This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 01 (2007). For more information about the Christian Research Journal, click here.
Imagine. You walk over to your next door neighbor’s house and ring the doorbell. You and your spouse are greeted warmly and invited to come in. Within a short period of time, the doorbell rings several more times, and with each ring, other people from your neighborhood arrive and join you inside. Refreshments are available and everyone is at ease, casually engaging in conversation. There’s lots of laughter.
At just the right time, you invite the group of eleven or twelve neighbors to gather in the living room and you begin to facilitate an hour‐long, highly interactive and invigorating discussion about spiritual issues. Soon into the discourse, people are wrestling with comparing what they believe with what the Bible teaches and what others are sharing—and they all seem to be enjoying themselves! Even though the participants don’t all agree, there appears to be an overflow of respect and unconditional acceptance. It’s obvious to you that most are not yet Christians.
After the discussion time ends, many linger in the kitchen to continue the dialogue. As people eventually leave, you’re struck by their anticipation for future meetings: “Looking forward to next time.” “This was a blast.” “I wouldn’t miss these discussions for the world.” “See you next week.” As you exchange farewells and stroll back to your house, you and your spouse are awe‐struck. Never in your wildest dreams did you think such an exciting experience like this could happen right in your very own neighborhood.
Can you imagine such a scene? Just think of it—eleven or twelve spiritual seekers eagerly gathering with you on an ongoing basis to freely share their beliefs and disbeliefs about spiritual matters! This is the essence of a seeker small group. A seeker small group is a community of non‐Christians who gather regularly with one or two Christians to explore spiritual matters at a variety of locations from homes or offices to restaurants or churches. The Christians organize and facilitate the discussions based on the seekers’ spiritual questions and issues.
Almost anyone can lead a seeker small group. Do you have non‐Christian neighbors, classmates, coworkers, or teammates? You can provide a safe place for them to investigate the claims of Christ at their own pace and discover biblical truths for themselves.
I’ve been training Christians to launch and facilitate small groups for spiritual seekers for twenty five years and I cannot get over the powerful impact these groups make in the lives of non‐Christians and how God uses this tool to reach people. There are three distinct advantages to using this tailored approach for reaching out to friends and family members for Christ.
A Safety Zone. First, seeker small groups provide a safe place for seekers really to seek. Participants investigate the claims of Christianity at their own pace. They are accepted no matter where they are in their spiritual journeys. If they have little or no knowledge of the Bible, that’s OK. If they are cynical or skeptical, they are welcomed anyway. There is no judgmental attitude, only a spirit of mutual acceptance. This safe place provides an environment for seekers to express their thoughts and feelings openly, to voice their observations and questions, and even to assert their objections—all without fear of criticism or rejection. The result is that non‐Christians in the group actually look forward to disclosing their issues and concerns about the Bible and its claims. They eventually get to the point, amazingly, where they eagerly engage in the process of searching out biblical answers for themselves.
Another component of safety occurs when non‐Christians find a place where they can connect with other non‐Christians. There is definitely safety in numbers, and when the majority of the participants are non‐Christians, people in the group can identify with each other’s spiritual questions and concerns. Time after time, I’ve heard seekers make comments to one another such as, “I can’t believe you just said that! I’ve had the same concern over the issue you just raised for a long time, but I thought I was the only one. I feel better now knowing I have some of the same questions as the rest of you.” When seekers identify with other seekers, it legitimizes their questions and objections—and there is no better way to create a secure environment.
Seekers also feel safe when they are allowed to discover spiritual truths for themselves. They’re not coming to the group to hear a lecture or get talked at; instead, leaders orchestrate dynamic discussions in such a way that the seekers have the opportunity to think out loud and encounter “ah‐ha moments” about biblical truths. Facilitators provide the forum for a discovery process in which seekers are given the freedom to investigate and learn on their own, in their own way, and at their own pace.
A Proven Approach, Time and Again. A second advantage of a seeker small group is that it’s a highly effective tool for evangelism. The impact these groups can make in the lives of people who are far from God is unmistakable. Non‐Christians throughout the world have crossed the line of faith as a direct result of their participation in seeker groups. Bill Hybels, founding senior pastor of my church, considers seeker small groups to be one of the greatest evangelistic tools we’ve deployed at Willow Creek in the past decade.
I’m sure many of you have had the experience of using good illustrations to share your faith with someone, only to have the person respond, “Well, that sounds fascinating. It seems like a nice idea—for you, and I’m happy for you, but it’s not something I’m interested in right now.” At that point, the conversation comes to a screeching halt. You don’t really know where to go from there, and the next time you see your friend, you’re not sure how to pick up where you left off. You’re just sort of stuck.
It is difficult to know how to reengage when a previous conversation has ended so abruptly, but a seeker small group provides a built‐in “excuse” for ongoing dialogue about spiritual matters. Hosting a seeker small group is like having a set appointment every week with a group of non‐Christians to talk about faith‐related issues. It is far easier—for both the leader and the seeker—to strike up spiritual conversations on a regular basis when they are already scheduled. In fact, I’ve had seekers tell me they were working on a whole list of objections to Christianity and could hardly wait to bring it to the next group meeting for discussion. For them, the group became their own special opportunity to engage fully in the seeking process. It was something to which they really looked forward!
What transpires during the seeker group also can prompt ongoing spiritual conversations that take place outside of the meeting. As a leader notes various individual responses, he or she can initiate meetings on a one‐to‐one basis with group members to share a meal or just spend time together and dig more deeply into those particular issues. The leader can then ask to hear more about what exactly someone meant by what he or she expressed, or simply evaluate how well the group is going. This is an excellent chance to help the seeker take one more step along his or her spiritual path.
A Broad Appeal. A third distinct advantage of the seeker small group approach is that it’s a highly transferable concept. Seeker small groups are easily adaptable within a wide spectrum of church and ministry settings, styles, and formats. These small groups can flourish whether a church utilizes a traditional or contemporary worship format, a seeker‐oriented or believer‐oriented focus, or anything in between. No radical changes within a church or ministry structure are needed in order to launch these groups.
This evangelistic tool offers an excellent next step for the seekers who already attend a church or ministry. Our church did not really have any next steps for the seekers who came to our services until we made seeker small groups available. We had lots of next steps for believers—Christians could get connected into small groups and find places to serve. Seekers, though, were at a loss to know what to do beyond attending our services on a regular basis. Now we have a natural outlet to offer them. Once we began launching seeker groups, hundreds of seekers stepped out and got connected into these specialized small groups, propelling them forward in their spiritual journeys.
In addition, our seeker small groups have become a springboard for people who are not yet ready to attend church services. Meeting in neighborhood homes, workplace lunch rooms, or local cafés, people initially unwilling to darken the door of a church are able to explore spiritual matters, and over time get connected to a nearby church where they can gain further insights and grow in their understanding of the Bible.
Life‐Changing Moments. When you gather a small group filled with seekers, it’s only a matter of time before you give them the chance to explore, understand, and eventually embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Expect some life‐changing moments that you will remember for the rest of your life! When you play a role in leading someone across the line of faith to receive Christ, not only will that person’s life be changed for all eternity, but so will yours, because you were there.
— Garry Poole