Seeker Small Groups

Engaging spiritual seekers in life-changing discussions
A seeker small group is a community of non-Christians who gather regularly with one or two Christians to explore spiritual matters. Meeting 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. The group leaders can be effective with or without the gift of evangelism, with or without formal apologetics training, and with or without much small group experience. No wonder this cutting-edge outreach tool is so vital and powerful.

Imagine this—you walk over to your next door neighbor's home and you and your spouse are greeted warmly and invited inside. Within a few minutes, the doorbell rings several times and each time one or two other neighbors join you. Refreshments are available and everyone is at ease, casually engaging in conversation. There is lots of laughter. At just the right time, you invite the group of eleven or twelve to join you in the living room and you begin an hour-long, highly interactive and invigorating discussion about spiritual issues. People are wrestling with their beliefs and comparing what they believe with what the Bible teaches.

Even though the participants do not all agree, there appears to be an overflow of respect and unconditional acceptance. It is obvious to you that most are not yet Christians. After the discussion time ends, many linger in the kitchen to continue their conversations. As people eventually leave, you are struck by their anticipation for the next meeting: "Looking forward to next time." "This was a blast." "I wouldn't miss these discussions for the world." "See you next time." As you say good-bye and leave, you and your spouse are amazed.

Can you imagine such a scene? Just think of it—eleven or twelve spiritual seekers eagerly gathering together with you to genuinely share their beliefs and disbeliefs about spiritual matters! This is the essence of a seeker small group, and you could lead one! Anyone can. Do you have 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. Just think what God could do through you. Imagine the possibilities. I am.

I have been training Christians to launch and lead small groups for spiritual seekers now for the past twenty-five years, and I have seen God use this tailored approach for outreach in incredible ways. I cannot get over the impact these kinds of groups make in the lives of non-Christians and how God uses this amazing tool to reach people for Himself. There are three distinct advantages to using this razor-sharp tool for reaching out to friends and family members for Christ.


The first distinct advantage of a seeker small group is that it is a very safe place. Seekers can investigate the claims of Christianity at their own pace. They are accepted no matter where they are on their spiritual journeys. If they have little or no knowledge of the Bible, that is okay. If they are cynical or skeptical, they are welcomed anyway. There is no judgment, only a spirit of acceptance. The goal of this safe place is to provide an invitation, opportunity, and atmosphere for seekers to openly express their thoughts and feelings, to voice their observations and questions, and even to go so far as to assert their objections—all without any fear of criticism. The hope is that they will get to the point where they actually enjoy being able to share their issues and concerns about the Bible and its claims. It has been my experience that once they get to this point, they eventually will enjoy even more the process of searching out the answers for themselves.

One of the components of the safety that unchurched people crave is having a place where they can connect with other seekers. There is definitely safety in numbers, and when the majority of participants are non-Christians, everyone in the group can identify with the others' spiritual questions and concerns. Time and time again, I have heard seekers say to each other things like, "Oh, I can't believe you just said that! That issue you just raised—I've had that same concern for a long time, but I thought I was the only one. Having some of the same questions as the rest of you makes me feel better." When seekers identify with one another, 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 on their own. They are not coming to the group to hear a lecture or get talked at; instead, leaders orchestrate a dynamic discussion in such a way that seekers have "ah-ha moments" over and over again. The group provides the forum for an amazing process where seekers investigate and learn on their own, in their own way and at their own pace.

Safety, then, is the first distinct advantage of a seeker small group—a safe place for seekers to seek, a safe place to connect with other seekers, and a safe place for them to discover spiritual truths for themselves. The real beauty of a seeker small group is the remarkable extent to which the seekers feel safe and secure.


A second distinct advantage of a seeker small group is that it is a highly effective tool for evangelism. Over the years here at Willow Creek, within the context of seeker small groups, we have seen hundreds and hundreds of non-Christians cross the line of faith. These groups have become one of the most effective evangelistic tools we have at our disposal. In fact, our senior pastor, Bill Hybels, considers them to be one of the greatest discoveries we have made here at Willow in the last several years.

