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.
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.
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
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.
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 2013.