Six Aspects of Community Evangelism
Over the course of this summer, we've done a few things we've never done before.
To begin, we changed up our Missional Community rhythms to give our leaders and hosts some space to rest. From there, we had in all 8 events designed to foster relationships between people already at River City Church. As we planted Southwest, we have many new people come who did not even know that there once was 75 to 100 other people that worshiped with us regularly. So, these events were meant to give people newer to River City the chance to make connections.
The third change we made over the summer was moving away from sermon-based discussion toward a study on the message, the motives, and the methods in God's mission. This study was meant to help us as a church understand the what, the why, and the how of outreach and evangelism.
And as we get back into our normal rhythms of community life, it is worth reiterating the methodology we employ in outreach and evangelism.
Understanding this methodology will have tangible impact on how we engage with others. Case-in-point: we were joined at our last picnic by a single dad and his son. In an email, he shared how over the course of their hour at the picnic, no one approached them or introduced themselves. They ended up sitting by themselves and leaving, resolved not to come back. If it had not been for his email, we would have never known they were there.
We subscribe to a group-based relational evangelism philosophy where we share the gospel in the context of loving, trusting relationships. This flows from passages like John 13:34-35 and 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13. As citizens of the kingdom, and as ambassadors for Christ, we go to people in love and calling them to trust in Jesus and believe the gospel.
This is why our Missional Communities exist, to display the love of Christ in our relationships while inviting others to believe the gospel. As citizens of the kingdom, we live as ambassadors to those who have yet to trust in Christ. Making disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus is who we are.
But, from this dad's experience, we did not live out that identity. He asked this difficult question: "So how does this missional, outreach-oriented church manage nearly as a whole (as a collective of individuals' actions) to overlook, avoid, whatever, a lone father and his son?"
Therefore, taking the time to understand the methodology and put it into practice is crucial for us as a church and living out our mission.
Here are six steps we can put into practice that will help us to truly make disciples of Jesus who makes disciples of Jesus:
To begin, we are the kind of people who initiate relationships. I am introverted, so I know the kind of energy this takes. But, knowing the pursuit our God had of us empowers me to pursue people. I've learned not to take for granted the opportunity to meet immortal souls in need of a Savior, while trusting in the sovereignty of God to save each and every one of his children. The sovereignty of God in salvation gives me every reason to initiate new relationships.
Paul initiated relationships all over the ancient world. Reading the book of Acts, we can see the various ways this didn't go so well (Acts 16:6-10) and ways this went really well (Acts 16:11-15). He and his companions initiated relationships with the Thessalonians out of love, and saw people come to faith and a church planted (1 Thessalonians 1:2-2:16).
As I meet new people, I want to know their story. Where are they from? Where do they live now? How long have they lived here? Are they married? How many kids do they have? Where do they work? There is so much information to be known about people that we cannot exhaust one's story. Knowing the details of their lives is the first step in actually knowing someone and having a deepening relationship.
Paul learned a lesson in Lystra, where he healed a man and the locals immediately thought he and Barnabas were gods (Acts 14:8-18). When he went to Athens, he took his time to walk around the city and learn about their culture (Acts 17:16-21).
But information on its own can only take us so far. We must be able to go further and learn about how one interprets life. How do they make sense of life in this broken world? What do they see as wrong with this place? Where do they look to find redemption and hope? What do they value? What do they fear? What brings them joy? What defines them? This is where we truly know a person and can get a sense of their heart and how we can bring the gospel to bear specifically in their life.
As Paul saw how they made sense of life in Athens, he was able to speak into these things with specificity and power (Acts 17:22-34).
Up to this point, this sounds like an interrogation. Identification is the way in which we actually talk and share a bit about how we make sense of life. This is where we can start to talk about how the gospel and our faith in Christ informs how we see the world, how we see ourselves, and how we view our relationships. This builds trust and credibility, leveling the playing field and inviting deeper connection.
As Paul and Barnabas witnessed to Jews in various synagogues, he could do so with credibility because he understood their worldview and interpretation of life. But he shared the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation, undermining the core aspects of how they saw themselves, God, and the world. This ruffled many feathers, but also many believed and churches were planted (See Acts 13:13-52).
Being that we focus on group outreach and our relationships displaying Christ's love, we must work toward introducing those who have yet to trust Christ to others in our Missional Communities and in our church. This is where our love can actually be displayed. Ultimately, we hope that through Sunday mornings and Missional Communities we can make an introduction to Jesus as he is put forth in Scripture, in all his splendor and majesty! This can happen in so many ways, and doing this through community involves us all in the process. It not a Lone Ranger method of outreach, but rather us being the people of God and inviting others in his kingdom.
Paul and his companions were in the networking business. They introduced a variety of people and places to the gospel. We have the same opportunity as we connect people to our groups and our church.
As people trust Christ and believe his gospel, being with us on his mission, mutual influence will take place. As we have influenced them for Christ, they will also influence us and take part in our growth in grace. They will take part in the greatest work this world has ever known (making disciples) with us. They will influence you and others for Christ and we will all grow in the process.
The nature of Paul's influence on the Thessalonian church is beautifully described as gentle and nurturing as well as exhorting and encouraging and charging. Our relationships can be places where truth is shared in love and we all grow in Christlikeness. The transformation that took place amongst the Thessalonians ended up influencing an entire region (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Relationships are messy, and rarely this linear. But you would be surpised at how far you can go in a 2 minute conversation. With the single dad, a handshake and a few questions may have made some difference in his opinion of us as a church.
He has graciously allowed us to use his experience as an object lesson, and has admitted he could have taken steps himself to build relationships with us. But this displays how difficult this work is. And it reminds us why we must focus on this as a church.
Who did you first meet when you came to River City? What about their approach was helpful? What was not so helpful?
What do you find to be the most difficult part of initiating relationships? What kind of mentality and attitude does this require, and what in your life and approach may need to change?
The first person I met was a reporter for the Forum who was writing a piece on this new church downtown. The next person I met was Brett and he was very welcoming and we made some instant connections over a book about discipleship and church planting. I didn't fully understand it then, but I knew this was going to be our church home. There have been so many others that I've met or who have approached me that have resulted in deep connections and friendship.
There's more of this to be had as we take part in God's mission.