A word of caution is in order here. Some people have the mistaken belief that a seeker small group is a quick fix for instant evangelistic success without any need for building solid friendships with seekers. They think it is a substitute for personal evangelism, and their hope is that the seeker group can become a magic formula for instant conversions in and of itself. In reality, though, quite the opposite is true. It is not a substitute; it is a supplement for evangelism. It is very important to understand that a seeker group cannot take the place of the leader's own personal relationships with non-Christians. It is only a tool—a means to an end—for effective evangelism given the context of thriving friendships the leaders have with their seeking friends and family members.

In large part, that effectiveness depends on the leader's own personal evangelistic efforts. Not that the leader needs to be an evangelism giant—in fact, the leader does not need to have the spiritual gift of evangelism or be an expert in the subject or even be very experienced in efforts to bring people to Christ. However, a leader of a seeker small group must be willing to get involved in the lives of the seekers in his or her care.

Once the seeker small group is viewed as a tool or supplement within the evangelistic process—an extension of the leader's personal evangelistic efforts to establish and maintain genuine friendships, build bridges of trust, and enter into occasional dialogues about Christianity with a few non-Christians. Then, the leader can invite these individuals to visit the group as a way to continue the spiritual discussions with others who are also seeking.

Have you ever had the experience of using a few good illustrations to share your faith with someone and had them say to you, "Well, that sounds fascinating. I never thought about things that way before. It seems like a nice idea—for you, but it's not really something I'm interested in right now." At that point, the conversation comes to a screeching halt. You do not really know where to go from there, and the next time you see your friend, you are not sure how to come back around and pick up the conversation. You are just sort of stuck.

While it is difficult to know how to re-engage when a previous conversation has ended so abruptly, a seeker small group provides a built-in "excuse" for ongoing dialogue about spiritual matters. It is like having a set appointment every week with a group of non-Christians to talk about faith-related issues. It is far easier—both for the leader and the seeker—to strike up spiritual conversations on an on-going basis when it is already scheduled. In fact, I have 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 to discuss. For them, the group became their own special opportunity to fully engage in the seeking process. It was something they really looked forward to!

In addition, what transpires during the seeker group can prompt conversations that take place outside of the group. If the leader notes various individual responses, he or she can initiate a time to get together on a one-to-one basis and dig in a little more deeply into those particular issues. Group discussions provide easy avenues for the leader to meet with each group member individually, share meals or hang out together and get to know each other better. The leader can ask to hear more about certain issues, what exactly the seeker meant by something he or she said, or simply how well the group is meeting that person's needs. This is an excellent chance to help the seeker take one more step in his or her spiritual journey—and another example of how the group can become a vehicle for ongoing personal evangelism.


The third distinct advantage of seeker small groups is that it is an easily transferable concept. Seeker small groups work well within a wide variety of church and ministry settings, styles, and formats. Whether the church utilizes a traditional worship format, a seeker-sensitive or seeker-targeted approach, or anything in between, these small groups can flourish. 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 already attending a church or taking part in a ministry. Until we made seeker small groups available at Willow Creek, we did not have next steps for the seekers who came to our weekend services. We had lots of next steps for believers. Christians could get connected into small groups, and they could 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 discovered the perfect outlet for them. Once we established a seeker small groups ministry, hundreds and hundreds of seekers stepped out and got connected into these groups, facilitating forward movement in their own spiritual journeys. The missing next step for seekers attending our services had been found.

More recently, our seeker small groups have also become a springboard for unchurched seekers. Those not yet ready to attend services can find freedom and safety to takes steps in their spiritual path within a seeker small group. These groups meet in the neighborhoods and in the marketplace. As group participants make progress in their spiritual journeys, they inevitably become interested in getting connected to a church where they can grow in their understanding and in their interest in spiritual things.

In summary, seeker small groups are a highly transferable concept. They are easily adaptable within any church or ministry setting. They are an excellent next step for seekers already attending church services, as well as a great springboard for seekers not yet ready for church.

A Challenge

Imagine yourself forming your own group specifically designed for seekers. Imagine identifying an ideal setting, maybe in your church, your workplace, or neighborhood and inviting seekers to join you on a regular basis for a discussion about spiritual matters. Imagine inviting non-Christians to read and explore the Gospel message. When you gather a small group filled with seekers, it will only be a matter of time before you will give them a chance to discuss it, understand it, and embrace it. Who knows, you just may experience life-changing encounters that you will remember for the rest of your life. When that happens—when you play a role in leading someone across the line of faith—two lives will be changed for all eternity. The one who received Christ and yours—because you were there!

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