Launching iGroups

Can the Church Really Reach Out?

This is the age old question. Over and over throughout the history of the church we’ve been not so good at reaching out to those unfamiliar with the gospel. We see in Acts as the church was content to stay in Jerusalem until there was a persecution. It was then the gospel spread throughout Samaria and beyond.

But let’s look honestly at our churches today. We’ll do solid preaching, take care of our kids. We may even serve at a homeless shelter or even head out on a missions trip. Just don’t ask us to do reach out to our neighbors. Don’t ask us to talk to our co-workers about Jesus. That’s crazy. “Let me give money to the missions campaign. Doesn’t that get me off the hook?” Evangelism is a difficult component to have at a church.

For most churches it is the weakest part of their missional thrust. There are a variety of reasons why this happens: busy-ness, cowardice, lack of role models, too little walking with outsiders to name a few.

So is this a problem we really want to resolve? Change is never easy and particularly when it comes to the dreaded E word.

Yet I would say it is a problem we want to resolve. You probably have a bunch of reasons and I’d love to hear them, but here are mine. First, reaching out to those unfamiliar with Christ is exciting. Second, nothing gets me praying like when I have to run and outreach event. Third, when I’m obedient to Jesus’ call for my life (Mt 28:19-20) I am much more content and joyful. Forth, when I see God open a door to converse about his Son with others I am thrilled. These are why should push ourselves to see beyond our Christian cliques and consider those not close to Jesus.

This article will consider one way to encourage your church to reach out using Investigative Groups as your method.

What is an Investigative Group or iGroup?

These are short-term groups that gather to consider what the Bible says about the person of Christ. The groups formed are mainly comprised of those unfamiliar with the Bible and with Jesus. They are discussion led groups by a couple believers. My friend Jay Halley coined the term and over the years has always had a desire to continue to share the story of Jesus with anyone.

Is there really any interest?

The surprising thing is that the answer to that question is yes. Consider Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has also set eternity in the human heart.” God has put spiritual interest in the heart of everyone we meet.

I saw this happen through so many years as I served in Young Life. Time and again students I thought were so beyond considering Jesus were actually curious. Most of them had never even heard the stories of Jesus from the Gospels. The toughest of kids truly liked what they heard of the Savior in these accounts.

Let’s not forget that the promise that came with the Great Commission… “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus still wants this to happen. Jesus is working in the lives of the people you and I know. Really he is. Our job is to see where he’s active.

How do you get anyone to join your group?

This is where it gets exciting. Populating the group must come from the relationships that the leader has already cultivated. Some will say I don’t have anyone who’d come.

While that might be true at that very moment, but long term it should never be said of us that we don’t have people that we can have a conversation about spiritual matters.

Each of us have networks where we are an insider. God has placed us where we live, work and play. In those contexts, we have more opportunity to speak to others about spiritual matters than even the best evangelists. Your friends are more likely to want to hear what you have to say about life than your pastor. Your relationships in your family and neighborhood are an open door for the gospel. These open doors are first of all an opportunity for us to listen. We need to listen and know those in our networks. Before we share anything about Jesus or even the plan of salvation we must be strong at building a relationship and knowing our friends.

It is from these genuine connections that each of us begin to have a platform to talk about Jesus. These are the people that we should be inviting into an iGroup. Will you get everyone in your networks? No. But you will get some.

My friends Jason and Amy started a group this Spring. They had never led a group like this before. They were nervous and anxious as they considering leading an iGroup. Yet they knew they needed to do something because God had been prompting them. As they considered who to invite they got more excited about their launch. The day of the meeting I stopped by to pray with them and drop off some Bible. Jason was ready for the meeting and excited about who would come. Now all he could do was wait until the meeting.

So what happened? I just spoke with Jason and Amy. They have been so pumped. God has been very active in their group as family and friends are considering and thinking through the faith.

So how do you find leaders?

If you’re in charge of recruiting leaders for this kind group you’ll need to adjust how many leaders you’ll get. It is hard enough to find leaders to run your regular Community Groups (ABFs, small groups). It is a different kind of leader that will run a group for outsiders. The good news is that as you sell the idea you’ll find resonance with some of your strongest leaders. They will get very excited about their church reaching out.

Your first task is to not, yes not depend on promotion. Don’t go the bulletin or the normal  ways your church gets information out to the congregation. It won’t work and you might get the exact folks you don’t want. So how do you start finding leaders?

Start with you writing down everyone you know who might be able to lead an iGroup. Augment this list with help from the other staff or leadership at the church. You’ll begin to add a number of people you never thought of. In fact, that will continue to happen throughout the process of preparation. Keep the list handy so that you can continue to add other potential folks.

