not? To respond to him is urgent (Hebrews 3:7-8). It is indispensable (1 John 5:12; Acts 4:12). It is unrepeatable (Hebrews 10:14). ‘Receiving Christ’ or ‘commitment to Christ’ is, like marriage, instantaneous, though there is much that lies behind and precedes it, and a lifelong adjustment that follows. Your friend needs to see that clearly.

Commitment Anxieties and Problems

When lovingly confronted with the powerful challenge of the gospel, your friend is likely to make one of three responses.

He may say ‘Yes’, and if so it will be your privilege to help him into the new life with Christ, beginning then and there. We will look at that at the end of this feature. 

But he may very well say ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. If so, he is likely to need help on one of three ‘Rs’.

He may be implying a ‘No’ to repentance. Maybe he thinks he is all right as he is. I have found that to go through the Ten Commandments or the standards of the Sermon on the Mount with a person in that situation is very valuable. Both are powerful at humbling the proud. Other verses of Scripture that you might like to work through with him may include Jeremiah 17:9; Luke 13:3; Matthew 7:21-3; Romans 3:10-20. It is very important to remember that commitment without repentance soon melts away. Remember too that you are not seeking to arouse guilt over petty sins: you are wanting to encourage ‘repentance to God’ as Paul puts it (Acts 20:21). Our whole life has been centred on self, and God is calling us to centre it on him. That is what is called for in repentance.

He may, of course, evidence no realisation. He may never have understood what Christ did for him on the cross. How could that death so long ago affect him personally? Show him that the offering of the infinite Christ more than covers all the finite number of sinners that the world could ever hold (Hebrews 10:11-14; 1 John 2:2). Maybe he still thinks he can earn salvation by church-going or a good life (but see Ephesians 2:8-9). So long as we are proud of ourselves and our achievements, we cannot give glory to God: but that is what the redeemed delight to do for all eternity (Revelation 4:9-10; 5:12-14). It is the same old problem of the primal sin, the number one thing that God hates, pride. That is his problem, and ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5). Maybe he has never realised that the full power of Christ's resurrection is available in his own life? In that case, you could well use personal testimony, the resurrection material in the Gospels and the epistles, and verses such as Revelation 1:17-18 and 2 Timothy 1:12.

But perhaps his ‘No’ is to receiving. He is not yet ready to receive Christ. Maybe he confuses it with intellectual agreement (but see James 2:19), emotional experience (but see Luke 11:13), sacramental initiation (see Romans 2:28; Acts 8:15-16; 1 Cor 10:1-5), or suddenness (see Romans 8:1 - what matters is not the date of his birth but whether or not he is alive).

I have often found that the person who is not yet ready to respond to Christ may be helped in one of the following ways. You could say, ‘Fine. You don't feel ready yet. I fully respect that. What do you think is standing in your way? If we can sort that out to your satisfaction, would you then be ready to open your life to Christ?’ Another person might respond better to something like this. ‘Right, you feel you need more time? Great, if you want to give the matter more reflection. But not so good if you want to postpone doing anything about it! Isaiah 55:6-7 has something important to say about that. Why not continue to think it over, and then let's meet for a meal in a couple of days to take it from there?’ This respects the person's request for more time, but does not allow him to slip gently back off the hook!

If you sense that the ‘Not yet’ response is really ducking out of surrendering to Christ, but not exactly liking to admit it, a rather tougher approach might be warranted. ‘You want to put it off? What would you say if someone for whom you had risked your life simply did not want to meet you? Would you not think it desperately ungrateful? I wonder how Christ feels? He did not risk his life for you. He gave it. In any case, it is foolish to keep him at arm's length. He wants to enrich your life, not to rob you.’ I have, on occasion, used each of those responses effectively with people, but it is crucial to be very sensitive to the unspoken things that are going on under the surface, and to pray constantly for the wisdom of Solomon as you handle someone at a very critical juncture in their spiritual life.

Of course, your friend may be different, and fall under none of those categories. He may, for instance, come from a Catholic background. It is best not to get involved in discussing doctrinal niceties at this point; rather to stress the areas that may have been obscured by his background. His faith may be more in the Virgin than in the Saviour. He may be weak on grace, and under the impression that if he goes to Mass all will necessarily be well. He may be weak, as many Catholics are, on God's assurance of our salvation — in which case take him to the promises of God, Romans 5:1,8 and 8:1 being no bad place to start.

He may actually be a Christian, but very unsure of it. If so, go for the promises, like John 6:37, Revelation 3:20 and Ephesians 2:8. Point to the cross (Hebrews 10:10-14): bills do not require to be paid twice. And look with him for the signs of the new life. He is meant to know where he stands (1 John 5:13) and not to wallow in uncertainty throughout his life. Actually, the marks of new life as outlined in John's first letter are well worth going through. There will gradually emerge in the child of God a new sense of pardon, a new desire to please God, a new attitude to other people, a new love for other Christians, a new power over evil, a new joy and confidence, and a new experience of answered prayer (1 John 2:1-2; 2:4, 6; 3:10; 3:14, 16; 4:4; 1:3-4; 4:16-19; 5:14-15). He is meant not just to feel, or hope, but to know he belongs.

He may have been ‘hit’ by the Spirit of God. It is fascinating to meet people who have had a major spiritual experience totally independent of any human agency. Acts 10:44 is a classic New Testament example. The Spirit does not need our co-operation, though he often graciously uses it. He is well able to do his own work in his own way (1 John 2:27). We need to help someone in a position like this to see that any spiritual gift given him at a time like that is intended to be used for the common good, humbly and in love. The emotional ‘high’ will pass: the Spirit will remain. He needs to grasp that important distinction. If the person has been involved in the occult, he may well need a ministry of deliverance.

Of course, your friend may bring forward one or more of the classic difficulties or excuses. There is a fundamental difference between the two, though the presenting ‘symptoms’ may be identical. For one person the problem of pain may be an excuse to avoid facing up to Christ; whereas for another precisely the same problem may be an agonising reason for legitimate doubt — perhaps he saw his brother slowly die of a painful cancer. The difference between the two is this. If you dispose of a real difficulty, then the person will quite easily come to Christ: the barrier has been removed. But if you knock down an excuse, he will produce another excuse, and hope thereby to keep you at arm's length! So the genuine difficulty needs to be handled with sensitivity and care. It needs a lot of empathy, the loan of suitable literature, maybe the sharing of personal experience of your own. The excuse, on the other hand, needs to be shown up for the paltry thing it is.

Pray that you do not make a mistake in diagnosis here. If you treat a real difficulty as if it were an excuse, you will cause hurt; if you spend too much energy in answering a problem which is really only a smokescreen, you will only get more smoke puffed into your face. It is well worth spending time studying some of the more common difficulties and excuses. They do not vary a great deal. You will see some attempts to give answers to them in the following books: Cliff Knechtle, Give Me an Answer; R. C. Sproul, Objections Answered; Michael Green, You Must Be Joking!; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict; F. F. Bruce, The Real Jesus, and New Testament Documents; and James Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus.

Common excuses include the following. ‘I haven't time to take Christianity seriously’. The answer is, ‘Yes you have. In this respect all men are equal: we all have the same amount of time, and we make time for what we really prize’ (Isaiah 55:6; Galatians 6:7). Or he may come up with, ‘There are too many hypocrites in church’. Swallowing down the temptation to say, ‘Come along, and make one more’, I often prick that bubble by asking which hypocrites he knows in the congregation, and how does he know they are hypocrites? Romans 14:12 is a valuable corrective here.

Another excuse is, ‘I can be a Christian without going to church’. To this the answer is short: Jesus couldn't (Luke 4:16). But the whole attitude of minimalising (how much can I get away without doing?) is the very antithesis of someone who has been touched by the grace of God. Christianity is corporate.

Again, when you get to the point of challenging your friend to make a commitment, you may well find him saying, to your astonishment, ‘Well, I've always been a Christian’. When you investigate a little, you may find that he is identifying being a Christian with going to church (but see John 1:13; 2 Timothy 3:5), having been baptised (but see Romans 2:28; Acts 8:13, 21), or doing his best (but see James. 2:10; Matthew 22:37-9; Galatians 3:10). All these variations of ‘I'm already a Christian’ are normally excuses to hide the real reason for rebellion against God. That is what you will seek patiently and lovingly to unearth. Romans 1:18-32 is, of course, a devastating indictment of man in revolt.

Excuses such as these, and there are plenty more, generally spring from a mixture of pride and prejudice. They are helped by fashion, laziness, ignorance, fear and materialism. These factors help to confirm man in his rebellion. The amazing thing is that God should continue to offer pardon freely to those who are so unwilling to receive it (Romans 5:6-10).

But of course, some of the problems you will meet which inhibit commitment are not excuses at all. They are real difficulties. Here are a small selection.

Often a person will say, ‘I really am trying hard to be a Christian’. This is an offshoot of the Pelagianism which lies so deep within us. We always want to do, rather than to allow anything to be done for us. And the gospel is good news of what God has done for us. It is not ‘try’ but ‘trust’ which is at the heart of Christian living; not performance but relationship. A lot of the New Testament is devoted to making that plain. Verses such as Romans 4:3-5, Acts 16:31 and Isaiah 12:2 point it up.

‘But I don't understand it all’, some people say at this juncture. Of course they don't! How could mortal man take in what Almighty God has done to make him acceptable? ‘”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”, God has revealed to us through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). I do not need to understand electricity before availing myself of it!

‘I've tried it before and it is no good’, is something that may come up. It needs a sensitive and loving touch. What is the ‘it’ which he has tried? Is he confusing a deep turning to God with something less? Maybe he ‘went forward’ during a big meeting, but it never made any lasting difference? That could have been because his emotions were stirred but his will was untouched. Or it could be because there was no subsequent nurture. Maybe he really did entrust himself to Christ, but never grew, and so has gradually become indistinguishable from those who never began. Maybe he has never got involved in the Christian community, and has shrivelled as a result. Maybe he has never understood the power of the Spirit in one's life to break the grip of sinful habits. Maybe the chill winds of personal doubt and the scepticism of others have withered the tiny shoot of faith.

You will need to exercise great care with such a person. Show that ‘If we are faithless, [God] remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). Show him that his state does not depend on his feelings, but on the dependability of God, who has given us his word that ‘He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life’ (1 John 5:12). Has he or has he not welcomed the Son of God into the partnership of his life? If he has, however long ago and however feebly done, Christ has come in; and he can know that because of the Lord's promises. Feed him on the promises of God. Let him learn some of them with you. They will prove invaluable in the early days of definite discipleship. If, as he looks at his life, he concludes that he has never really begun the life of repentance and faith in earnest, then lead him to it, as you would anyone else.

‘I could never keep it up’, your friend may say. That is a noble sentiment. It shows he wants to keep it up, but is doubtful about his ability. He needs to be shown that Christ will keep him up (1 Peter 1:5; John 10:28-9; Jude 24). Once again he needs to learn the unfamiliar but utterly necessary path of faith. It is Christ's job to keep me. It is my job to trust him to do so.

Often you will get down to the bottom line, and he will admit to you that he is scared. That is a difficulty nearly everybody faces. Scared that nothing might happen? In that case, take him again to the Saviour's promise, ‘I will come in!’ He will not, he cannot break his word. Scared that he will be letting himself in for a miserable, narrow time? Far from it. In his presence ‘there is fullness of joy’ and at his right hand ‘are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalms 16:11). Scared of being in a minority? Sure, but one plus Christ is always a majority. And since when has the majority always been right? Scared of what his friends will say? That is usually the problem. And it is very real. Show him that any friends who are worth their salt will not desert him. Show him that he is not called to drop anyone — simply to be among them as before, but with Jesus just beneath the surface of his life. Show him that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that he is about to welcome perfect love into his life.

Commitment 

The time has come when things seem pretty clear, and the flow of questions and anxieties has dried up a bit. Ask your friend gently, ‘Do you think you are ready to say “yes” to the Lord now?’, or ‘Is there anything that is still keeping you back from him?’ If he can't think of anything, say, ‘Right, then let's kneel down right away and ask him to come into your life’ (or whatever analogy you are using). Alternatively, you can ask him if he would prefer to make that solemn act of commitment on his own, maybe by his bedside, and tell you when he has done so; or whether he would like your help and presence at this important time.

