Note: this article has been adapted from The Naked Truth About Small-Group Ministry, by Randall Neighbour.
The concept of relationship evangelism is easily understood, along with the principles listed below—but they are not always easy to practice. Some of the principles found below do not come naturally to those who have grown up in the church or are immersed in a church's subculture.
I recommend that you read one principle aloud to your small-group members each week for the next few weeks, and then ask the discussion questions. Keep talking about the principles of relational evangelism in and out of meetings with your members until it becomes second nature; practice the principles yourself and share what you're learning with your group.
1. Focus on Building Deep Friendships
What your unbelieving or unchurched friend is desperately searching for is God's unconditional love, flowing through someone just like you, in the context of a friendship. The world in which we live is strong on communication and weak on deep relationships. Be a friend that cares and your lost friend will see Christ in you, even if you don't consider yourself a spiritual giant.
Discussion question: What are the names of unchurched people in your life that consider you a close or best friend? (Note: this question is not asking about how you regard the person, but how they regard you.)
2. Be the Kind of Christian Unchurched People Have Never Met Before
Most Christians are willing to serve the lost, but would never ask the lost to serve them in some way in order to build a genuine friendship; this is because of pride. Real friends show their weaknesses and are humble enough to ask others for help.
Show people that you want a genuine friendship—one that is characterized by "bi-directional" servanthood. Ask them to teach you something, get a task accomplished around your house, or help you work on a weak area in your life.
Discussion questions for your group:
- How easy is it for you to ask others for help in an important area of your life?
- What is the last thing you asked an unbeliever to help you learn, do, or get accomplished?
3. Cross-Pollinate Your Unchurched Friends with Your Fellow Group Members
When Jesus said, "I will make you fishers of men," he was referring to believers working nets as a team, not fishing alone with a rod and reel. Cross-pollinate your friendship with unbelievers with everyone in your group, and watch God work through community.
God has placed other believers in your life to show your unchurched friends different aspects of Christ's love.
- Let's go around the room and everyone should share an interest, hobby, area of expertise, or current need.
- Now open it up for brainstorming. Whose unbelieving friend has that same common interest, hobby, area of expertise or need?
- Wrap up by inviting group members to make plans to get together and introduce one another based on what is discovered.
4. Avoid Duplicity
It's important that you speak to your Christian and pre-Christian friends about the same things and in the same way. Some Christians share deep spiritual things with other Christians, but not with their unchurched or unbelieving friends. They think, "My lost friend just wouldn't understand, so I won't talk about my spiritual struggles or victories around them." This may sound like common sense, but it does not draw lost people to Christ through you!