As you begin to fill up your list, begin contacting the people. If you do not know them personally ask whoever recommended them to first contact them about the idea, telling them that you’ll be calling them. There’s nothing is worse than a cold call. I hate them. Even within your own church many will not consider the idea unless a friend first helps them to think about it.

Use an Excel sheet to keep track of your potentials writing down the details of communication. The reason is that unless you do that you can quickly forget who you have spoken with and what you covered with them. This also allows you write down any roadblocks that may be keeping each potential from leading. Have columns for their: Name, Email, Who Recommended them, their Decision and any Details of your conversation.

What do I tell them they are committing themselves to?

When you begin to talk to your potential leaders you will need to have a brief one page explanation of what is an iGroup. You’ll want to include the responsibilities you’re asking  them to follow. In addition, you’ll want to have important dates like training and the  launch date of the groups. You can find an example of my handout at groupsguy.com

Curriculum?

There is a lot good options out there. You’ll need to make a choice of whether you use videos or simply go with the Bible. Videos that I’ve heard a good response to are: H20 and Nooma. I would use videos if I had leaders that had plenty of relationships but little experience in teaching the Bible.

That being said my first choice is to get groups in front of the Bible. I wrote my own curriculum for that reason. I am also a firm believer that, “faith comes through hearing the Word of God.” Romans 10:17 It is also the first step in discipleship. If I can start someone looking at the Bible as they consider Christ I will be much more able to get them into God’s Word when they know Jesus.

The next important consideration about the curriculum is that people have an opportunity to think, to discuss and to hear other’s thoughts. We want to develop a good interactive conversation. An iGroup to be truly Investigative will need a lively discussion. I’ve always subscribed to the axiom, “People remember and are committed to ideas that they came up with themselves.” In other words, if someone thinks through a particular piece from an account of Jesus they will recall that idea much more than if they heard someone else tell the same thing to them. There is power in individuals processing the truth for themselves. The best way to aid that is to allow for plenty of discussion. So when they hear someone else in the group consider and as they vocalize their thoughts, it begins to cement that into their minds. This should cause us to pray all the harder for the meetings themselves because we need the Spirit to illuminate truth to each participant. As ideas surface about Jesus from the Gospels the Spirit is active in guiding the participants to the truth.

Third, the lessons themselves should not be all out in depth look at the original languages and study in commentaries. The focus of the lessons is to see Jesus for what the text says about him. We want the group to experience the characters in the story. The time should reveal human character both good and bad. It should also shock the listeners as they see Jesus as he was and not the characterization they have in their minds.

How to Prep your leaders.

Training your church to be effective witnesses in an ongoing work. Many in your congregation have never considered reaching out to their networks in this type of discussion group. There is much ground to till to prepare your people.

One of the strategies we did to prepare many of our people was to put a good resource in front of them. The book I like the best is Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels. This book is full of passionate stories about how we connect those unfamiliar with Jesus. It has many ideas that everyone can implement into their life. This is a book that leaves you feeling guilty because you haven’t done enough or shared the entire gospel with everyone you meet. It gives a nice stepping stone and encourages us to take the next step with others.

One way we chose to use the book was to buy 30 copies to give out in our church. However, there was one caveat. I would only give it freely if they first agreed to read it and then to give it away to someone else they know. The hope is that these books would get passed around many times, so that the impact wouldn’t be just thirty people but maybe 90 or 120 people.

For many in your congregation this will be there only step this year. They will read the book. The Spirit will teach and prompt them. As the year progresses some will take new steps to reach out to their networks. And some will in the following years take the step to lead an iGroup. This is the long term part of the training. Build a pipeline this year and in the coming years new leaders will take this step of courage.

However for those that will be leading a group this year your training must include much more than this book. Your sections should include: doctrine on evangelism, common fears of evangelism, defining an iGroup, networks, populating, inviting, using the curriculum and the running the first meeting.

If you include these you’ll have given your people almost every they need to succeed.

Prayer

The most important way to prepare your people is prayer. You’ll need to pray for “reapers of the harvest.” (Mt 9:38) You’ll need to pray for them at every step of the way: as they consider leading, as they invite and as they lead. Your joy will be full when you see and hear your leaders risking and loving their friends. Watching them courageously take this step will thrill your heart and your church.

For further help…

  • Contact me as you consider your process to lead a group or to get others to lead. My email is dane@groupsguy.com. I have a number articles on igroups as well as posts reviewing Just Walk Across the Room. I can also help with curriculum development for your group.
  • Just Walk Across the Room, by Bill Hybels. This is the best book on how we can effectively reach out. It is a must read for everyone considering how to talk about Jesus with others.
  • Jay Halley is the guy who coined the term “iGroup.” Jay serves at The Chapel in Akron. He lives and breathes evangelism.
  • iGroup 411Galatian Groups Leader 411
  • iGroup Curriculum. https://dhallphin.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/igroup-curriculum-mark-2.pdf
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