Mostly he will opt for your help (though respect his wishes if he prefers to go the other route). If so, sit or kneel together. Pray for him that he may be truly brought into the family of God. Then encourage him to pray for himself, admitting his sins and asking Christ's Spirit to come into his life. I have already suggested that you use some promise such as John 1:12, 3:16, or Revelation 3:20, and get him to claim it.

It is no better if he prays out loud rather than silently, of course, but many Christians do, and he might as well start as he means to go on. I have found that people who make their initial commitment to Christ out loud never have any problems in the future about joining in extempore verbal prayer. In any case, to pray out loud will help him in precision; it will break the sound barrier, and it will show him that he is well able to pray to God in his own words without necessarily depending on some book of prayers. It will also help you to be aware of what is going on in his heart. If he says, ‘I can't pray aloud’, I sometimes say, ‘Then pray silently, and give me a prod when you have taken the step of opening up to Christ’. Soon, a hand prods me! Alternatively, I may say, if I sense that it will really help him to pray aloud but that some blockage is in the way, ‘May I pray that God will open your lips? Why not join me?’ Then I pray for him, and almost always he will burst into verbal prayer, released by God's gracious Spirit from whatever was holding him back.

It is a great privilege to be alongside as these broken, sometimes sobbing words of commitment come flooding out. I often find myself weeping in empathy, and it does not one whit of harm! Then I pray for my friend, that the Holy Spirit will baptise him deeply into Christ, fill him with spiritual gifts and never leave him.

It is a very moving time. There are often tears and laughter. It is important that in the sheer joy of the moment we do not omit vital things which require to be attended to. I turn to him and ask, ‘Has he come in?’ Mostly they know the answer without a shadow of doubt. But not always. In that case I take them back again to the promise of Christ. ‘It says, “If anyone opens the door I will come in”. Did you open the door?’ ‘Well, yes, as best I know how’. ‘Then what has he done?’ ‘Oh, I see, he has come in, even though I don't feel very different’. ‘Exactly,’ I say. ‘And be thankful for this first of many lessons that you will get in your Christian life, that you live and grow by trusting the promises and faithfulness of the Lord, and not your own volatile feelings’. I then do with him what I do with the person who is already happily sure: I get him to thank the Lord for coming in. ‘Dear Lord, thank you for coming into my life. Thank you for your promise never to leave me. Help me to be true to you all my days.’ A prayer like that, trusting Christ's promise, standing upon it and thanking him for it, is a valuable lesson of trust at the very outset of his Christian walk, and it teaches him to look to the Lord in gratitude and praise, and not only to come to him with requests.

After that, I normally give him a tract or booklet like Come, Follow Me, summarising the step he has taken, along with one verse of Scripture to take away with him. It might be John 6:37, Matthew 28:20 or 1 John 5:12. The last one is so clear and such a prophylactic against doubt: ‘He who has the Son has Iife; he who has not the Son of God has not life’. Beautiful simplicity and clarity, is it not? Just the initial uncomplicated assurance that the new believer needs. He is sure to be attacked by doubt, the Tempter's first and very powerful weapon. At his first appearance in Genesis 3 we find him at it: ‘Did God say…?' And the sooner the new believer learns, like his Master, to counter doubt with the promises of God (cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), the sooner he is likely to find his feet as a Christian and to grow.

Two final things as you bid him farewell. He has had enough for one session! But he will need tender loving care very soon (and we shall consider the nurture of the new Christian in the next chapter). Therefore, arrange to meet him tomorrow. But as he leaves, encourage him to tell someone else what has happened. It will help to confirm him in his assurance, and will fulfil the injunction of Romans 10:9-10. It would be best in the first instance to tell someone who is friendly and understanding, and who will rejoice with him and encourage him. Probably he knows some such person, who has very likely been praying for him. I am constantly amazed at the number of new believers who know very well of certain people who have been doing just that. So let him select one and tell them the good news that he has begun the most exciting of all relationships, with Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.

Summary: training others to help people to faith

Here then are some summarized suggestions for training in a situation where talk of Christian commitment is very much in the air, and where an opportunity has arisen to talk to a friend (or even a stranger) about Christ after one of the meetings.

Preparation

The basic requirements are not very many or very exacting:

a. We must know Christ personally. Without that we can never introduce anyone to him.

b. We must be thrilled with him; enthusiasm communicates. See how in John 1:41 a sense of discovery proved a vital evangelistic tool. It still does.

c. We must have the love of the Lord flowing through us. Without that, it will all be hard and professional. Compare John 3:16 with 1 John 3:16.

d. We must be flexible, allowing our friend to make the running, and all the time drawing him back towards Jesus and the resurrection. It may well not be the classic ‘sense of need’ that leads him to stay behind: it could be a sense of the presence of God, a sense that here is something different, a search for fulfilment and meaning, or an awareness of deep loneliness. Your job is to see where he is, and apply to his situation that aspect of our many-sided Lord which is most appropriate to him at that time.

Specific preparation

Granted those general preparations, on the evening itself:

a. Come with a Bible, pen and paper, and pick up a booklet and a counselling form. Try to come accompanied by someone who is not yet a believer. The fact that you are going to be available for counselling need not deter you. Simply, at the end of the meeting, slip your counsellor's badge on unobtrusively, smile at your friend and say, ‘I've been asked to help with people who want to join those Discovery Groups he was talking about. Why don't you join one? I can strongly recommend them’. In this way you may well find yourself counselling the friend you brought with you!

b. Be much in prayer for the speaker, for yourself, and for anyone with whom the Lord might use you that night. But be prepared for anything. One night you may not be used at all. Another night you might have two or three people to handle. Put your counsellor's badge or identification on only at the very end of the meeting.

c. Be alert to the way the speaker is closing the meeting. He may call for response in a variety of ways. It is up to you to act accordingly. He may call people to the front or to another room: in that case, move promptly, and keep your eye open for someone else of your own background who is not wearing a counsellor's badge. Get alongside, and approach them naturally. ‘Good evening, I'm Jenny Jones. What's your name?’

Or he may ask people to stand while others have their eyes closed in prayer. In that case have your own eyes open, and scan the area around you, so that afterwards you can go up to someone who stood and ask if he or she would like a short chat. Alertness is essential here: otherwise people can be missed who most need help. This approach by the speaker is designed to bring counsellor and enquirer in contact with the minimum of movement and fuss, but it leaves much to the initiative and alertness of the counsellor.

He may ask people to raise a hand and then to seek out one of the counsellors afterwards. So keep your eyes skinned, and your badge prominent. He may even say, ‘Everyone chat to one of the people next to you about Christ’. Then the ball will be in your court. On such occasions it is not difficult to be charmingly direct, ‘Tell me, do you know Christ?’ or ‘What does Jesus Christ mean to you, I wonder?’

Pointing the way

Once you are sitting with your friend (and it does not matter where: it is amazing how intimate you can be in the midst of a room full of talking people), introduce yourself, and establish friendly relations fast. ‘Is this the first time you have been along, John? What was it that struck you tonight? Would you say that you had put your faith in Christ personally, or are you still thinking about it?’

Such questions should get him talking. And you need that. It is fatal to prescribe before diagnosing. There is great value in asking, ‘Would you say that you had put your faith in Christ [or “accepted Christ” or “come to Christ” — stick to whatever metaphor the speaker is using that night], or are you still thinking about it?’

If he has not got there yet, you can be sure that he will gratefully cling to your alternative option, and say, ‘I'm still thinking about it’.

You reply with another diagnostic question, ‘Would that be because there is something in all this that you don't understand, or is it that you are not yet willing for all that it involves?’

This will probably land you in summarising the steps to faith and seeing where the sticking-point is. You will need to have some rough outline in your head, around which you can build the verses which have most helped you.

We have offered above some suggestions on how to introduce an enquirer to Christ. There are many other simple outlines, such as the Bridge diagram, widely used by the Navigators, or  Knowing God Personally beloved by Campus Crusade. Choose what you find congenial. Helpful verses to keep in mind during such conversations include the following:

On the need… Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 John 1:5; Isaiah 59:1-2; John 8:34, together with the implications of Matthew 22:37-9 and James 2:10.

On what God has done… Matthew 1:21; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Isaiah 53:6; John 8:36; 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 4:13

On the cost of discipleship… Matthew 6:24; Galatians 2:20; Romans 10:9-10

On the step of faith… John 1:12; 3:16; Revelation 3:20; 1 John 5:11-12

Encouraging response

When faced with the powerful personal challenge of the gospel, you will probably get one of three main reactions. He may say ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. We have looked at common commitment anxieties and difficulties above.  But if he says that he has entrusted his life to Christ, rejoice with him, and get him to thank God there and then. It will help him to praise God out loud with you, however haltingly.

a. Get him to explain back to you the essence of what he has done. This will help him to get it as clear as can be hoped for at that stage.

b. Tell him about the Discovery Groups that are being planned, and find out if there are any nights he cannot manage.

c. Get his details carefully on to the counselling form, and give him your own address and phone number.

d. Advise him on the inevitable initial doubts that will come, and show him how to meet doubt with promise (e.g. Romans 6:23; John 10:10; Revelation 3:20; 1 John 5:12-13).

e. Introduce him to the speaker or some other Christian leader, and put him in the position where he can ‘confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus’ straight away. This will be a real help to him (Romans 10:9-10).

f. Encourage him to come back the next night with a friend in tow. He can be useful to the Lord straightaway, and should expect to be.

g. If the Discovery Group is some days away, arrange to meet him within forty-eight hours to cope with initial problems.

h. Hand in your counsellor's form before leaving the building. Make sure it is completely filled out.

But do not imagine, just because he has come to the front after an evangelistic address, that the person you are talking with has necessarily come to faith. People come up for all manner of reasons, and you may need patiently to sift through problems and difficulties which are proving to be stumbling-blocks. You will need all your flexibility and sensitivity at this point.

It may well be, however, that after you have spent time with him, patiently answering his doubts from the Bible and experience, he is ready to take a step of faith. He wasn't quite there at the end of the preaching, but your conversation with him has made all the difference. You will need to handle him very much as if he was in our first category of response, the person who says ‘Yes’.

So, after things seem to be pretty clear, say to him, ‘Do you think you are ready to say “Yes” to the Lord now?’ or ‘Is there anything that is still keeping you back from him?’ If he can't think of anything, say, ‘Right, then let's kneel down right away and ask him to come into your life’ [or whatever imagery you use]. He may prefer to do it on his own, and tell you when he has done so; but he may want your help and presence at this important time. Probably he will opt for your help (though respect the other way if he chooses it). If so, sit or kneel together.

Pray for him that he may be truly brought into the family of God. Then encourage him to pray for himself, admitting his sins, and asking Christ to come into his life. Use some promise like John 3:16, John 1:12 or Revelation 3:20, and get him to claim it. It is no better if he prays out loud, of course, but Christians do, and he might as well start as he means to continue! More, it will be an aid in precision, and it will break the sound barrier. It will also help you to be aware of what is going on. If he says, ‘I can't pray aloud’, say, ‘Then let's ask God together that he will open your lips’. You pray for him, and he will probably find that he can then pray out loud. It is a great privilege to be around as these broken, sometimes sobbing words of commitment and repentance and faith come out. You will often find yourself weeping too, in empathy. Then pray for him, that the Holy Spirit will baptise him, deeply into Christ, fill him with spiritual gifts, and never leave him.

It is a most moving time. But do not omit to complete the counselling form, to get the phone number and fix a day very soon for a chat. Remember that the bond between a new believer and the person who led him to faith is very special, and he will take things from you that he will take from nobody else (see 1 Corinthians 4:15). When you have handed in your form, you have technically completed your responsibilities. But you will probably want to see such people again, help them on in the early days of their Christian life, and see them settled in a Discovery Group and a church where they can be fed. You will want to ensure that they get some initial Bible reading notes (e.g. Come Alive to God) before going on to one of the well-known systems of Bible reading. You will certainly want to pray regularly for him or her.

And having tasted the joy of this ministry, you will want to be in it till your dying day. Rejoice, you may do just that!

Michael Green.

© Michael Green 2013.

Training Leaders for Discovery Groups

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green

You can download the PDF of this resource here.  

The Discovery Group is very simple. It is nothing more than a number of people meeting together for learning, study, prayer and encouragement under the leadership of some experienced Christians.

Over the years at St Aldate’s, Oxford, we developed these groups until they became the main way of helping almost-Christians and new Christians to grow. They were valuable teaching tools, great fun, and built relationships which flowed over into dynamic life for the church.

