After giving someone a nametag, a cup of joe and a donut, what more could they want from your small group? But, then they turn to face a sea of unknown faces. Introductions are made: Glad to see you MikeMaryEarlTammyJohnSiennaSeanAmy… There is no relationship, no recognizable network here. Individuals have come together and are trying desperately to make friends: Are you…Married? Looking? With kids? Employed? Having fun, how? Married? Working? Living where? Interested in anything, anyone? Did I ask if you were married?
Contrast that situation with what the No Place Left philosophy. All across Cincinnati, those who received training are fanning out to access their networks to share the Gospel. These local folks are looking for ways to get to know their neighbors, their co-workers, and their family in new ways.
Evangelizing works best when believers have established a trust level built on relationships. When we look at how Jesus and His followers made disciple-makers, we see patterns for connecting with people first and gathering them into groups. Jesus encountered the woman at the well who gathered a village (John 4). Then Jesus and the disciples were invited to stay many days, investing quality time. Peter encountered a centurion who gathered his friends and family and stayed for several days afterward (Acts 10). Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke encountered Lydia, whose household believed in Jesus and they stayed at her place (Acts 16).
Gathering people into small groups is more effective when existing relationships are harnessed. Right after Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector held a dinner in which his friends and others encountered Jesus (Matthew 9). The jump from verse 9 to 10 is immediate. Listen carefully to there being no transition. “Matthew got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house….” A friend once put it, “It takes four backyard barbeques with your neighbors before you can share the gospel.” It’s those relationships that will make witnesses relate best in a trusting environment.
Spend time talking with those that the Holy Spirit has led you to over the past year. What are their needs? How can you pray for them? Be genuine, authentic, and really listen. Have some meals together. Gather people you know to meet others you know.
Groups that are gathered from networks of existing relationships don’t need nametags because they already know each other. Now about that cup of joe and the donut…
-Mark Snowden directs the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association