Church Small Groups Reimagined: Use Them for Outreach Through Bible Storying

It has been a few weeks since I posted on the benefits of Bible storying, so it seemed high time to do it again. If you cannot tell, I am a firm believer in using a narrative/ story approach in Bible study. I saw the great benefit of unpacking biblical material in story form when I was a missionary in West Africa. However, I think it is as useful in the States as it is in the bush.

So, I propose the following: use evangelistic Bible storying to start new small groups at your church through conversion. Sound crazy? Keep reading.

Church small groups are a buzzword nowadays, and with good reason. Small groups can be an effective means of discipleship in a church. Small groups allow church members to know each other well, develop deeper community, encourage accountability, and study the Scriptures together. Often, these small groups are formed from existing members of the church. Sometimes, a church will multiply its small groups when they get too big. This allows for more people to move into a lead role in discipling others. That’s all good stuff, but what if your church tried to develop small groups by conversion?

A Small Group of Unbelievers?

Evangelistic Bible studies that use storying as their primary means of teaching are an excellent way for people who are not Christians to learn about the faith, interact with some believers, and regularly hear the gospel. Many unchurched people will not attend a big gathering but would be open to a conversational setting with other unchurched people about the Scriptures. Of course, these types of small groups would look different than one full of believers. After all, the purpose is to provide a space where Bible stories inform people who are not familiar and provide opportunities to hear the gospel. These groups would be started by key couples or individuals in the church and would not be made up of church members but unchurched people that they met and introduced to the group.

This is where it gets cool. As that group uses stories to walk through the Bible (and the gospel), if they become believers, the group begins to work its way into the larger life of the church. They become members and are grafted into the body as a whole. What started as a group of lost people interested in hearing more about the Bible becomes another active small group inside the church. Then it trains people to go start another Bible study in the same way.

It is Outreach and Discipleship.

Using storying in an evangelistic Bible study group is a two-edged sword for ministry. First, it focuses on growth through conversion. This is extremely important for any church. Much church growth today occurs through transfer, not conversion. In other words, many churches get new members primarily through people moving into their area who are looking for a church or by them switching from one church in town to another. I am not saying that Christians joining your church is a bad thing, but your church is fulfilling the Great Commission when it is making new disciples, not getting them from somewhere else. A church’s continued health depends on its ability to reach the transitioning neighborhood around it. Bible storying in evangelistic groups aimed at the unchurched in your neighborhood cuts in the right direction.

Second, there are few better ways to disciple your existing believers than involving them in this kind of work. If you want your existing church members to really develop a biblical worldview, understand the gospel and how it affects everyday life, and be able to articulate it to others, then have them start a Bible storying group with a handful of unchurched people. The key is to find those potential leaders and begin to train and equip them for this kind of work. It looks different than many outreach models used today. It is a “go and tell” strategy instead of a “come and see” activity.

In the next few days, I will post a follow-up that lays out some first steps for identifying these leaders and how to equip them for the task at hand. Stay tuned!

 

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