The value of such groups is not hard to recognise. For one thing, the use of Discovery Groups ensures that competent people are helping the almost-Christians and new Christians onwards, people who have a responsibility towards those in their group and also to the church which has entrusted them with that delicate and thrilling task. For another, it teaches the group members the importance and the joy of Christian fellowship almost before they have ever heard the word. Moreover, it incorporates one-on-one care which we have examined above, but it transposes into a different key because of the group dimensions. Each of the leaders makes themselves personally responsible for discipling one or more of the group, and does this informally outside the group meeting-time. So the new believer gets personal care, but is greatly enriched also by the group. For it is here that they can share their fears and discoveries. It is here that they can grow and see others grow. They can hear of, and share, answers to prayer. They can raise problems, and listen to the answers as others voice matters they feel, but have not articulated. Another great advantage in running such groups is that they lead naturally into the network of home fellowship groups which are such a healthy dimension in the life of most growing churches — but are not particularly suitable for slotting raw new disciples into until they have found their sea legs, so to speak. And that is precisely what the Discovery Group enables them to do.

The aim of the group is clear. It is to ‘present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28), in so far as that can begin to be realised within a period of two months, the optimum length for such a course. Mature enough, at least, to know they are a Christian disciple, and to begin to be able to give some account of why. Mature enough to have a regular devotional life, and to have had a shot at sharing their faith with someone. Mature enough to know what the church is about and to be able to take their place within its fellowship. Mature enough to want to serve the Lord in some way or other. That is what one may expect to come out of these Discovery Groups, and it very often does. Our experience shows that only a very small number of those who make a Christian profession fall away if they attend one of these courses for new Christians. It seems to provide a foundation for their Christian lives.

The numbers involved will be large enough to form a viable group even if one or two are away through illness or some other cause; but small enough to ensure that there are no passengers in the group. Everyone has a part to play. The ratio of leaders to members is very important.  Because the leader's task is not simply to lead the various activities of the group, but also to care pastorally for some of the members, it is important to see that no leader has to look after more than, say, three people: otherwise it would be too heavy a demand on their spare time. These leaders are lay folk with regular jobs, in most instances, and therefore cannot effectively be responsible for more than two or three members. So you need, in a large group, four leaders for ten to twelve members. Two leaders could manage a group of six.

The members of the group will be varied in age, sex, background and situation. This does not matter in the least. I have found groups that contain doctoral students and unemployed alcoholics go well. The Christian family is very mixed: and we do not choose our brothers and sisters! Variety is in fact an asset in the group. And assuredly they will be at a variety of stages spiritually. Some will be there for a refresher course in Christian basics. Some will be there because they have just put their faith in Christ. Others will have allowed themselves to sign up as no more than interested enquirers. And particularly if the group emerges from an evangelistic address, there are sure to be some people who do not why they agreed to come. They were under some impulse of the Spirit of God but they cannot explain it, and may well be embarrassed about it. The first meeting, if skilfully conducted, should handle that!

Our own courses last for eight weeks, and members should have it made plain on the joining form that they are committing themselves to come weekly. Each week has a theme for the evening, and all constituent parts of the evening subserve that theme. There are notes for members of the group to take away with them afterwards. These serve as a reminder of what took place; they enable members to check out the scripture verses which bear on the theme; and by the end of the eight weeks they provide a sketchy but not inconsiderable series of flysheets on a number of basic doctrines. From time to time you will find that members of the group spontaneously start their own group among their friends and use the material that they have so recently grasped themselves!

Though a single theme is studied each night, there are several aspects to the evening. One of the leaders will give a short talk on the theme, using some of the verses from the New Testament which bear upon it, so as to get the essence of the teaching clearly into the minds of the group. This will be followed by questions, objections and difficulties.

A second element we have found it helpful to have is another form of learning about the same theme, through an inductive Bible study. This is again compered by one of the leaders, but the skill here lies in the leader doing the minimum themselves and maximising the opportunities for members of the group to discover for themselves what the Scripture is saying, to wrestle with it personally, and find how it speaks to their situation. This is a very exciting part of the evening.

A third element which has been found very useful is the teaching of a verse of Scripture which encapsulates the theme of the evening. There is an incalculable value in hiding portions of Scripture away in the heart: it is done all too little these days. And if new Christians start it right away, they are going to learn a very good habit, and will rapidly be able to help other people.

A fourth element in the evening is the mention of suitable books which the leaders will have brought with them for loan or sale in the group. This is another means of growth: to get into the habit early on of assimilating a bit about the faith. It does not so much matter what the particular books are: the valuable thing is to get people reading and therefore thinking intelligently about their faith, and to feed people the books that are appropriate to their condition and the questions they are asking. If a small shoebox of books is brought each week from a local Christian bookstore on a sale or return basis, and if the books are well introduced by one of the leaders, there should be a steady sale each week, and growing interest.

A fifth part of the evening will be prayer, perhaps in silence, but more often extempore. It will help people in the group to begin to voice their prayers and praises, and they will be encouraged by finding that others are prepared to do it too. The prayer time emerges from the inductive Bible study, so people pray over the thoughts that have struck them from the pages of Scripture. This is, of course, all good modelling, unconsciously assimilated, for their own daily Bible reading and prayer.

The evening will end after prayer, but usually the coffee time comes into its own, and people are in no hurry to go. This is a valuable time for the leaders to chat informally with members over issues that may have been raised and shelved during the evening, or to arrange to meet for a meal or a chat during the week.

People join the course in several ways. They may be fed in from an evangelistic address in church, or from an outreach dinner. They may find their way there through personal evangelism. They may join because it has been announced in church, and joining forms (indicating the length, purpose and outline of the course) have been made available. They may join because of personal recommendation.

Leaders for Discovery Groups 

So much for the members. What of the leaders? How are they recruited?

The best way is to look out for Christians who are fairly experienced but not necessarily particularly knowledgeable. Their friendliness, tact, sensitivity and unshockability is more important than their detailed knowledge. It is helpful to ensure that the leader of the team is a person who has done it several times before, and is well instructed, but I have found that assistant leaders may well be drawn from the ranks of those who not so long ago were themselves going through a Discovery Group. In a word, the Middle Ages had it right: apprenticeship is the best way to learn. If you are starting from scratch, and nobody has done it before, go for people who have had experience in a small group, and all its dynamics. I tend to make a point of choosing assistant leaders to work with me who are teachable rather than indoctrinated, and who are ‘people's people’ rather than intellectuals. Paul gives the right nuance when he speaks of those engaged in this sort of work as first nurses and then fathers (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11). They must be able to relate with ease and sympathy to people emerging from secular culture - and many good church people cannot. If I were asked what else are the most important things for leaders to bear in mind in running these groups, I think I would want to suggest the following points:

Your relationship with the other leaders

Leaders need to know and trust each other, and have an easy working relationship. So it is good to meet for a meal, and share your life situation and the story of your own spiritual pilgrimage with one another, as well as finding out each other's interests, strengths, likes and dislikes, and experience. Time invested this way will be amply repaid later on. The evening should end with prayer for one another, for the course, and for the people who will be joining it — by name, if they are known yet. This bonding of the leadership together will model something important for the group to assimilate.

Your relationship with the members

They signed up. They may well be regretting it. They need, first and foremost, to be phoned up and, if possible, visited before the first meeting of the group. This will allay their fears, and allow them to know at least one person in the group before they arrive. Their first visit may well be the foundation for a friendship that will develop throughout the next two months: alternatively, you may feel that whoever takes pastoral care of that person, it should not be you! In either case, valuable information has been gained, and contact established.

That contact needs to be developed both, in the first meeting and throughout the coming weeks. People will feel very shy when they come, and need a tolerant, happy, non-threatening atmosphere in the meetings. They need the chance to talk, to express views, to be listened to. And you need to get inside them and find what makes them tick. What's more, they need some ‘fun’ times - a boating party, maybe, or perhaps a dinner party where one shares in preparing the food.

Most important of all is your relationship with the members of the group for whom you are assigned personal responsibility. The leaders will decide which of them looks after whom, but of course the member will be quite unaware of this gentle ‘shepherding’, so it is up to you to make the running. Book him or her up at the first meeting for a meal and a chat, and aim to have a second such talk before the two-month course comes to an end.

The first talk should enable you to see where the person stands spiritually. If they are not yet professing commitment to Christ, they need to be encouraged to feel that this is perfectly acceptable so long as they are moving in the right direction. You are available to help them over any hurdles that you can. It is often the case that, however brilliant the public teaching may have been on the way to Christ, your friend simply may not have had the spiritual insight to take it in. And your personal ministrations, patiently taking them through some of the salient points, finding out where their difficulties lie, and exposing them to the power and comfort of key verses of Scripture, may well lead them to that understanding and step of faith which had seemed so elusive to them when the preacher tried to explain it.

It may well be that they are not yet ready to make any such commitment. In that case, encourage them to stay with the group for the eight weeks and see what emerges. It is highly probable that by the end of that time they will have come to a clear faith in Christ, especially as they see others in the group grow. It may be a help to give them something appropriate to read, and fix a time in two or three weeks to discuss it.

If the person is clear on commitment to Christ, then that first session with him or her should go again through the grounds of assurance, for without that no confident Christian life can be built. And it is important to show them how to read the Bible devotionally, and how to pray. They may have particular problems that they want to talk over, and these should, of course, be addressed at once: most new Christians have a host of such things that they will bring once they trust you. But your main aim in this first time together is to plant the beginnings of a regular devotional life in the heart and in the habits of someone who is quietly confident that they have begun to be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.

It may well be that all this takes more than one session. Fine. The important thing is to give the person what they need in terms of time and advice: not overwhelm them with it. But at all events you will need to have a final session with your friend near the end of the course. Problems may have arisen which it will be important to talk over: and you have by now earned the right to be their counsellor, so they are likely to take more from you on spiritual issues than anyone else. They have, after all, seen you at close quarters for a couple of hours every week for two months. Whatever their own agenda may be, you too will have things you want to clear up. How is his or her devotional life progressing? Have they been reading any Christian literature? How are their non-Christian friends reacting to this new faith? What about his girlfriend or her boyfriend? Is there encouragement at home, or the reverse?

And perhaps most important of all, is he or she thinking ahead to the end of the Discovery Group? Is there some home fellowship group in the church which they could join? If so, then it is your job to consult the appropriate authorities in charge of the groups and arrange the contact. They are going to need a personal and relaxed time of introduction to the leader of the home group. These times of transition from one group to another are perilous. They are the time when people are most likely to fall away. And they need a lot of loving care at that point. It might also be good to discuss whether he or she needs to be baptised, or whether they are permitted by the rules of the denomination to partake in the Holy Communion. It is very important to settle these matters as quickly as possible.

And then there is the question of Christian service. They should be beginning to think ahead to some area of Christian ministry in society at large. At all events, it will be something which they would not be doing were it not for faith in Christ. And to have some such sphere of ministry is a major means of ensuring growth and stabilization in the period after they are transplanted out of the Discovery Group, a time which many find traumatic. They have never found such close fellowship before, and they fear they never will again, so they are reluctant to contemplate its dissolution. But dissolve it must, and they need to be injected, like fresh arterial blood into the mainstream of the church's life. Your caring relationship with those members for whom you have been given responsibility will be the best way to bring this about.

Your Responsibility

Responsibility is a vital quality in the leadership of these groups. It shows in the careful preparation of your particular part in each evening. It shows in seeing that the physical preparations for the evening happen: that the food and drinks are there, that the notes and books and a few Bibles are available for loan. It shows in keeping the ministers (or whoever set up the Discovery Group) informed as to how it is progressing, and if any member who signed up has failed to appear. When someone fails to show up, the best way is for one of the leaders to visit them with the notes from the first evening's meeting, saying how they had all missed them, and offering to come and pick them up next week. In this way it is rare that someone is not incorporated in the group. But it may well be that they have unwittingly signed up for a time they find it impossible to honour: in which case the person administering the Discovery Groups needs to know speedily, so as to assign that person to a different group. And that will not happen unless you, as a leader, are reliable in passing on such information as this to the right quarter very fast. Reliability shows too, of course, in the pastoral care offered without stint to the individuals who are assigned for you to look after. ‘It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy’, writes Paul (1 Corinthians 4:2), and a steward of God is precisely what you are as a leader of one of these Discovery Groups.

Your leadership

Leadership in these groups needs to be unostentatious, but it is important. The members are looking for a lead, and will trust someone they have confidence in. Your leadership will show in a variety of ways.

