Promoting the gospel in growth groups

swiss_army_knifeGrowth groups can have a tendency to focus inwardly upon themselves. Or should we say, the people in growth groups can become attached to their groups, so that the group gets all the bulk of their attention. This might be hard to believe when you first join up with a bunch of strangers, but as we get involved in each others’ lives, we can grow attached to each other. Of itself this is good, but if it leads to the neglect of others outside the group then we have a problem. Sometimes this can manifest itself with a prioritising of the group over the rest of church. But it can also mean that we forget about the needs of people outside church altogether.

centrifugalI didn’t do much physics at school, but my novice understanding is that growth groups therefore have a centripetal tendency. We tend to become preoccupied with what’s going on inside the group. If so, then I suggest we also encourage a centrifugal interest among the members of our groups. We want to be concerned for what’s happening on the outside, and we want to be preparing people in our groups to live and speak as followers of Jesus outside the group.

We don’t want growth groups to be holy huddles or simply emotional support groups. They are growth groups. We want to see the members of our groups growing together in Christian maturity. This will mean following the mission of Jesus, who came to seek and to save those who are lost. It will involve promoting the gospel of Jesus in our daily lives and it will move us to prayer.

There are many ways that growth groups can focus on promoting the gospel. We’ll explore a few:

1. Prayer

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Paul asked the churches to support him in prayer. He had the responsibility of preaching Christ to the nations and he needed God’s help and people’s partnership in prayer. We can also support others in their proclamation of Jesus. Pray for the preachers and evangelists in our churches. Pray for others who are entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of making Christ known. Pray for those who are under much public scrutiny. Pray for people who are using different media, who are writing books and blogs, producing audio, video and TV, to proclaim Christ. Pray that they will be faithful, engaging, and bring honour to God. If our church supports global partners (or missionaries), or has sent people to plant new churches, then let’s uphold them in prayer.

Let’s also pray for one another in our groups, that we will live godly lives and show the difference that a relationship with Jesus can make. Pray for opportunities to do good to others and to bring blessing into people’s lives. Pray that God will open doors for us to give a reason for the hope that we have. Ask God to help us do this with gentleness and respect to others.

Maybe your group could pray for particular people outside the group. Friends of the members, family, workmates, neighbours, people we’re keen to see come to know Jesus. If your group breaks into 2s or 3s to pray, then you could pray more specifically and personally.

2. Living out the implications of the gospel during the week

People notice how we live. It matters! Who’s going to pay attention to someone who tells them that being a Christian can change their life, if they’re known by everyone as the office gossip, a liar and a cheat? Titus 2 gives us gospel motives and purpose for living lives of integrity and grace…

5 … so that no one will malign the word of God.

8 … so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

10 … so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

For this reason our Bible studies should be focused on producing fruit in people’s lives. Application shouldn’t simply be tacked on when we allow enough time. It’s the whole purpose of the study. Transformed lives is what we are seeking. Not so that we can pat ourselves on the back, but for the glory of God and the welfare of others.

We should make time to get to know the members of our groups. What are their lives like? Who do they live with? What’s goes on in their workplace? What courses are they studying? Do they have any kids? What do they find tough? Who do they hang out with? What temptations do they face? Where do they think they are most on show? Let’s use our time together in growth groups to encourage one another, as it says in Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

3. Celebrate our God-given differences

The beauty of a church and a growth group is that they’re made up of different people. We’re united in the gospel of Jesus, but we have different gifts, personalities, experiences, opportunities. God has designed it this way so that we recognise the benefits of working together. When it comes to promoting the gospel, it’s important that we don’t spend the whole time making each other feel inadequate. Perhaps John spent a recent plane trip talking with his fellow passengers about why he’s a Christian. That doesn’t mean that everyone else should be doing the same thing. Some people can’t afford plane trips! Seriously, others will be too shy to ever contemplate such a thing. Some will be better communicators than others. We’re all wired differently and we should celebrate this, rather than judging one another.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:15-18)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be nudging each other along or encouraging each other to grow and change. We must. But let’s encourage transformation into the image of Christ, rather than calling everyone to conform to a particular stereotype. How many Ned Flanders do we really need!?

4. Work on a gospel project together

Perhaps your growth group could work on a project to promote the gospel. This could be an event that you each invite people to. They tend to work best when the members of the group are connected with similar people. If everyone lived in the same community, perhaps they could each invite their neighbours. Parents of the kids in the same school or sporting team could arrange an event for other parents. A group meeting in the same workplace could invite their colleagues to something in a lunch hour or after work. A common ethnic group could promote an event in their community. A common interest group could connect with others in their network. A group of people living in the same university residence have special opportunities to promote the gospel together.

