How to Engage Spiritual Seekers in Small Groups

How to Engage Spiritual Seekers in Small Groups

In evangelism we call people to repent and we trust God to regenerate their hearts as we do that.

I first encountered the ministry of Rico Tice when I was searching for John Stott sermons on the All Souls Langham Place Church website. Stott led the London, England church for many years until his retirement. I was quickly struck by Rico’s command of Scripture and wisdom. He also conveys truth with a warm, welcoming tone as if he was an old friend sitting down across a café table. Many teachers can flex their seminary muscles but the true pastor can communicate theological depth to the “normal” person. Rico has a gift for bringing timeless truth to the 21st-century person. He serves as the Senior Minister for Evangelism at All Souls and founded Christianity Explored.

Rico, thank you for taking the time for this interview! As you can see, I’m a big fan of your work. It seems you have a genuine heart for the person new to Christ and new to the church. What drives your evangelistic passion?

I come from a family where the majority of people have died believing in their own goodness and not feeling that they needed Christ to pay for their sin. Such a thing is only needed by bad people. So when I read of the reality of hell in for example Matthew’s Gospel (e.g. Matthew 5:22, 5:29-30, 8:10-12, 10:26-28, 18:8), I realised this was not academic. They would pay for their sins themselves in hell. So my personal mission statement is “people without Christ go to hell”. I try and organise my life around that belief. If you believe this warning and you love people, then one is compelled to speak. My problem is I do believe it, but love myself more, so that’s why I often don’t bother.

You’re a pastor in London, England, and I’m writing from the heartland of the United States. It has been suggested that if trend lines persist, the US will soon look like England as a “post-Christian” nation. As nominal Christianity fades, what impact will that have on the sort of people who attend small groups? What is different about that person from ages past?

In the UK, to be honest, it was only really reasonably committed people that attended small groups. The nominal English Christian would be embarrassed to talk about their faith, except perhaps in a Lent course. To hold to God’s high and holy standards is seen to be very unloving. In a way, this has helped us teach people investigating the Christian faith about the cost of following Jesus, so it’s been a help.

Of course, the pandemic has changed things again. Death has gone from being a taboo subject to a reality, and it has humbled the non-Christians who thought they were in control, so now the non-Christians are asking questions, the Christians are struggling, and everyone is losing their mates.

You developed a program called Christianity Explored to address this need. Tell us about the program and how it helps the curious person examine Christianity. If I formed a group with spiritual seekers where do I begin? Should I start by teaching them who God is or do I start by asking the members who they think God is?

For me, the heart of evangelism is in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6. We preach Christ, verse five, and as we do that miraculously God opens blind eyes. But we must remember that it’s not just about preaching the Gospel from the front, the word “preach” in verse five is actually the word “herald”, so we’re to speak of Christ from the front, we’re to open our Bibles and discuss passages in small groups, we’re to talk to people one-to-one, and lastly we’re to take home our Bibles and read them. I developed Christianity Explored to help people experience meeting Jesus at all four of those levels, always knowing that we must let the gospel tell the gospel and give people the opportunity to ask any question they like.

The battle of course is to get people to come to Christianity Explored and again in the pandemic what’s been amazing is that people can visit online from anywhere in the world. So on a course I’m running at the moment, I have the parents of a young woman at the church who lives 200 miles away, but they are very faithful coming each Monday. That’s our methodology as we preach Christ, but what’s at the heart of the message? We just look at the identity, mission, and call of Jesus. Just about every verse in Mark’s Gospel is about who Jesus is, why he came, and what it means to follow him.

What role should a small group leader play in correcting misguided theology or perhaps even morally questionable behavior? There seems to be a tension between patiently engaging those members without pouncing on every issue or without passively accepting every issue that comes along.

Let’s remember that in evangelism we call people to repent and we trust God to regenerate their hearts as we do that. So that’s where the power is, in the Spirit drawing people to Christ. It means that I just trust the Word to do its work. In terms of correcting misguided theology or calling people to repent, it is important to build a relationship and then gently talk about whether we can trust Christ to know what’s best. Repentance is “being for what Jesus is for and against what he’s against”, so as we get a bigger and bigger view of Jesus, we come to repentance and faith, trusting him to die for us and know what’s best. This is where the one-to-one work is so important. Don’t pounce on every issue, just keep teaching Christ, knowing that Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing”.

Many small group leaders (and some pastors) are nervous about leading a small group with seekers. They are concerned questions will be asked that they don’t know the answers to. How do you respond to those fears?

The cults always have an answer for everything. It’s so important that if we don’t know the answer, we say, “Great question, I don’t know I’ll get back to you next week”. But it’s also so important to get the group discussing these questions. So I sometimes say let’s allow the groups to be “walking hotbeds of heresy” because it’s so important people feel heard. As you listen, explore (so what are they really saying), explain (what’s the next thing to say), encourage (from your own life, how do you give an answer). But let’s be confident enough to know when we don’t know an answer and to come back to people.

From time to time a person joins a small group convinced they are already a Christian. However, there is little evidence in life or beliefs that would affirm that conviction. How can a leader handle a diverse group where many or most are committed believers but a person or two are not?

It’s important to keep saying what reformed faith is: Step one is getting the information—Jesus died and rose. Step two is understanding the meaning of that information, and Step three is acting on it. I find as I make that clear there are many that realise they have not gotten one of the stages clear, especially Step three. So they acquiesce to the information, but aren’t repenting. Keep explaining what real faith is and people realise where they are at.

Some church traditions press individuals to make a decision to follow Christ. Other traditions take a relaxed approach. What advice do you offer small group leaders who are trying to figure out the right thing to do?

I don’t press people to make decisions for Christ, because this is about the Holy Spirit regenerating their hearts and giving them the desire to genuinely repent. So I don’t push people to pray a prayer. On the other hand, I do give them a prayer they can pray because it’s important to know that you’ve made a start, and some people just need that line in the sand. On Tuesday evening, I gave a guy I’ve been reading the Bible with the steps to becoming a Christian:

A - Admit you’ve sinned

B - Believe Christ died for you

C - Count the cost

D - Do it, invite Christ in as your Saviour and Lord

and he wrote a lovely prayer, which we then prayed together.

If a reader is inspired to start a group for spiritual seekers, how do they start? What advice can you offer the novice leader who has a heart for the non-church person?

The big issue is deciding to start. We’re going to make lots of mistakes, we learn by doing, but the power is in the Bible. We’re just getting Mark’s Gospel open and asking people what they think. Please get hold of our material, because we’ve spent 25 years working out how to fashion the questions. But brother, sister, you learn by doing. The films help present, then we chat about the passages. Just get started!

Rico, thank you for sharing your ministry experience with us! How can we learn more about Christianity Explored?

A good place to start would be to have a look at our website,

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