The partnership between the leaders will be such an important factor. If there is tension or jealousy, it will immediately be apparent to the members of the group, and it will be disastrous. Your love for one another, your modelling of what you teach, your manner, your example, your handling of questions, your unshockability and unstuffiness will all have a silent eloquence.

The conduct of the first evening is very important, and the most experienced leader should handle it. It is crucial to make people feel at home. And they will be feeling anything but at home when they arrive. They are not used to talking about God in a private house before a bunch of strangers on a weekday evening! No wonder they sit on the edge of their chairs and spill the coffee... It is your job as leader to take the tension out of the situation. A good way to do this on the first evening, after about ten minutes of milling-around time, is to ask people to grab a chair (don't have them put out in serried ranks beforehand: let people circulate), and have everyone gather round in a circle. Then say something like this: ‘It would be fascinating if we could all say a bit about ourselves and what brings us here, as a bunch of complete strangers, tonight.’ Then kick off yourself – ‘Maybe I'd better begin...’ Say a little about yourself and your situation, and succinctly explain how you came to faith in Christ. Then pass to another of your leaders, sitting next to you, who will tell a little of his story.

The scene will then be set for others to follow suit, and you will be intrigued to hear stories, some of them utterly amazing, of the work of God in bringing these people here. Some of them will have come clearly into Christian faith. Others will be there but do not realise it. Others will not be sure. Others will be on the brink of decision. Others will have some serious obstacle to faith. All need to be made to feel comfortable about what they have contributed. Some deft comments by you, as leader, can facilitate this, and occasionally somebody's story makes a valuable teaching point for you to underline. Make it plain that you will not be doing this sort of thing each week, lest they get the wrong idea about how these evenings will proceed. But you will have gained such a lot through this simple exercise. Everyone will have given some sort of spiritual testimony as to where they stand or do not stand with God.  Everyone will have trusted others with that information. And as a result they will have broken the ice, and be willing and able to talk about the most intimate spiritual things with those who earlier in the evening were strangers to them.

Leadership is then required in the short talk on the subject for the evening. On the first night it should cover commitment and assurance: an outline of salvation, in the most simple and gripping terms. It has to be intriguing. It must not sound like a sermon. It needs to be short and crystal clear. It needs to get Scripture in front of them, so that they see that this book packs power. Your biggest danger will be to go on too long, or to assume too much. Do not assume they will bring a Bible with them on the first night, even if they have been asked to on the joining form. They won't. So you need to have some Bibles ready to lend them (as well as some to sell them, on your little bookstall). And you would be wise to have them all the same version, or you will waste endless time responding to querulous and unprofitable complaints: ‘My Bible doesn't say that. It says...’ All small points, no doubt, but for them all to flow so naturally that they are not even noticed requires leadership, and very careful preparation. And so great today is ignorance of the Bible that you will probably need to say, ‘There are two parts to this book, the Old Testament and the New Testament. We’ll find out more about it later on, but for now let's turn to page... of the New Testament’.

If you manage on that first evening to get across to the group the essence of what Christian commitment means, and how they can be sure about it, then you will have done well. There may well not be time to do an inductive Bible study on the first night, but it is good to do it if you can, depending on how long the introductions have taken. For it begins to cut their teeth on using the Bible for themselves and sensing its relevance, and it will be a good launch to their own devotional reading in the subsequent week.

The inductive Bible study can be tricky, and it calls for leadership of a relaxed yet vigilant kind. If you have a big group, it would be wise to split into two, with a couple of leaders in each. These Bible studies are not so much a teaching exercise as a learning one, on the theme of the evening. You are there to stimulate, to referee and to encourage - not to dominate, and certainly not to preach. Lead from behind. Trust the Holy Spirit, and allow the members to make mistakes. Initially it does not matter much what they say, so long as they say something and get used to the sound of their own voice talking about God and the Bible!

So get the small group gathered round, with Bibles open at the right place. Offer a brief prayer for light and understanding. Get members to read the passage to themselves, or out loud, perhaps a verse each, going round the circle. Then say, ‘We are going to have three minutes of quiet now, when we can read it through again, and see what most strikes us. Then we'll pool those thoughts and learn from one another.’ Give them the time you indicated – though  someone will be sure to say something before the three minutes are over, so unused are modern people to silence, even for so short a time. Don't let them get away with it. ‘Hang on’, you say. ‘Let's just give time for everyone to make their choice, and then you can begin when I give the word!’

Your heart may miss a beat or two, waiting for someone after that three minutes; but somebody will, and then you're away. It may well be hard to stop them by the end of the evening. It is good to get people to say what verse they are finding a help. This both concentrates their own ideas and enables others to concentrate on the same thing. The big things to avoid are red herrings and cross-references to other parts of Scripture. If you go for a cross-reference you will lose them irretrievably, deep in Numbers or 2 Chronicles! If you allow ‘red herring fishing’, you might as well give up and go home. Everyone will air their own ideas on matters about which they know little. They will never learn that way how to feed on the Word of God and let it inform their attitudes. When you get some particularly irrelevant comment, enquire innocently, ‘Yes, and which verse do you find that in, Bill?’ You won't have to do that very often! But you will often find that people fail to apply to real life the thoughts that are coming to them from the Scriptures, and you need to say gently, ‘Great. But what could thsat mean for us at work tomorrow, Jill?’

I find it good to encourage contributions in the first person singular: ‘I like verse seven because it shows that…’ It teaches people to allow the Word to address them personally. As their spiritual insight grows, it is often a good idea to push them a little further. ‘Why do you like that verse, Bill? What difference might it make if we actually acted on it?’

Good booklets of notes are available with questions for such inductive Bible studies, but these are merely a second line of defence. You may not need them at all: the whole thing may flow. But if it dries up, you may be glad to use one or more of these questions. They are calculated not to produce a yes or no answer, but to stimulate discussion. As such they can often be helpful in taking the study to a deeper level.

There are, of course, particular problems to be encountered in these inductive Bible studies, especially when the whole idea is so fresh to them all. Some people will come up with problems all the time. It may be helpful, for, the sake of teaching, to discuss one of these occasionally, but generally they prove a distraction from feeding on the Scriptures, which is your prime aim. It is best to say, ‘Well that's an interesting point, but I doubt if we can follow it through now. Let's get together to talk about it afterwards’. And mind you keep your word! Then there is the garrulous person whose plentiful contributions intimidate others. ‘Great, John, you’ve had a couple of opportunities to share already this evening. May we see if someone who has not spoken yet has something they would like to share with us?' And how are you to help the very shy person? They must not be pounced upon. Leave them quietly to absorb it all for the first week or so, and thereafter venture a question in their direction. It will be such a joy to see the whole group begin to get thrilled with the Scriptures, and unselfconsciously discuss it and their attempts to live it out.

The prayer time which follows is very important, and is another test of your leadership. Badly introduced, it can silence one and all. But if it is done naturally, prayer will flow. I have found it natural to say something like this: ‘Well, we must be drawing to a close soon. But wouldn't it be nice to talk directly to the Lord before we go? We have been talking about him for much of the evening. Why not just take the bit of this Scripture passage that you have found most helpful, read it out, and then say a simple prayer out loud, “Lord, please make this true in my life”, or “Thank you, Lord, for this”. Of course it doesn't reach God any more easily if we pray out loud: but it does enable the rest of us to enter in to what you are saying, and we'd like to say Amen to it!’ Then say, ‘James (your fellow leader) will kick off, and I'll close in a few minutes. But do use the time in between to pray yourself if you would like to.’ And the amazing thing is that several of them will do just that. They may or may not offer the simple ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ prayers, as you have suggested. Indeed, they may launch out into a very heartfelt and moving address to God which almost has you in tears because it is all so fresh and so real. But a threshold will have been crossed that evening. Several of them will have crossed the Rubicon of praying in a group with others, and in the mercy of God they will often see answers to those prayers in the next few days, and will come back next week full of joy at answered prayer, an experience they had never dreamed was possible. As the group develops you can lengthen the time of prayer a little (but never let it drag), and can move on to praying for one another's needs. It is amazing how speedily new Christians get into this.

After the prayer time, the evening is over in one sense - and in another it is not. You will give them the notes for the evening, but you'll find that most of them are in no hurry to go. They browse around the bookstall which one of you introduced earlier in the evening. They ask your advice about acquiring a Bible, or about Bible study notes for new Christians. Or they may just be basking in the new experience and not in a hurry to leave. It has, after all, been an evening of many new experiences. Coming to a private house to talk about God. Listening to a talk on how you can get to know God and be sure of it. Sharing where you are personally in Christian things. Discovering something of Christian fellowship. Finding that the Bible speaks today. Learning a verse of Scripture by heart. Daring to pray, and really meaning it. Quite an evening! And few of them will need reminders to come back next week. They will be there.

As people drift away, you will want to arrange to meet those for whom you are going to be pastorally responsible, for a personal meal and a chat. And then when they have all gone, the leaders, exhausted and probably rejoicing, will get together to pray for the individuals committed to them, for the development of the group, for any who appeared ill at ease, for criticisms and suggestions about how the evening went, and to plan who does what next week. By the time next week comes, God will have been doing some significant things in the lives of a number of the group, and as you give them time and opportunity to tell the rest about the joys they have had or the problems they have encountered, the sense of group trust and cohesion will grow, and the questions will flow with increasing ease.

It may be good to have a shared meal on the second or third week: this helps the group to ‘gel’. It is also an attractive feature for the one or two people who intended to come, but for some reasons did not turn up on the first occasion. But it is unwise to have people join the group after the second week. They have missed too much in content and in experience, and their coming tends to spoil the group cohesion. Let them wait until the next Discovery Group begins.

I have gone into considerable detail about the conduct of Discovery Groups because I find that many churches are strangers this concept which proves so very effective in the nurture of new believers. The group acts as a stimulus and as a cementing bond. The personal pastoral care is given full play. And as members see other people in the group growing in faith and experience, it encourages them even more than being under the solitary guidance of an experienced Christian.

Summary: Setting up Discovery Groups

Whatever event you are planning, whether it is a guest service, a small supper party, a church mission, a town-wide mission, always plan for the follow-up ahead of time.

a)    Decide on what the follow-up should be - a Discovery Group, an enquiry group, and how many groups you think you will need.

b)    Prayerfully recruit the leaders.

c)     Train them in how to use whatever course material has been chosen, how to lead a small group meeting, how to care for the group pastorally, and how to lead someone to faith.

d)    Find out from the leaders what times of day they are available, and where the group will be held.

e)    Put this information on a response card (if used), or clearly announce it at the meeting or service, so people know how to join.

f)      Ensure that the leaders have met together before the first meeting of the group, both to get to know each other and to plan ahead.

g)    If leaders can act as ‘counsellors’ at the end of the event, this gives them a chance to meet prospective group members.

h)    Make sure the groups start as soon as possible after the evangelistic event. Keep in contact with the leaders, and help with the integration of members into Bible study groups at the end of the Discovery Group.

Response Cards

These can be very useful when the invitation is made at a larger service or meeting to find out more about the Christian faith and/or join a Discovery Group. They need to be designed in a clear, concise way, enabling information to be gathered as easily as possible. They could be included in the service sheet with a tear-off slip, or could be printed separately.  To help with the design, think over what information is needed:

a) What is the form designed to do? To give people an opportunity to indicate they have made a decision for Christ, to join a group, to find out more about the Christian faith, to ask for a visit, to request a book?

b) If people are given the opportunity to join a Discovery Group, should the description of what it is be given verbally or on the card?

c) Will there be a choice of time and day? This should be on the card if possible.

d) Is it intended that people will fill out these cards themselves, or will they be used with a counsellor? If the former, it is wise to ask for the minimum of information, whereas if they will be used by a counsellor it is easier to ask for more information.

e) What information is needed, apart from name, address, phone, e mail, and the appropriate box ticked? If used in an event which includes more than one church, or if working with young people, it might be good to have space for name of church or school/college to be inserted.

f) Will people be asked to give comments on the, meeting? If so, then leave room on the card.

g) How should these cards be returned? In the offering, in a box at the back, to a counsellor? Include a return address if used during a larger event.