Their are all sorts of events that could be used in promoting the gospel. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve participated in…

  • A Question & Answer event where someone answers people’s questions about Christianity. People invite friends, put on a good meal or refreshments, invite a speaker, or a panel of speakers, to answer questions. It’s very important people know clearly what they’re being invited to come to. No surprises. And don’t let the Christians dominate discussion!
  • An fun activity followed by short refreshments and a brief talk. If everyone is into mountain biking, perhaps go for a ride, come back for a BBQ, and have someone share why being a Christian is so important to them. Our group once held a wine tasting event at a local winery, after which I spoke about the one who turned water into wine!
  • A God party! You’ve heard of Tupperware and Nutrimetics parties. It’s the same idea with a few differences. The good stuff is all free. A friend of mine promoted this idea by encouraging people to take advantage of an excellent opportunity to discuss the often neglected, but important, topic of God. Heaps of people came.
  • A home brew evening. We have a few clever blokes in our church who make their own. They got together, put on a demo, and invited Pat Alexander (The bloke who wrote I’d love to have a beer with Duncan for Slim Dusty) to speak about the two most influential men in his life – Jesus and Duncan!
  • Use the collective imaginations of the people in the group to come up with your own ideas!

5. Training together

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ( 1 Peter 3:15-16)

If someone was to ask you how you became a Christian, or what makes a Christian different to a Jew, a Hindu, or a Jehovah’s Witness, what would you say? If they asked why you go to church, or whether you pray, or what’s so important about Jesus, would you have an answer? If someone enquired why you have an eternal hope in the face of death… do you know what you want to say? The Apostles, Peter and Paul, both call us to be prepared to answer those who want to know what it’s all about. We’re encouraged to be willing and able to speak to others about what we believe.

Willingness flows from confidence in the gospel, trusting in God to be at work, and that he can use our lives and words to impact others. It’s easy to be embarrassed, or even ashamed, of the perceived weakness of our message. We need to be regularly reminded that the truth about Jesus can change people’s lives for good and forever. Ability comes from knowing what we believe and knowing people, and connecting the two in practice. Growth groups are a great environment to build confidence in God’s word and how it changes people.

A group can take incidental opportunities for equipping each other in sharing what we believe. Maybe we’re telling the group about a conversation we had at work where Christianity came up. The group could brainstorm how we might have handled it well or how we could improve. An idea might arise out of the Bible study that helps us to explain an aspect of our faith to enquirers. It’s good to highlight and reinforce these things. The Bible passage might intersect with some issues that are preventing people from taking God seriously, and the group could discuss how to over come this. People could talk together about how God has relevance to issues that we deal with day to day, so as to be better prepared when opportunities arise.

There can also be formal opportunities for training in gospel communication. If the church is providing courses or one-on-one mentoring, the leader might encourage people to participate (even if it means skipping the group for a few weeks). Maybe the growth group could set aside a few weeks from the regular studies to focus on some area of training.

6. Are people who aren’t Christian invited?

I think the short answer is “Why not?” Why wouldn’t we welcome anyone who wants to join with us, look at the Bible together, enter into life together. We don’t put bouncers on the door at church, so why would we close the doors to our groups? It could offer a wonderful opportunity to build genuine relationships and promote real discussion that will help someone come to a decision to follow Jesus.

It is important for the group to be of a common understanding of what the group is about, who it’s for and how it functions. Let everyone discuss their hopes and expectations. If you are a group of Christians, and then someone who isn’t persuaded joins with you, it will change the dynamics considerably. Not a bad thing, but we need to work with the changes. You might need to talk about whether your particular group is the best context for a friend who’s not a Christian, or whether another group might be better. If your church has special groups for those who are looking into Christianity, perhaps it would be better to go with your friend to that group for a while. Think about whether they’d be more comfortable talking things through with you, just sitting anonymously in church, joining in with the group, or something else entirely.

Remember we are talking about GROWTH groups. Our desire is to be growing followers of Jesus, through people coming to faith in Jesus Christ and growing together into maturity.

Further reading
Colin Marshall, Growth Groups, chapter 9
John Chapman, Know and tell the Gospel
Kel & Barbara Richards, Hospitality Evangelism
Dave Thurston, Making friends for life
John Dickson, Promoting the Gospel
Steve Timmis & Tim Chester, The Gospel-centered Church

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