Session Four – John Lin

Session4

EVANGELISM AND CELL GROUPS

Several reasons why cell groups are beneficial for evangelism. Essentially adds new dimension to work of evangelism, namely the importance of evangelistic communities – that people become believers and mature as believers in more ways than just through a personal one-on-one conversation. Personal one-on-one evangelism is always important, but have to understand that not the only way, and in some contexts, not the exclusive way – in fact, sometimes a better way of evangelism is not one-on-one. Sometimes more natural than conventional personal gospel presentation, because cell groups automatically practice friendship evangelism.

Case study: Redeemer. Over years, many people have come to faith because of evangelistic gospel presentations by Tim – they heard the gospel presented by words, were able to ask questions, and responded in faith. That said, finding that many people – particularly in a highly skeptical place like NYC, where people had hostility towards faith – community provided different ways to evangelize or for people to “experience” the gospel. Over years, people have come to faith because a) saw that we were friendly to faith and work matters and saw that we were supportive of the city and culture and not hostile even if we were critical, b) because we served the city – people drawn to opportunities to care for others, but were also amazed to see a church that was counter-cultural in caring for the city and disadvantaged, where many churches did not, c) community – in New York, have lots of community where people gather to share common interests (golf, sports, dance, music, art, etc.), but at Redeemer, on regular basis, see people gathered to care for one another, support one another, meet each others needs, forgive, reconcile, etc. In other words, community itself (caring for needs, etc.) was evangelistic tool – people got a picture of the “model home” – the community that God created – the end-time city. Also, when people come to faith, they already know the community – otherwise, people are challenged to accept Jesus but then immediately enter into a community that they may not know yet.

Why small groups in context of evangelism?

Growing in Christ in an individual happens not through programs, but through a community. Much like any character formation. People learn from their friends, are influenced by their relationships. Social reinforcement. Evangelism typically aims to get people to make a decision to follow Christ – but in some ways, that’s mostly a verbal commitment – entire life commitment takes time to cultivate, grow, etc. People come to full faith through series of mini-decisions or events where they think about the gospel and it becomes more real. Not very common for someone to decide right away and fully dedicate themselves. Part of a journey. If person is hearing gospel in context of a community – new church or part of a group, they’ll grow – not just in discipleship maturity, but also in conversion.

New groups are best way to reach new people. Much more effective than longer-existing entities. Allows you to bring new people in – why? People can find a place to fit in. If people come to a church and can’t find people they relate to – can’t become friends with people like them, it will be very difficult for them to stay long-term. Groups can be tailored to specific groups in a way that the entire church can’t. So, for instance, if church is middle-aged, then best way to reach younger people is if you can find a couple of young people to start a group – then people will come for them and will feel comfortable, instead of waiting feeling awkward around middle-aged people. New groups are more focused on new people and allow for people to get involved in leadership and service right away in a way that existing groups are not – existing groups typically focus on making the existing people happy – new groups can not only reach diverse people, but can really focus attention and needs on them. I.e. Redeemer has groups for young people, old people, Asians, non-Asians, married, non-married, etc. Plus, in new groups, people get involved much faster. If have group of 35 people, people think others will help out. With group of fewer people, everyone realizes it is their responsibility to get connected – particularly with greeting newcomers, hosting, hospitality, etc. By same token, groups are the only way a pastor can really care for all his people as church grows – because each group takes on their own personality and eventually, those groups may a) care for each other, or b) have a specific need or concern that the pastor can deal with from a higher level. Not only do groups mobilize people to serve each other, it’s also how they grow, and evangelize and its really a good way for pastor to care for everyone – even if he doesn’t do it individually. Illustration of surface area – salt is much more effective in melting ice if it is broken into small pieces instead of one big block.

Groups are best way to renew the church. Feeling of mission every time a new group is formed. Brings in new ideas into the body every time a new group is formed. Can try different things. Also, creates new leaders – people now have a place for them to get involved.

Groups are best way to care for people and train people in ministry. Needs surface within the group. People learn (through training by ministers) to serve and lead. In small communities, you really see how the gospel “works” – testimonies and answered prayers are seen all the time. Very deep worship can also happen in groups – very personal.

Groups are critical for:
•    Evangelism in community – people see a community, not just a message. Otherwise, when people come to a church, they are often drawn more to whether they like the pastor instead of whether they like the community. With group, much more likely to find someone to connect to. Also, see a serving community, hospitable community – basically, they can see the body of Christ in a very close, intimate, powerful way. Instead of seeing a gathering of people, they really see a family.
•    Discipleship in community – character formation happens in community – think of children with their peers.
•    Leadership development in community – many areas of service. Needs are surfaced more easily. Many of our best elders and deacons were once part of the group system.
•    Hospitality in community
•    Real pastoral care in community – people care for one another

How do you start? Start with a couple people you trust – train them, take them on visitation, open up your life to them – tart with pastor and family, then grow from there – slowly multiply (which reinvigorates old groups). May take time.