Suggestions for counsellors when filling in a response card

a) Be natural as you speak to your new friend. You need to explain why you are asking them for the details you need. If you want to invite them to a Discovery Group, explain clearly what it is. Encourage them to join even if they have not made a commitment, because a group will be able to help answer some questions. Alternatively, it may be that follow-up should be handled individually and not in a group.

b) Ask for name, address, e mail and phone, remembering to write legibly.

c) If they go to another church, or attend a school or college, put that down on the card.

d) If they want to join a Discovery Group, find out when. Remember they haven't come along expecting to need to know this information! Help them to think through their week. Get one or two preferences if you are dealing with a few choices of time and day. Assure them that they will be contacted soon with details.

e) If they don't want to join a group, but want a visit, or more information, either plan to see them again yourself, or indicate what is required on the card.

f) Offer your phone number, and give them a ring in the next day or so, even if just to say `hello'.

g) Complete other details on the form as needed. There may be space to indicate whether this is a first-time commitment or a rededication. If there is an age grouping, it may be appropriate to make an educated guess after you have parted company. If you find out any details that would be useful to those organising the placing of people in groups or to the leaders, make appropriate notes on the back of the card before handing it in (e.g. ‘Needs transport’, ‘Don't ring at home’, ‘Would like to be in the same group as a friend’).

h) Make time to talk and pray together and help them with any difficulties.

i) Remember to hand in the card promptly to the organisers of the follow-up work.

Summary: Training Group Leaders

This is a short-term group, lasting for eight or nine weeks, which provides intensive support to help new Christians (and those who are not yet Christians) get rooted in the faith. The aim of the group is to begin the process of ‘presenting everyone mature in Christ’. It is not a lecture, or a debate, but a time of informal corporate learning in someone's home. It will vary in membership, in that some will have professed faith, others will have rededicated themselves, others will be thinking seriously, and others will not be sure why they are there at all! 

The course can be used for individual as well as for group use. It should try to cover major aspects of Christian living: the foundations, Jesus, assurance, reading the Bible, learning to pray, the Holy Spirit, Christian fellowship, temptation, and serving Christ. The course should be adapted to whatever order would best suit the group.

Each session is broken down into five sections:

a. A short talk on the theme.

b. A verse for members of the group to memorise. This will help them to begin to learn and use Scripture.

c. A passage for group Bible study - and some questions to stimulate discussion.

d. Prayer time. This teaches members to pray with and for other people, and to look for answers over the next few weeks in the group.

e. A few books can be presented on each week's theme. These can be on loan, or they can be for sale, so that members can start a small Christian library for their own use and for lending to others.

Timing: These groups can happen at any time of day. The length of each meeting will vary. In order to allow members of the group to get to know each other and have time for questions, allow between two and two and a half hours.

The meeting place should be informal and relaxed. A room in someone's house is best. Church halls are not ideal locations! Somewhere is needed that enables group members to relax, feel unthreatened and able to raise questions on any issue. One room is sufficient to meet in for the first half of the meeting, but if there is another room (e.g. a kitchen or a study) then the group can split in half for the Bible study time if the group is large.

Size of the group will depend on the number of leaders available and the demand for the group. Two leaders for a group of six; three or four leaders for a group of ten to twelve.

Refreshments are not essential, but it does help people to relax on arrival when handed a cup of coffee. As the group gets to know each other, the leaders could lay on a simple meal, or have a bring-and-share meal together.

Books: Bibles are needed, especially at the first meeting. Make sure you have enough of the same version for each person you expect (perhaps they could be borrowed from the church). Members should be encouraged to buy a Bible, but it is best not to assume they own one. Bible reading notes should also be available, either as a gift from the church or for sale. Do have some books available for sale, or form a lending library by getting the group leaders to pool their own books. Remember to have short books which answer questions that any non-Christians in the group might be asking.

Course notes can be given out each week, preferably at the end of the meeting. These may be helpful to group members if they want to go back to a particular issue on their own.

It is important for the leaders to be able to relate to how a new or almost-new believer is thinking, to understand what their problems are, and to be able to be a sympathetic listener and supporter. Leaders do not need to know the answer to every question; one may be more gifted in the teaching role, while another may be better at personal conversation. They need to be themselves (using their different gifts accordingly), to be unshockable, and to be able to encourage group members. People may well not have had the experience of running a group for new believers before, but if they have had experience in leading small home groups and therefore know something of the dynamics of encouraging group participation, they can often easily slot into this role. A group like this takes time - time for meeting and planning with the leaders, time preparing for each meeting, time for the group meeting itself, as well as time with individuals themselves. Those currently involved in a Bible study group may need to be released from that for the duration of the Discovery Group. Leaders need to have basic training on how to lead someone to Christ, how to run a small group, and how to use the course material.  Each group will have one leader and two or three co-leaders, so that each leader can be pastorally responsible for two or three members of the group.

Before the group starts:

a) Arrange to meet up to pray and get to know each other.

b). Plan the first evening, by sharing the leadership. One will be responsible for hosting (books, coffee), one for teaching, one for Bible study and prayer time.

c) Pray for individual group members, for yourselves and for the group.

d) Liaise with whoever is setting up the group, to get the list of those expected and to work out who will be inviting them.

Share out  the members of the group among the leadership (after the first meeting), and seek to have at least two unhurried times with each one before the course is over. The first will be to ensure that they clearly understand the way of salvation, to help them with any difficulties, and to help them begin a regular pattern of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance. The second session will be to see where they are going to be incorporated into the life of the church when the group has ended. It needs to enable them to look ahead to some area of ministry and practical service they may become involved in, and also to help with any problems. No leader should have more than three people to look after: it can be very demanding. Friendships can build up within the group, and even when the group is over members will often come back to their leaders for advice and encouragement.

Meet up weekly during the course to pray and plan.  It is best not to attempt to cover all the aspects of the subject each week, as topics are large. The teaching session should be short - fifteen minutes maximum - leaving people wanting to know more, and allowing time for questions.  Try to facilitate a varied meeting each week. It may include worship (if there is a musician in the group). Allow people to share experiences and talk about difficulties. To facilitate good discussion in a group, ask guiding questions that require more than a yes/no answer (e.g. What do we mean by this? How does this relate to our lives today? Has anyone experienced this?)  After a discussion, summarise: either have one of the leaders list the main ideas so that all can remember them, or ask one of the group to do so. Have a shared meal, or perhaps go to a concert, once in the course of the group's life. The leaders may well feel apprehensive and out depth, but often the group members are even more terrified first meeting.

The first meeting:

Welcome is important. The leaders may know who is expected, but the visitors don't know what to expect. Aim to make people feel at ease. Have the room ready (coffee made, books out, chairs ready - but not in neat rows). Have a ten-minute circulating time.

Who is there? The leaders need to begin to get to know the group. It is a good idea for the leader to introduce themselves, briefly explaining what brought them to Christ, and then asking the others present to say what brings them along to the group and what they hope to gain from it. This may take quite a long time, but it gives valuable information to the leaders. They discover where in their spiritual pilgrimage each person thinks they are. Also it proves helpful in dividing the group up into sub-groups for the Bible study part of the evening, where it helps to have a mix of those who are already committed and those who are not yet sure. This needs to be a relaxed time of sharing, and the leader needs to welcome each contribution so that from the outset people get the feeling that anything they want to say is okay. It may well take up most of the first evening.

Talk: This sharing time will probably be followed by a short talk on laying the foundations, or on assurance. Remember not to assume any knowledge of the Bible, and try not to use ‘jargon’ phrases.

Questions: Some groups will be silent, others not. Questions can form an important part of the meeting, giving a way of seeing where people are, and a chance for problems to be aired.

Verse learning can be slotted in here, before the Bible study.

Bible study and prayer time: See that the Bible study groups are small enough to enable everyone to take a full part. This may require subdivision into two groups for this part of the meeting, each under one of the leaders. If necessary, have questions about the Bible passage copied on to separate sheets for the convenience of the group members. Prayer time is usually best in smaller groups at first, in order to encourage people to pray out loud and for each other.

End of meeting: This is a good time to hand out course notes and Bible reading material. Mention the book table and issue an invitation to meet at ‘same place, same time’ next week.

When the meeting has finished, the leaders will want to debrief, plan next week, and sort out who is pastoring whom.

Follow up: Visit those who did not attend the first meeting, giving them the notes of the meeting and a warm invitation to the next. Or put a note in the post, or give them a phone call or e mail. Naturally a visit is best.

Subsequent meetings  will be slightly different, in that there is no need to have that extended time of sharing at the beginning. Do leave time for catching up on news over the past week, sharing answers to prayer, and generally having fun together - perhaps going out to a film, theatre, picnic together later in the week.

At the end of the course  the course leaders need to be in touch with whoever set up the group, so that handover to a regular home fellowship in the church can be smooth. They need to:

a) Encourage group members to attend Sunday worship regularly.

b) Inform the minister of their church.

c) Encourage members to do some form of service in the church, using the gifts God has given them.

d) Keep in contact with members who will need continued love and support even though the group has ended.

e) Write a brief assessment of each person to hand to the leader of the small group they are joining and to their minister.

f) Remember, the biggest danger of ‘fall out’ is after the Discovery Group, before the person gets settled in a new set of Christian friendships.

 

Michael Green 

© Michael Green 2013.

 

 

 

Preparing an Evangelistic Talk

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green

You can download the  PDF of this resource here.   

 

[Editorial note: Like numerous other features in this section of our website, what follows appeared originally in Evangelism through the Local Church by veteran evangelist Michael Green.  One of our Living Leadership team finds this section so enormously helpful that he works through it again every time he’s to preach evangelistically!]

How can we prepare for an evangelistic talk?  The preparation is at least threefold.

First, there is the vital need to prepare the congregation!  If that is neglected, nothing will be achieved.

Love needs to characterise us! Without that, nobody will want to get very close, and any attempt at evangelism will look hard and maybe resemble a modern form of head-hunting. Love must flow, and be seen to flow. So warm welcomers will be needed for the doors, refreshments available afterwards; everything must be designed to make those who do not normally come to church feel as much at home as possible.

Prayer must accompany love. It would be good to mobilise a system of prayer triplets, where three people get together on several occasions to pray for three friends each, whom they hope to invite. There could be a night or half-night of prayer beforehand, too. The congregation needs to be full of the Lord, so much so that they are willing to go and open their mouths for him, to invite others, and to say something of what Christ has done for them if opportunity offers. There needs to be an expectancy that God will work, a happy confidence in the Holy Spirit who loves to glorify Christ.

I believe that, before God is likely to bring large numbers of converts into a congregation, the church needs to demonstrate that their fellowship is deep and real, and that they are able to welcome and assimilate the new life. That is where fellowship groups come in — groups of a dozen or so people who meet regularly within homes for fellowship, learning, prayer, encouragement and service. But even where this structure is in place in a church, one thing more is needed. We need people to lead Discovery Groups, that is to say, small groups of those who have just committed their lives to Christ and need to be built up. We devote another feature on this site to the setting up and running of those groups, but here it is worth noting that part of the preparation for an evangelistic sermon is preparing people to lead these groups - who at the moment have no members in them! That in itself is a declaration of faith in the living God. When I worked at a church set in the midst of Oxford University, we always used to prepare for one or two such groups to emerge immediately after an evangelistic address: sometimes as many as eight groups, when our faith was strong! And we trained leaders in the confidence that God would answer prayer and provide their group with members.

Second, preparation of the congregation needs to be matched by the preparation of the occasion. You need to choose it with care, going for a time when it is likely that unbelievers may be around in large numbers and could, if they were so disposed, come to church. Such occasions need to be carefully planned in the calendar of the year's activities – maybe three or four a year.

And the publicity needs to be good. There is the publicity within the church, and the publicity to those you want to invite. Of these the former is the more important. If you can fire up the members of the congregation to invite people, with enthusiasm, love and persistence, and to bring them with them, then you have solved your publicity problem. But, in addition, you will want to have some attractively produced material which you can hand to prospective visitors, and distribute round homes if you have a visiting team who would like to do that; and above all you will need a large and attractive notice outside the church with a bold, provocative title on it. On the whole, people will not be interested that the sermon will be preached by the Reverend Bill Jones, BD, which is the sort of thing you often find outside a church as the only notice that is evident. Frankly, who knows or cares about the Reverend Bill Jones, BD? But if there is a notice featuring the question ‘Is there hope in a world that is falling apart?’, or something that touches people at the point of felt need, interest or weakness, then people will be attracted. On the whole, publicity does not bring a lot of people in: personal invitations do that. But unless the publicity is good, expectancy will be low, nobody will know about it, and it will be an inconspicuous and probably ineffective event.

