The Ministry of the Normal
By Carlton L. Coon
Do we limit ourselves by waiting for someone superb to step to the forefront? Where is the ministry of the normal? Was it normal bread and fish Jesus used to feed a multitude? Was it not a normal colt on which He made triumphant entry into Jerusalem? Were James and John not normal fishermen?
If evangelism is restricted to specialists, the platform personalities, or itinerant evangelists we limit our impact. Could it be that we wait on the splendid while God chooses to use the normal? Within you … and within your church … right now … at this very moment are the essential resources to effectively evangelize your community. People bringing a friend … who bring a friend … who bring a friend. Glenda … Virginia … Diane … Bob!
Some look for a new campaign without using what God has already given. A key word in the expansion of the early church was the term – oikas. Oikas refers to one’s household and extended family. It is one’s sphere of influence. Oikas is the network that includes family, friends, co-workers and business associates. The New Testament talks of it often:
* Luke 8:38-39, Jesus sent a delivered demoniac back to his hometown to tell what had happened to him. He kept him within his oikas.
* Luke 19:5-9, Jesus visited Zacchaeus and his household.
* John 1:40-41, Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
* John 1:44-45, Philip brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus.
* John 4:49-53, An official and his entire household believed.
* Acts 10, The story of Cornelius and his extended family being saved.
* Acts 16:12-15, Lydia and her household are baptized.’
* Acts 16:23-34, The jailer at Philippi and his family believe and are baptized.
* In Acts 18:7-8, Crispus the synagogue ruler, his household, and many of the Corinthians believe.
In every reference, evangelism is natural. People already connected to people affecting those people. No strain. Evangelism is as natural as salt … being salty. Nothing far-fetched or extreme.
On occasion, God does miraculously transfer a Philip to evangelize an Ethiopian stranger. In the New Testament, Philips’s experience is the exception rather than the rule. Evangelism usually happened as people moved within the opportunities provided by natural relationships.
A research project from some years back shows little has changed. A seminary professor from New Orleans surveyed 400 people. He asked, “Who was responsible for the initial contact which resulted in you now being a member of the church?” The answers:
Pastor or staff – 7%
Children’s Ministry – 11%
Friends/Neighbors – 13%
A family member – 67%
A full eighty percent of those interviewed indicated they came because someone already closely associated with them influenced them. Oikas still works. Not sure about it? Do a similar survey of your own.
A more recent survey of unsaved adults by George Barna showed that about 25% of them would attend a church if a friend took the time or made an effort to invite them. Brethren … that is one of four people connected with your church family by virtue of family relationship, being a neighbor, friend or co-worker will visit if that person asks them to.
Why it Works
Robert Coleman’s books “The Master Plan of Evangelism” and the “The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples” are worthy reads. (Both available from HM Sales). In the latter, Coleman gives eight reasons why a church’s outreach efforts should identify and use the natural networks of relationships:
1. It is the natural way churches grow
2. It is the most cost effective way to reach new people
3. It is the most fruitful way to win new people
4. It provides a constantly enlarging source of new contacts
5. It brings the greatest satisfaction to participating members
6. It results in the most effective assimilation of new members
7. It tends to win entire families
8. It uses existing relationships
Coleman’s message – it does not require something spectacular to get a hearing for the gospel. When God’s spirit is in complete control there is an inevitable return to the simple methods of the first century church. Biblical patterns not only still work; they work the best.
Get the Saints in Circulation
This has implications on how we do evangelism in the third millennium. Baby Busters and Generation X are relational. My sons and their friends don’t have to have something to “do,” they just “hang out” (whatever that means). They are just together. There was a time when people came to church and then made friends; now people make friends and then come to church. .
What is the significance for a church where the saints are friends with one another but not with outsiders?
What will happen to the church with so many programs targeting insiders that all available time is consumed going to events? It is possible that such a church:
* Will serve themselves
* While failing to reach outsiders
* Will minimize their impact in the community
* While not even being heard by the coming generation.
During Oliver Cromwell’s reign the British government ran low on silver for making coins. He sent men to search a local cathedral in hopes of finding some silver. After their search, his men reported, “The only silver we could find is the statues of the saints standing in the corners.”
Cromwell’s directive, “Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them into circulation!” In those few words, Cromwell captured the essence … the kernel … the practical goal of authentic Christianity. We have got to…get the saints out of the corner and into circulation.
Becoming an Oikas Church
Let me give you nine steps toward re-energizing evangelism in yourself and your people.
1. Teach people where their influence is. Use this communique or something similar as a launching pad. Get people thinking of the oikas connections they already have.
2. Carefully communicate that evangelism is not just the job of the super-saint
3. Give people practical tools to help define their oikas. Such resources can be downloaded from Homemissionsdivision.com
4. If you do not currently have a consistent flow of visitors, provide a special opportunity to invite their oikas. Have something different: Friend Day, All-Nations Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, a Church Picnic, Family Day … or something similar gets your people considering evangelism. Help your people think about the people they could most easily invite.
5. Aggressively and thoroughly follow-up on those who visit the church.
6. Recognize it when your people bring a friend. Do NOT celebrate in a way that embarrasses the saint or their friend. Make a point of intentionally meeting their family member or friend.
7. As you and your people become more effective at getting people to visit church, communicate the expectation that every service will be a time for guests to come to church.
8. Consistently make your church service and preaching evangelistic (refer to past Director’s Communique – these are also available on-line).
9. Get yourself trained on how to make new friends. Put the same sort of training into your church.
Relationships are the primary gate to evangelism. A religious cult famous for door-knocking expects to get one convert for every one thousand doors they knock. That is a 1:1000 ratio. The same group claims to get one convert for every two people who hear a presentation in the home of a neighbor. That is a 1:2 ratio. Knocking on doors is not a waste of time … but compared to the effectiveness of oikas evangelism it has far less of a return on the investment. The determining factor is relationships. Win friends … make converts. This same principle applies to your church. Whoever builds relationships is most likely to win a convert.
Article “The Ministry of the Normal” excerpted from “Director’s Communique” of the Home Missions Division of the UPCI. Article written by Carleton L. Coon.