Small Groups for Unbelievers… A Different Kind of Community

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Is your group ministry struggling to reach those far from Christ? Maybe you need to reconsider the types of groups you’re willing to offer.

When creating groups with the intent of reaching those who are not yet Christ followers, it’s essential that we understand what primary interest draws them to be part of a group. Whereas believers come together with the chief goal being to studying God’s Word, live in Christian community, and grow toward Christlikeness, those who are not yet followers of Christ have no interest in these things. In fact, their hearts can hardly grasp these aims as the Holy Spirit is what prompts believers to move in these directions, and those who haven’t yet become Christ followers don’t yet have the indwelling Holy Spirit prompting them toward spiritual matters.

It’s important that, when starting groups with the primary purpose of reaching those far from Christ, we remember that we’re gathering a group we hope will become a community based on different things than when starting a group primarily for the already convicted, convinced, and redeemed.

Someone once described the word community as people with a, “common unity of purpose and interests.” That is, a group of people drawn together because of an agreed upon or inner longing toward a like purpose or interest.

With that in mind, when starting a group primarily for non-believers remember…

  • Your unity of purpose is not JESUS, your goal is to make it that.
  • Your unity of purpose is not YOUR CHURCH, although your encouragement and guidance comes from that.
  • Your unity of interest is not the BIBLE, although many in the room realize the wisdom that comes from that.
  • Your unity of interest is not PRAYER, although some will need and want that.
  • Your unity of interest is WHATEVER the group has a COMMON UNITY in.

So, when starting groups for the unbeliever you’ll want to consider groups that have as their primary purpose something other than the things just mentioned. This is why the Free Market System of doing groups is so effective evangelistically. The Free Market System directs people to start groups based on any interest that they may have in common while inserting many of the things in the list above in the conversations they’re having.

In the Free Market System what draws a group together may be golf, cooking, Harley rides, a book club, etc… And, while it seems to some that this is trite stuff that may be inappropriate for a church to sponsor, we might want to remember Paul’s words to a church full of carnal Christ followers when he declared, I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22b)

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3 comments

  1. Thanks, Rick. Very helpful info. I think the exception to the rule is when you have a group of people who have a real interest in spiritual things or learning more about Jesus. The most successful (in terms of fruit) group I’ve led was an investigative study about Jesus and Christianity in an apartment building. The commonality was that we all lived in the same building and hung out together. My wife and I built relationships with the people in the building and prayed for them first, and we waited for the Holy Spirit to move before we began the group. But when we did, we saw many people come to Christ.

    I’ve also led a number of interest-based groups for and with unbelievers. This kind of group also takes a lot of patience, waiting on God’s timing, and it’s also all about building relationships. The “trick” is to cross the bridge from the interest to spiritual matters without being awkward or doing a “bait and switch.” God’s timing and power is of utmost importance in that. If you are a control freak or impatient, this may not be the group for you, unless, of course, you can surrender and let God transform you in the process!

  2. Appreciate the good word and reminder. Too often we form an “outreach” small group and then make the announcement that if anyone is interested they can come to us and fit into our conception of a group – instead of doing what Jesus did and going to them, meeting the non-believer where he or she is at in life, and pointing them to the redemptive and restorative power of Jesus. Paul said, ” I will be all things to all men that I might reach some.” A small group with that outreach goal is a wonderful thing to behold.

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