The third area of necessary preparation is the service itself. It needs to be very carefully prepared, and everything needs to be subordinated to helping those who are visitors, and making them able to participate without feeling that they are being gunned at on the one hand, or mystified by the in-house language and liturgy of the church on the other.

A delicate balance should be our aim. The service will need to be different from normal, but not so different that if and when they come next week to a ‘normal’ service it will be a totally different world! If liturgy is used, the page numbers of the books where it is found must always be announced. Remember that if you want people to use a Bible it is likely to be quite unfamiliar to them. The very furniture of a church is odd to many these days. Choir and clergy robes are usually a turn-off. The same is true of old-fashioned language and ‘the language of Zion’. As for the clerical voice – it must be avoided at all costs. Organs are not the only effective ways of accompanying singing, unless you are in a large church or a cathedral. The use of a piano or a guitar or a small orchestra is often a more attractive alternative. It is no good singing psalms at an evangelistic service; that will be a different world from the one inhabited by those visitors you are trying to accommodate. Equally, the endless repetition of choruses may not edify them either! And powerful though the Holy Communion is to nourish believers, it is not the thing to have when you are directing your whole service towards guests. Canticles are out, and so are long classical choir anthems. This does not help Mr and Mrs Average these days. So a great deal of thinking needs to go into the service. We have forgotten how out of touch with ordinary people all our church services have become.

Some of the things I have found helpful to do in such an evangelistic service are as follows:

Dispense with service books: people only get lost in them. Instead, if the architecture allows, use powerpoint for songs, hymns, and any parts of the service where the people participate together. Alternatively, print the corporate parts of the service in the bulletin.

Have a singing group praising God for a quarter of an hour or more before the service starts.

Cut notices to the minimum, or remove them altogether by putting them in a bulletin which is placed in the hands of everyone as they come in. And that same bulletin should have details in it of anything else you want to let your visitors know — especially the leaders' names, the locations and the starting times of the Discovery Groups that you hope to start in the coming week.

Ensure that someone with real sensitivity in worship and warmth of manner leads the service. It may be good to make use of a couple of testimonies, with stories from people of contrasting sex and age, because testimony to the power of God by lay people is a very attractive thing.

If there is a solo or music item, it should be short and very up-beat. The accompaniment of the hymns, or, better, modern scripture choruses, needs to be strong. It does not matter if people do not know all the songs (and you don't want too many). They can be taught them very easily, for most of these songs have very simple and catching melodies. Remember that some of the great old hymns have a power which most modern choruses cannot equal. The Scripture reading is very important and should be read by someone who can read well. The sermon is your responsibility: we will come to that in a minute. But the final song should be optional. You may want to cancel it in the light of how the sermon closes.

People need to be available after the service to counsel any who wish it, and they need to have received some training beforehand. You will naturally want to meet with such folk and all leading participants three quarters of an hour before the service begins, so as to finalise all details, make sure nothing has been forgotten (‘Who was going to bring those evangelistic booklets?... You mean, they aren't here?’ is the sort of thing that can easily happen.) You need time to commit the whole venture to God is along with the musicians, and those who are leading, praying, and giving testimony. When we have been immersed in worship for half an hour, it shows on our faces as we go in to lead the congregation. When we have not, that shows too!

How shall we prepare the talk?

Preaching is truth mediated through personality, so different people will approach it in different ways. But some general things stand out. All great preaching has been biblical preaching: not that it is Bible-thumping, but that it enshrines the message of the Bible in the course of the address. All great preaching has been in demonstration of the power of the Spirit; so prayer and utter dependence on God is vital. So is the prayerful support of the congregation as you prepare and as you preach.

Often in Oxford when doing an evangelistic address to a large number of people, we would have a prayer service going on across the road in the Rectory for those who felt the call to prayer, or had not managed to bring any visitors with them. That prayer time was an immense support to the preacher. Once or twice in the course of the service a member of the congregation would go across and tell them what was happening, as fuel for prayer! All good evangelistic preaching really engages and interests the hearers, and it ends by challenging them to encounter the living Christ.

A good evangelistic talk is crisp: it wastes no words. It is interesting: it grabs attention from the opening sentence and maintains it throughout. It is biblical: Scripture has a power our words do not. It is relevant to the needs of the hearers, and it is immediately perceived to be so. And it challenges people to decision.

Here are some things I try to bear in mind as I prepare. I often think of a single individual whom I would dearly love to lead to Christ and who I know will be in the congregation, and have him or her in the forefront of my mind as I prepare.

1. First, start where they are. It is important that the content of what we preach is biblical, but it is a great mistake to start with a text of Scripture. You need to get the taste buds working first! Start where they are. That is good educational method. You then have some hope of taking them where you want them to go. I wrote a book some years ago which embodied this inductive approach; it was called You Must Be Joking!, and the chapter titles were all things I had heard people say, things which admirably lent themselves to an evangelistic talk, things like ‘You can't believe in God these days’, ‘Jesus was just a good man’, ‘All religions lead to God’, ‘Nothing can alter the past’, ‘When you're dead, you're dead’, and so forth. Those titles and that book have had a continuing interest and appeal, because they are addressed to questions people really are asking. There are many ways in which you can capture interest with your title.

Take an assumption and destroy it. A good example would be: ‘It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere.’

Take an interest and develop it. I think of a Valentine's party where I spoke evangelistically on love, or a Christmas party when I tried: ‘Yes to the manger, no to the occupant’.

Take a modern concern. For example, ‘Can there be peace in our world?’, or ‘How to be married and stay that way.’

Key into some of the questing songs of the day. With apologies to Bruce Cockburn, I am about to preach an evangelistic address on ‘Rumours of Glory’.

Take a perennial fascination and give it a new twist. ‘Is life worth more than the funeral expenses?’, or ‘Is there life before death?’

Tailor your title to your audience. I have spoken to businessmen more than once on titles like ‘Nobody's fool’, expounding the story of the rich fool. All businessmen like to think they are nobody's fool!

It is good to fit in with a feeling that is prevalent in society. I shall never forget the power I unwittingly released when I stumbled upon the subject of ‘Jesus spells freedom’ in Africa in the 1960s. It was beginning to be the subject of the continent. The same decade saw the counter-culture in full swing, and subjects like ‘Jesus the Radical’ or ‘The Revolutionary Jesus’ were very big draws. I think of a sermon for new students at Oxford which drew enormous numbers. It was ‘Confirmed too young — agnostic too long’, and it just keyed in with where many people were at that time. But it is important not to be dominated by needs. And it is important not to cheat with them. If you are going to take a subject like ‘Jesus the Radical’, you really have to do it full justice, or people will rightly feel cheated.

One final word about maintaining and retaining interest. I find it very helpful to use testimony in my addresses, and also to use dramatic sketches. These can be used at an earlier part of the proceedings, and have great value there. But I have found that to interview someone on a key point in the middle of the sermon can be a great attention-grabber, and the use of a short dramatic sketch, appropriately introduced and picked up, makes a point sharply, often humorously, and not only saves you time but gives that change of voice and medium which is so valuable.

2. Second, shape your material. Once you have found your title, see what there is in Scripture that speaks to it. Last autumn I spoke to university students on a title that I was given, ‘Money, Sex and Power – what more does a body need?’; and as I reflected on it, I saw that it was precisely addressed by the letter of Christ to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-21. So that became the biblical thrust of my sermon. But I did not begin with Laodicea!

When shaping your material in an evangelistic address there are a number of things to keep in mind.

First, your aim. You should have a clear, single aim, and that should govern everything you say. If you do not have a crystal-clear aim, you will be surprised how good people are at missing it. And of course, if you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it!

Second, your plan. Break the material up to make sure that people can easily latch on to what you are saying. Make it palatable. And be sure that every point subserves the aim of the whole address. Failure to do this results in a disorganised and confusing message. A clear plan is absolutely vital.

Third, your structure. This, too, must be clear. Not so clear that people can follow it, but so clear that nobody can fail to follow it. You need to advertise your points with great freeway signs, not inconspicuous little signposts. And if you can work it so that each one of your points leads naturally and apparently inevitably into the next one, you are likely to make a great preacher. The well-constructed address hammers home the main point relentlessly, and its subheadings seem utterly right and obvious — once you have heard them. Structure is an important part of preaching. Time spent on it is not wasted.

Fourth, your illustrations. These are very important — and easy to mess up! Never illustrate the obvious. Always illustrate the unknown by the known. Never use illustrations which sound incredible — even if they aren't. Never use illustrations which glorify yourself. Never use illustrations that are too involved; and shun exaggeration like the plague. If you follow Jesus' example, you will draw a lot of your illustrations from the natural world and the ordinary commerce of mankind. The book of nature and the book of Scripture do, after all, have the same author; it is not surprising that they illuminate one another. The local paper, current affairs, plays, films, TV and songs all furnish good material for illustrations. Books of illustrations usually disappoint and do not sound real; but it is a good idea to note down outstanding illustrations which you hear, and use them appropriately later on yourself. None of them are copyright!

Fifth, your start and your conclusion are both critical. The start has to be really arresting — a situation, a humorous anecdote, a problem. It should be brief, arresting, and intriguing in itself. It is your hook into some fish which may be very wary. Give good thought to it; it may be wise to try it out on a friend before you preach it.

As for the conclusion, never moralise. Do not go on too long. Take note of Jesus' parables, which never drew the moral, but forced the hearers to think furiously. Sometimes a verse of Scripture can be used at the end, sometimes even an illustration. But the conclusion should never try to add new material. It should encapsulate and drive home the theme of the whole sermon. It should provide the final hammer blow to the nail which is your aim and which has been going steadily in since you began. I believe this applies to almost all types of preaching, but the evangelistic sermon has some peculiarities of its own, and we shall turn to them in a moment.

Sixth, your language. Words matter to the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:13), and they should matter to us. I find it helpful to word-prepare my major sermons, but never to read them. Detailed verbal preparation helps me confidently to negotiate the difficult places in the address when I get to them. I have faced them head on and in detail during my preparation, and so I am the more likely, when I preach, to carry people with me over the difficulty. Our words in preaching should not be starchy or churchy. They should be in the sort of language that local people speak. A sermon should not be an artistic creation: it should be an impassioned proclamation. It is not something to admire, but something to act on. So the language should be gripping, vivid, simple. Go for familiar words, evocative words that can bring home a familiar truth in a fresh way. Determine that there shall be no possibility of your being misunderstood.

Seventh, your manner. The New Testament images of a preacher are very varied and very illuminating. He is an ambassador (2 Cor 5:20), a herald (1 Tim 2:7), a father (1 Cor 4:14), a steward (1 Cor 4:1-5), a servant (1 Cor 3:5), a witness (Acts 2:32). Different styles are appropriate to different ones of those images. You must select the right mood for your subject-matter, and blend your manner with it. Ask yourself how Jesus would speak if he were in your shoes. Let there be warmth, and utter sincerity. Let there be a profound sense of earnestness, but never of dullness. You will need courage (to say ‘you’ when you mean ‘you’) and humility and compassion. Get friends to check you for irritating mannerisms, and iron them out so that you do not distract the hearers: the stakes are too high to have stupid little mannerisms putting people off.

3. Third, be Christ-centred. Speak much of him. He is the supremely attractive one. He promised that if he were up from the earth he would draw all sorts of people to himself. And he does. So we need to take care to make much of who he is, and of what he has done, and to make it very clear that he is alive and willing to come to us personally if we will allow him. The early Christians had an outline in those sermons recorded in Acts which they used a good deal. It is a wise one. They spoke to a need once they discerned it; they told of a person, Jesus Christ, no less; they proffered the twin gifts of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit; and they looked for a response, a visible response of repentance, faith, and baptism into the Christian community. We could profitably emulate them.

In the light of the attractiveness of Jesus, it is hardly surprising that men and women flocked to him. Jesus was surrounded by crowds, presumably because they felt that in some way he held the key to community: he was a wonderful person to be with. Jesus met and transformed the loneliness of Zacchaeus, a man whose relationships had become frozen because of his pursuit of money and his ruthlessness in dealing with people. Jesus met and transformed the woman taken in adultery: unlike the religious leaders, he neither sought her out in her sin nor condemned her when she was brought before him. He understood her. He cared about her. He knew the hurt she had suffered and the guilt she felt. It was not condemnation she needed, but acquittal. He offered her just that, together with the pointer towards a better life, and the power to achieve it. Jesus met and transformed the impetuous Peter, making this mercurial man, dominated by his emotions, into a stable leader of Christ's new community, a rock on which he could build. Jesus met and transformed John the dreamer, making him a mystic and a visionary who became the apostle of love. Jesus met and transformed the household of Jairus in its disappointment, its grief and bereavement. He met and transformed beggars like Bartimaeus, prostitutes like Mary Magdalene, crooked businessmen like Matthew. In every case his approach was tailored to the individual. In every case he entered into the need and the hurt which had marred that person's life, and spoke his word of healing and renewal.

