From: Focusing on winning individuals.
To: Focusing on groups — to bring the gospel into existing families, groups and communities.
90% of salvations described in the book of Acts describe either large or small groups. Only 10% are individuals who experience salvation by themselves. We also see Jesus focusing on sending out his disciples to look for households, and we see Jesus often reaching households. Note examples such as Zacchaeus and his entire household experiencing salvation (Luke 19:9-10), and the Samaritan woman coming to faith along with a great many from her entire town (John 4:39-42).
Reaching groups has many advantages over reaching and gathering individuals. For example:
- Instead of transferring “Christian culture” to a single new believer, local culture begins to be redeemed by the group.
- Persecution isn’t isolated and focused on the individual but is normalized across the group. They can support each other in persecution.
- Joy is shared as a family or community discovers Christ together.
- Unbelievers have a visible example of “here’s what it looks like for a group of people like me to follow Christ.”
(Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/23/mindshifts-in-movements-part-2/)
This is one of the primary ways Christians in the Global North unintentionally undermine multiplication strategies. When we first encounter a spiritual seeker is a crucial juncture. If we view this person as only an individual, we will most likely work to disconnect her/him from the groups in order to connect them to ourselves and/or other groups. Likely we will invite them to other groups where we already have meaningful relationships. While this is not wrong, it is unwise. It is addition at its best/worst.
Before you start a one on one Bible study with an individual ask, “Who do you know who also has these spiritual thoughts?” Or maybe, “Which of your friends might be asking the same kinds of spiritual questions?” The goal is to remember that most people have family or friends and Persons of Peace will want their closest relationships to go on this spiritual journey with them, if at all possible.
As the copied material above indicates, this effort to see a whole family and/or group of friends come to faith together is absolutely essential when working in “closed” people groups. While we assume that is not so important here in the U.S., we may need to reconsider, especially if we are reaching out to refugees or immigrants. Just this morning I heard about a teenager who came to faith as an individual and his immediate family sent him back to their homeland (they are refugees from a nation which is overwhelmingly unreached) so he can be peer pressured into renouncing his faith. What if he had been encouraged to invite family members to participate from the beginning?
While the people you are contacting may not be like that teenager, what if their disciples are? Why not start a process which can be used anywhere in this world? Let’s use practices which honor the family and friendship structures which are already in place? Yes, some relationships will become oppositional, but let’s make sure it is not because of our failure to try to reach people in their existing groups.
Why is finding a Person of Peace so significant?
“You can’t change an entire community by only changing the mom. A community is a collection of families. You change the community by changing the family, and you access the family through that one member.” A Person of Peace is someone the Holy Spirit is stirring up to become open to hearing about God and changing his/her life to align with what is being learned. Like Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian Jailer, these people do not come to faith by themselves. They want their household (social network) to know God and fall in love with Jesus, too. They want this badly enough that they share what they are hearing with others, week by week.
Why is working with a group so powerful?
“We want to multiply impact,” responds a coach. “For change to be sustainable, there must be unity. A changed family can change another family. Train a husband, a wife and their children and all of them together will now show others the new way forward.” Much of the people groups who have not yet been reached with the gospel think from more of a collectivistic worldview than Westerners do. Few things have slowed the spread of the gospel more than our failure to understand this.
Ponder with me what the recent findings of a Barna research project reveal about people who increased their active engagement with the Bible implies about the potential for starting Discovery Groups focused on reading the Bible:
Bible Engagement Survey (2017)
Increased Bible Engagement = Important Part of Faith Journey
More than one half (56%) of those who report an increase in Bible readership attribute it to their understanding that Bible reading is an important part of their faith journey….Second to this response, many people point to a difficult life experience that led them to search the Bible for direction or answers (39%)…. Seeing how the Bible changed someone they knew for the better was an important motivating factor for 30 percent of adults, as was being asked by someone they know to read the Bible (20%).
What might happen if your friend going through a difficulty was invited to read what the Bible has to say about that issue? What if you invited folks to read what the Bible actually says about God’s nature? Just because some of the people you know are Bible skeptics, don’t assume they all are.
While the first group may be most likely believers already, the other three groups are not so likely. Who can you invite to read the Bible? Which of them might become the case study for an improved life? Start praying she will be open. Take the plunge and invite him. Oh, and when he says “Yes,” be sure to ask, “Who else in your social network might join us if you invited?”
Here in the West, we think of church as “gathered.” No doubt, you must gather to accomplish some of the “one anothers” and other functions of church (as the body of Christ). But what we generally fail to recognize is how much our cultural individuality impacts how we understand “gathered.” We often overlook the household language of scripture.
The gospel was planted into existing households.
Church was not primarily isolated believers who come together to act like a quasi-family. The gospel took root in the families, friends and employees that were 1st Century Roman households. It is not that church took the household structure.
Because we start from an individualistic bias, we miss this. Because we start from an individualistic bias, our strategies and tactics are often damaging to households, and thus extractional. Yes, there are times when some members of a family will come to trust in Jesus and others will reject them because of that, but Disciple Making Movements want that whole household to hear the gospel, interact with the gospel and not make their decision just because they incorrectly view the gospel as a Western oppressive intrusion.
This is why we evaluate our approaches to insure that they can be reproduced within any existing culture that highly values close-knit, multi-generational families. This is why we work to disciple the whole household to faith. The last thing we want is for the household to feel like Christian families do when one of their children converts to the Moonies or another cult–“they kidnapped and brain-washed” her/him.
Too much of the church planting talk is about gathering unconnected individuals and trying to get them to act like family. Real movements come when the gospel is being planted into existing family/friendship structures where people are discipled to trust and obey Jesus.
[NOTE: I originally wrote this as a comment on an article by Felicity Dale (http://simplychurch.com/on-cpms-and-dmms/). She moved it and a couple of other comments to her main page and there has been some interesting dialogue there. I decided to re-post it here on my site so that my networks could interact with it, also. You probably ought to check out the other dialogue.]