And that is the heart of effective evangelism. Not many people are brought to Christ via the route of the intellect, though some are. Vital though the intellect is, most people are won when they sense Christ coming to touch broken places and torn feelings in their lives. This may be at a point of perceived, long-standing need. Or it may be that only when some aspect of Jesus is seen does the person recognise how empty or needy he has been all along.

A great many people today have never experienced love without strings attached. They have been appreciated when they have performed in a certain way, or made certain achievements. But they have known nothing of being loved for themselves, warts and all, alike in success and in failure. The unconditional love of Jesus for all and sundry can surge like a flood into a heart like that.

A great many people have a tremendously low self-image. It has been inculcated in them by parents who have dominated them and have failed to praise and love them: instead, a critical attitude has surrounded their childhood and youth. They have been made to feel no good. And this happens to people who are great achievers just as much as it does to poor achievers. External accomplishments tell us nothing about the inner feelings of the person concerned. It is when people who feel so inadequate and unimportant see that Jesus rates them very differently that the skies begin to clear. If he valued them so highly that he came for them and died for them – why, they must be something very special after all! And that realisation brings new life to many who are dogged by this spectre of a low self-image.

A great many people have been abused in their childhood. It is becoming increasingly plain in our supposedly civilised culture that enormous numbers of youngsters are abused verbally, physically and sexually by the very people who should be their most ardent protectors, their parents. Is it any wonder that we are witnessing such a rise of counselling services in our society? It is a response to the crying need from so many broken people, broken when they were too young to understand what was happening, but not too young to be scarred and crippled by it. Logic and argument will not help such a person towards Christ. But once they sense that Jesus not only cares but can take the pus out of those wounds, through what he did on Calvary and the power of his indwelling Spirit, then something very profound happens: there is a new creation.

A great many people are lonely. It matters not one whit whether they have many friends or few, whether they are the fortunate in society or at the bottom of the pile. ‘Why am I so lonely when there are so many people here?’, a plea scratched on a school desk, is the agonising question of many hearts. The answer, of course, lies in the friend who sticks closer than a brother, the one who will never leave us nor forsake us once he is welcomed into our life. That companionship of Jesus, risen from the dead, alive for evermore, is the ultimate answer to loneliness. Millions the world over have proved its staying-power: be they politicians at the centre of the action, invalids on their beds, or believers incarcerated in solitary confinement. It will be the image of Jesus the friend which attracts such people. They do not need to know the evidence for the resurrection. They need to see in other lives, and wonderingly to accept for themselves, the possibility that this living Jesus would be willing to accompany them personally.

A great many people feel despised. Maybe they sense they are despised by others (for their looks, their achievements, their station in life). Maybe they despise and even hate themselves. When they come to see the Jesus who loves the unlovely, who despises nobody, who was himself despised and rejected and understands their situation from the inside, then gradually their defences go down and they dare to believe the almost incredible, that he accepts them though they feel themselves to be totally unacceptable. And what is that but the New Testament doctrine of justification? But the truth of doctrine needs to be mediated through the reality of feelings. Only when they feel it, perhaps through the loving service of a friend, can they come to believe it and experience it for themselves.

A great many people feel defeated. Defeated by habits too strong to break, defeated by the past catching up with them, defeated by inherited defects in character. They had imagined that Christianity was for good people, who dressed nicely and went to church on Sundays, not for the likes of them. God forgive us that such an impression could ever have got abroad, but it has. They need to see that Jesus takes failures and makes them saints. They may see it in the reclaimed lives of some of their friends and acquaintances. They may become assured of it in the loving perseverance of the person who is trying to bring the good news to them — often in the face of their own opposition and acrimony. But it is when they feel within themselves that Jesus is willing to take failures like themselves on board that new hope is born, and new life begun.

I hope enough has been said to show that what really matters is that the healing hand of the great physician should be brought gently into touch with the emotions as well as with the mind of the person concerned. A great deal of our evangelism is a total failure because it does not touch the heart and show where the Saviour can reach the hidden fears and hurts which plague us human beings – all of us.

4. Fourth, watch the balance of your evangelistic preaching. The gospel of Christ is both big and broad. It is easy to miss great areas of it because we are comfortable with particular aspects of it. It is wise from time to time to check out whether we have not only a biblical message but a biblical balance in our message. Here again, discerning friends can be a help to us. Evangelism without much doctrine, with no mention of the cost of discipleship, with no depth, no warmth, no social content and no sensitivity is a travesty of the real thing, and we must do our best to avoid aberrations by coming constantly back to the balance and overview of Scripture, with the help of friends who know the truth in depth.

5. Finally, leave time to conclude. It is all too easy to miss this vital ingredient out, and to come to the end of your talk, when you need time, and find that it has flown.

Preparation that is as careful as this will give you a lot of confidence as you go into the pulpit. There are other little things that can help. Preach into a mirror occasionally, and watch your expression and manner. You may get a shock! Allow a group from the congregation to criticise one of your sermons in detail with you, checking your aim, content, use of Scripture, structure, manner, application and illustration. That is tremendously helpful — and humbling. Time yourself as you preach through the completed sermon to yourself — and remember that it always takes longer on the day that it does in preparation.

But the most important essential in preparation is prayer. Get church leaders to pray for you daily in the week when you are preparing a major address. Ask the congregation to remember you in prayer. Make it a topic for prayer at the prayer meeting. Prayer burns the message into you. Prayer will burn it into the souls of some who hear you. The Holy Spirit can work powerfully when much prayer is being offered. He inspired the very Scripture you are going to preach. He moved you as you worked on it in preparation. It is his task to commend it to the hearts and wills of men and women when you preach it. Prayer enables him to do just that. And I, for one, go with much greater confidence into the pulpit when two or three of my colleagues gather round me in prayer just before I stand up to preach. It is not only an encouragement to me: it is a demonstration to one and all that we depend utterly on what God does, not on our own efforts.

I love the words of an old Methodist local preacher on the subject of sermon preparation: ‘First I reads meself full; then I thinks meself clear; then I prays meself hot; then I lets go!’

How can we handle the conclusion of an evangelistic talk?

This is an important and delicate matter. It is vital to draw the address to a challenging conclusion. But we are not salesmen: we are dealing with the living God and his claim on people's lives. Here are some of the lessons I try to bear in mind — and often have to relearn. 

I only offer a challenge to commitment when there has been a clear and reasonably rounded presentation of the gospel. Human need, the cross, the cost, and the availability of the Spirit need at least to have been touched on.

I try to leave myself plenty of time at the end of the sermon. If I am going to call for an explicit response, I explain what I am about to do before I do it, so that it does not come as a shock to people, and so that they are mentally more prepared to respond.

I try to be open to the possibility of pleading with people to return to Christ. There is a lot of that loving, pleading compassion in the Old and New Testaments, but I find that it is little used today. Many preachers just tell you how it is, and then stop. It hardly seems to matter to them whether you respond or not. That is very different from Jesus:  ‘0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood … and you would not!’ (Matt 23:37). It is impossible to miss the note of pleading there. We need to allow the warmth of Jesus, the seriousness of the issues, and the awesome alternative to coming to Christ to be reflected in what we say at this juncture. Kindle their imagination so that you can reach their will. That is our goal.

Watch people's faces, and try to read their minds. It is not as difficult as it might seem. Learn to answer questions which you think may be in their minds. ‘Are you wondering what it will cost to follow Christ? Good. Let me try to answer that question…’; ‘”But, Mr Green,” you may say, “I'm a churchman!” True, but so were the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke. Even better churchmen than you!’ This divining of what is going on in minds and speaking to it is very effective. It can, I believe, be a spiritual gift from God to the preacher. We should ask for it. It is particularly valuable in dispelling objections against a positive response to Christ, and the place for it is as the sermon comes to an end.

Your attitude should be a mixture. On the one hand you need to be fearless and bold. On the other hand you need to be warm and sensitive. Pray for that balance.

Trust the Word of God. It is very powerful. Placard the promises of God and the cross of Christ before the eyes of your hearers. Faith is, after all, trusting the promises of God. And these promises are very new to them. They need time, and they need you to be extremely clear, if they are to take it in.

Use appropriate illustrations at this delicate time. The best ones are personal illustrations, those which depict meeting and encounter. The marriage analogy between the Lord and the believer is very clear and readily comprehensible. The image of opening the door of heart and life to Christ is one which has helped millions to commitment. The ‘in Christ’ imagery is helpful too, though a bit more difficult to take in. But it makes very clear both the unity with him and the need of a leap of faith if you are going to move from being ‘without Christ’ to being ‘in Christ’. Another biblical image which is helpful to many is the idea of the sperm and the egg, or the seed and the soil. It is from the marriage of these two that the new life is born. But never get boxed into a corner by using just one image. It may help some but leave others cold. So vary it. ‘Give and take’ is a simple commitment image we can use. You give yourself to him and you gratefully take his pardon and his Spirit in return.

Be broad in your appeal at the end of the sermon. There will be a great variety of people in the church, and you want to be of maximum help to them all. You could call on people to entrust their lives to Christ for the first time, and then add: ‘There may well be others of you who did that long ago, but somehow you have drifted away. Come back to him now. Ask his pardon. Put yourself without reserve in his hands, and you will know again the joy of the Father's house which you may have walked out of.’ It is sometimes helpful, with people who genuinely are not sure whether they have committed their lives to Christ or not, to suggest that whatever pencilled commitment there may have been in the past, now is the time to ink it in and get clear about it. So make a broad and a challenging appeal. But do not press. It is the job of the Holy Spirit, not of the preacher, to do that. Human pressure can do great damage.

Usually at the end of a talk I suggest a time of silence as folk kneel or sit. Silence is not only golden. It is powerful. It gives the Spirit of God a chance to speak to individuals. I may well repeat the verse of Scripture that has been foremost in the sermon and then give one or two minutes of complete silence, inviting people to face up to the challenge, and those who are already committed Christians to pray silently for those who are not. I eschew emotionalism, especially at this critical time. I try to make it seem the most natural thing in the world to accept Christ into one's life, or to pray for others to do so. If I am matter of fact about it, the congregation will not feel that any emotional pressure is being exerted, and the Holy Spirit will be free to act. Often in the silence people will break into quiet sobbing. But that is fine. The Spirit is at work on their spirit, and almost invariably it leads to real repentance and new life.

After a time of silence I may well suggest a prayer of commitment for those who want to use it, and only for them. I say: ‘If you feel you don't know how to put it, why not use something very simple like this? You could say it after me under your breath if you like. “Lord, please forgive me and come and take up residence in my life. Amen.”’ I then thank God that he keeps his promises, and that if any have taken him at his word he will never leave them or forsake them; and then I draw the service to an end, with or without the optional final song. It is not always needed at such a juncture, and it may detract from – or enhance – the impact. After the blessing I normally say, ‘One thing more, as you go. If you have taken that step of opening up to Christ, and if you have prayed that prayer with me just now, I would love to meet you briefly. I want to invite you into what we call a Discovery Group. It is an eight-week course on Christian foundations, and we have one or more groups starting this coming week. I think you will find it a great help to join a group like this where there is plenty of chance for questions and discussion, but where we take a major theme of the Christian life and study it each week. If you intend to be serious with Christ, come and join one of these groups. You need it, and you will benefit from it a great deal. I have the details here at the front (or the back, or wherever you think fit). Come and sign up, and I'll see you have the details about which group you are in by tomorrow.’

This ‘gathering of the fruit’ is absolutely vital. You don't so much want people to make a hasty decision on the spot about Christ. But you do want them to sign up for a group, because there they can have a chance to receive warm care by fairly experienced folk over a period of two months. Experience shows that if they join a group, however uncertain they may be at the beginning, they tend to come to Christ in the course of it, and then they grow. Accordingly, I do my best to draw them into a Discovery Group; for it is especially designed for new believers. I have more to say about these groups in another feature on this site. For the moment, suffice it to say that those who are going to lead the Discovery Group would be ideal people to have alongside you after the service. This means that the people who chat to those who come forward are therefore the same people who will lead the Discovery Groups, and that begins to form the basis of a relationship which can be built on later.

If there are enough people for one Discovery Group only, do your best to ensure that the group is scheduled to start at a time when your leaders and all the prospective members can come. If the numbers warrant several groups, it is wise to get first and second preferences for the starting time. It may not be possible logistically to give all of them their first preference, so you need to know two times they could manage. It is probably a help to have duplicated beforehand a simple form explaining what a Discovery Group is all about, and the subjects that will be covered during the course; that part of the form they hold on to. There needs also to be a detachable portion which you get them to fill in then and there, and collect it from them before they leave. It will have room for their name, address, phone number and e-mail, and their first and second choice of a time for the group (unless you have already determined that beforehand).

Sometimes there may be a large response to such a challenge. In that case the sorting out of names afterwards is a skilled job. Attention needs to be paid to the balance of the group by sex, age and perhaps locality and background, within the limits of the times they can manage. It would be good if they could be contacted later that very day and told which group they are in (if there is more than one). That will give them a sense of confidence at a time in their lives when they are probably feeling unsure of themselves. It will also show your care and efficiency. It is important, too, because the Enemy of souls is sure to be busy that day. Why give him an advantage?

As you invite people to the front, avoid any sense of pressure. Be laid-back about it. But train your congregation to ask their visitors at this juncture, at the end of the service, ‘Would you like to join a Discovery Group? They are a real help. I'll come with you up to the front if you would like company.’ I sometimes go up to a visitor who I can see has been touched by the Holy Spirit and personally invite him or her to join a group. And I like to have experienced colleagues standing at the door to say farewell to people as they I leave. Often a person who has not plucked up the courage to sign up for a Discovery Group may have been deeply moved, and it shows on their face. Then a tactful word and a chat can greatly help, and can result in that person joining a group.

With all this activity going on at the end of the service, it makes it very easy for those who want to pray or reflect to stay in their seats without embarrassment. And it makes it easy for those standing with you to chat to the individuals who come forward, not only about the Discovery Group, but about what particularly helped them in the service. Often immediate ministry like this after an evangelistic challenge is invaluable, and information gained through such a conversation, however brief, can be an important initial help to those who are going to lead the groups.

I have not mentioned, hitherto, the use of evangelistic materials such as tracts or booklets at the end of an evangelistic address. I very often offer something appropriate, and indeed I have written a little booklet, Come, Follow Me, for precisely such occasions. John Stott's Becoming a Christian has had wide circulation all over the world in this connection. Billy Graham's Steps to Peace with God is simple and attractively produced. You may have others which you prefer; it does not greatly matter. But to put something of this sort in the hand of a person who has been touched by the evangelistic address is very useful. If at the end of your talk you mention that you have such material, it gives them something to come and ask for, and therefore minimises the embarrassment of going to talk to a minister about God at the end of a service! What is more, material such as this takes the person in a coherent manner through the steps to a living faith, and therefore enables him to revise the elements he understands and have a cool look at the parts which were obscure or only partially understood in the talk.

The thing to avoid, I think, is making the taking of a booklet the mark of having put faith in Christ. At this stage people may well be staggered by the immensity of what Christ is offering them, and frankly they are often not in the position to know if they have ‘accepted Christ’ or not. It is all spinning round in their head. There will be, and there must be, a proper occasion for confessing Christ publicly later on, but now is not the right moment. You want to make it as easy as you can for them to get the help which a clearly written booklet affords, and to make that initial contact which will, one hopes, result in their being drawn into a Discovery Group, where these things can be sorted out in a far more careful and leisurely way over the next couple of months.

I have spoken throughout this chapter as if the minister of the church is giving the evangelistic talk. This will often be the case, but is by no means necessarily so. It may be a visiting speaker, in which case it is very important to see that he is fully conversant with your local ground rules as to what he should do at the end of his address. He may prefer to hand it over to you at that point, and you then invite people to come and meet you so as to get signed up for a Discovery Group. It is easy to make such an announcement pleasantly low key. ‘I'd like to give you something, and take something from you in return! I'd like to give you this little book, which goes through the steps to a living faith and is something you may find helpful. And I'd like to take your name and address, so that I can give you an invitation to the Discovery Group we have been talking about.’

It may well be, however, that the preacher on any given occasion is neither yourself, as minister of the church, nor a visiting preacher, but some other member of your own congregation who perhaps has gifts in evangelism which you may lack. It is not a question of position, but of gifts. I know some ministers who have no evangelistic gifts themselves, but they use other members of their congregations to preach on such occasions, and see a steady crop of new believers coming to join the church. These wise pastors allow those whom God has gifted in evangelism to use that gift for the good of the church, and without any twinge of pride or jealousy.

There are, of course, other ways of ending an evangelistic meeting. Some favour getting people to raise their hands or to stand up, but this seems to me to be calling for a public confession of commitment before that commitment may have been understood or taken. I much prefer, therefore, a Discovery Group to which new believers, those not yet quite sure, and those who want to rededicate their lives can all be invited. It makes it much less threatening, and it immediately places them into a context where they can be built up. Evangelists need to remember that the Lord is not interested in decisions. He is seeking disciples. And all our evangelism must lead in that direction.

I am reluctant to leave this feature without one final word. A feature like this on preaching for decision can leave the impression of a very man-centred, almost a contrived approach to evangelism. This is one of the great dangers facing anyone who seeks to engage in evangelism. We can by ourselves achieve nothing. It is only God who begets new life. And he loves to do it through his Word. Peter knew that. ‘You have been born anew,’ he writes, ‘not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God … That word is the good news which was preached to you’ (1 Peter 1:23-24).

The proclamation of God's good news, whether in a specific evangelistic service or not, has enormous power. And the wise pastor will give himself to expository preaching, that is to say, allowing the Word of God to be so clearly placed before his hearers that it does its own inscrutable work. Given that, he will find that people come to Christ at all sorts of times after being exposed to the Word of God. It will assuredly not be restricted to evangelistic services. The divine Word has a power to which our words can never attain. Our supreme privilege and calling as ministers of the gospel is to allow it to speak. Much preaching is a very far cry from that. We are called to be ‘servants of the Word’. And when that happens, God has a way of drawing people to himself.

Michael Green.

© Michael Green 2013

 

Local Church Evangelism - a short Discussion Checklist

Katy Kennedy

Written by Michael Green.

You can download the PDF of this resource here.  

The Lord did not leave behind a ‘crusade’ to carry on his work when he returned to heaven, or even an Alpha Course! He left behind a community of frail, broken, but redeemed people - the church. And the church is his main way of extending the frontiers of the Kingdom of God.

And if the local church is warm and welcoming, if there is an outward orientation on the part of minister and congregation alike, then it will become a magnet in the locality.  People will want to bring their friends along. It will grow, just in the normal course of events!

On the contrary, it will not grow if there is no provision for youth, if there is little love, if the services are dreary, if there are lots of ‘insider` attitudes and language, and if there are constant appeals for money!

Here are thirteen aspects of local church evangelism.  Are they happening in your church? Should they be?

1. Prayer for individuals. Not much of that happens in most churches. But in parts of the two-thirds world where the gospel is growing so fast, they depend on prayer!  In the West we go for methods, but we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2). Remember it is God who is the evangelist!  Prayer opens the way!

2. Testimony has always been powerful, but now more than ever because of the postmodern culture and the widespread impression that Christianity has had its day. Every Christian has a story of the interaction of their life with that of Jesus.  Just show that Jesus is alive and can be met today. There is no need to be fearful; nobody can rubbish your personal experience!

3. Invitation. Many outreach events are spoiled because people do not invite others. Of course there is a cost: an attractive lifestyle, time spent in developing relationships, hospitality, sharing our friends’ interests. But pay that price and you can invite them to a suitable event and expect a `Yes`, not because they want to come but because they want to please you! Random invitations rarely work. We need to build bridges. ‘Do go’ does not work. ‘Do come with me’ often will.

4. Alpha and similar courses are one of the most effective forms of outreach a church can lay on! They suit postmodern culture which is suspicious of authority figures, disenchanted with institutions, doubtful about truth claims, confused about personal identity, looking for reality, short on hope - and yet hungry for spiritual experience. The ‘What is the meaning of life’ question grips. So do the humour, the food, the quality videos, the companionship, the Holy Spirit weekend. There are other courses similar to Alpha - or make up your own!  And remember: course meetings must be supplemented with good personal care.

5. Hospitality. Jesus knew what he was doing when he left us a meal to remember him by! A good meal breaks down suspicion, encourages openness, and makes people receptive. Events based round food work really well.

You will need a speaker who has charm, directness and tact; you need a well-produced invitation card, and response cards to use after the talk is over.  Ensure there are nurture groups or `discovery groups` in place to feed people into after the event. I find this one of the most fruitful of all approaches today.

6. The guest service for which there is very careful preparation, much prayer, intensive emphasis on inviting unchurched friends, the use of testimony and very familiar music, and a challenging talk for decision. The challenge may be to a one-off decision for Christ, but most people need more time these days, so make it a challenge for joining an enquirers group. Done imaginatively - say three times a year – this is very effective in the ongoing life of the church.

7. Special occasions.  If the minister is an evangelist, he or she will find services for special occasions invaluable. People come to the church looking for something – they may not know what it is. But we know it is Christ!  Baptism preparation, marriage preparation, and very careful work at and after funerals, are often pathways to a living faith.

8. The use of neutral ground.  Business or professional meetings, and men’s breakfasts or women’s lunches, can be very easy to invite folk to, and very effective given the right context and speaker.  I have found that large, appropriate meetings for doctors, lawyers, etc have led to many joining enquirers’ groups, and coming to faith.  Concerts with a talk are also invaluable; so is anything to do with sport - especially, but certainly not exclusively, for young people. 

The use of film in a variety of ways is still very acceptable, especially with a discussion to follow. If you have a competent apologist, a debate is a massive draw. A carol service is a wonderful way to present the gospel – J. John leads hundreds of people to Christ every year through carol services.

9. Taking a team away is a marvellous way both to serve other localities and to bind your own team together in unforgettable fellowship. This may be a large mission team, or it may be a car-full of people for a single event; either way it is invariably better than a solo outing.  Complementary gifts, a whole range of experience, the testimonies, the fellowship, the variety of personalities – and it stimulates the people at the receiving end to do likewise.

10. Leisure-based events like a golf match or soccer tournament, a sports day, a skiing holiday, hill walking, sailing – these draw people together and often draw them to Christ. Any shared experience can work – dominoes, gardening, whatever!

11. Evangelism in the home.  This could be an invitation to supper and conversation; it could be a group meeting in the home to do an investigative Bible study, to have an enquirers group, to hear some interesting person speak on ‘My God and my job’, or perhaps to mark a crisis or celebrate something joyful.       

12. Visiting door-to-door seems almost to have died out, but it opens the way for evangelism.  YWAM and OM both major on visiting and questionnaires in the streets, and selling Christian material in shops or malls. In the US, Evangelism Explosion is a method of evangelism based on visiting, as is Michael Wooderson’s Good News Down Our Street in the UK. Dan Cozens’ `Walk of 1000 Men’ sees many men from a local parish join teams for visiting, small meetings, etc in a part of the country where careful preparations have been made. They are fed by the local saints and sleep on church floors.

13. Community Service is one of the best ways the local church can impact its area. It needs to analyze where the real need is and then seek to supply it, whether it be prison visiting, adoption services, soup kitchens, gyms, a church coffee shop or restaurant, the occasional fiesta, services to the aged etc. Not only is this Christlike service, it wins us the right to be heard: people start to wonder why we offer something for free like this.

There are countless other ways in which outreaches can be effected. One church I know did a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ event; another ran a discussion group for mothers after they had dropped off their kids for school; another ran an Any Questions at a neutral venue. Passion plays in the streets have been invaluable for centuries; open air drama-and-testimony events in populous places, accompanied by plenty of personal workers ready to talk with the people watching, prove very effective. On the Move is now an international means of open air outreach with a free barbecue, music, and people to talk to those who come. They are amazed to find that there is such a thing as a free lunch after all!

Imagination, passion, wholeheartedness, prayer, and every member ministry – these are the qualities needed. And in today’s post-Christian society, the more that can happen off church property the better!

Michael Green.

© Michael Green 2013.