8 to 15, CC of C and Lifestyle Evangelism vs. T4T

Last week I reviewed 8 to 15, The World Is Smaller Than You Think by Tom Mercer.  I mentioned in that review that his philosophy has much in common with W. Oscar Thompson’s Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples.  Today I want to compare some aspects of the philosophy of these two men to a very popular book on evangelism and discipleship titled T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution: The Story Behind the World’s Fastest Growing Church Planting Movement and How it Can Happen in Your Community! by Steve Smith and Ying Kai.  I highly recommend T4T for believers everywhere even though I don’t think some aspects of their methodology is applicable to the Western context.  However, the success of T4T is so amazing (book of Acts all over again) that anyone in ministry has to pay attention to it.  There are important lessons that can be learned even if there are also aspects that are not transferable.

 If you have read both books you will immediately notice a stark difference in philosophy.  Although Tom Mercer does not limit evangelism to our Oikos, he focuses our evangelistic attention on the Oikos.  Thompson does the same CC of C.  There is Biblical support (in the form of examples) for the idea that our greatest impact is on those closest to us, our nearest concentric circles or as Mercer calls it our Oikos.  There are other excellent books being written these days on what is sometimes called relationship evangelism or lifestyle evangelism.  The church in the USA has discovered that traditional “telling” evangelism strategies are no longer working, and “influencing” through relationship is a more effective approach.

T4T on the other hand fits into the category of the confrontational or “telling” evangelism style.  Ying Kai uses the parable of the soils to support their approach to “sow widely”.  Ying Kai says that the farmer seems unconcerned in the parable about where he scatters seed.  It is as if the farmer doesn’t know which soil will produce a crop so he scatters the seed everywhere.  I find it hard to believe that the farmer actually thought rocky soil or hard packed soil on the path would be a good place to sow seed, and I don’t think Jesus listeners would have believed that either.  For that reason, I don’t think that is what Jesus is trying to communicate in this parable.  But Ying uses this parable to teach that we should just sow the seed everywhere, as often as we can and the only way we will know what is receptive soil is by the response.  In fact, when I read T4T, I almost get the impression that it is a numbers game.  Almost like the salesman who knows that only 10% of his sales presentations will result in a sale, so he must just put in his time and effort to knock out 10 sales presentations to get one sale.  He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully, will reap bountifully.  The only problem is that the context of this passage is teaching on giving, not evangelism.

 Tom Mercer looks at the parable of the soils differently.  He says that since different soils have different response rates to the gospel, the lesson is that we should concentrate on the good soil.  The good soil is statistically our Oikos, or the inner concentric circles of concern.  Evangelism among strangers in the USA (and the Western context in general) is statistically not very successful.  Western people are skeptical of organized religion, have had bad experiences with religious zealots be they Christian evangelists or cultists, and don’t want to be sold a bill of goods.  On the other hand, Americans are not unspiritual.  They consider themselves very spiritual and will often describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.  They are not opposed to spirituality when discussed in the context of a true friendship where such discussion is safe from coercion or pressure to join a group.

T4T was developed in and for the Chinese context.  I have traveled in China and currently live in a neighboring Asian country, but certainly cannot claim to be any expert on the Chinese mentality.  However, a few things about the Chinese outlook are clear to me.  For one thing, the Chinese culture is a shame based culture.  If you do not comply with the social mores of that society, you bring shame upon yourself and possibly even on your family.  The idea of “saving face” is common to the Chinese culture.   It is important to remain within your group’s accepted norms, and when a higher authority figure tells you to do something, you must do it or you will lose face.  T4T has a very strong accountability orientation.  Each person is trained in a simple way to share the gospel, and is expected to share with 5 people each week.  Each week they are asked who they shared the gospel with and how it went.  That simply would not happen in the American context, but it works in China.

In addition, it is obvious that there is a very high response ratio in China to these multiple scripted gospel presentations.   If you were to present a “canned” gospel presentation in the USA it would seem like a sales script to the average American, and it would most likely be rejected.  There was a day when Evangelism Explosion was popular in the USA, but few people are seeing significant success using EE these days (with the exception of some who occasionally borrow some aspects, not the whole scripted package).  So why do “canned” or scripted gospel presentations work in China when they don’t work in the USA?  What is the difference?  What follows is only my best guess at what is going on, and others who know the Chinese culture may have a better explanation.  The average Chinese grows up an Atheist.  They are taught in school from a young age that there is no God, and they have no knowledge of Church or organized religion.  However, every atheist has doubts.  They have doubts about the “this is all there is” philosophy when a baby is born or a friend or family member dies.  They have moments when they may even pray to the god that they’ve been taught doesn’t exist.  And when such significant events happen in the life of a Chinese person, I suspect they may lay awake at night and wonder who this god is that they just prayed to.  And then someone comes along and shares with them about who God is.  Suddenly questions they’ve had for months or years have answers, and they are ready to believe.  That is my theory, and if some reader can shed more light the Chinese mindset I’d be interested to hear it.

The American on the other hand has seen so many religions and been exposed to so much proselytizing by so many different groups that they are about as skeptical of any religious presentation as they can be.  The only discussion they will be open to is conversation with a close friend or family member, and even then they won’t be ready to commit without getting lots of questions answered.   And when they come to Christ through a close friend or family member, “follow up” is unnecessary.  Not that they won’t need to be discipleship relationship, but rather that an intentional system of “follow up” such as the Billy Graham crusade used to do is not necessary when there is already a close relationship with the believer who led them to Christ.  They will naturally continue their conversations about spiritual things now that their hearts have changed and they desire to be more like Christ.

For instance, in his introduction to the second edition of Concentric Circles of Concern, Claude King tells the following story that illustrates the success of relationship based evangelism versus traditional methods.

Prior to attending seminary in New Orleans, I served on the staff of a dynamic and evangelistic church in Nashville, Tennessee. I was trained in an evangelistic method that normally took teams to share the gospel with total strangers. We, however, were prepared to break the ice and establish some sort of relationship prior to talking about the person’s spiritual needs. I am very grateful for that training experience because I studied the Scriptures and came to better understand what faith in Christ means. I learned how to use God’s Word to tell others about his conditions

After going through the training course several times, I wound up leading the course for a while. From that perspective I made some new discoveries. Though we did see a number of people pray to receive Christ in their homes, very few ever followed through with a public commitment to Christ. We were not very effective at helping these people get established in a local body of Christ where they could grow.

We did see many adults make public professions of their faith in Christ. However, most of these did not come directly from our evangelistic visitation program. I noticed that most of these people were family, relatives, neighbors, or friends of our members. People who had learned to share the gospel with others were being used by God to lead people in their circles of influence to Christ. These were the people we were able to effectively assimilate into the church.

We didn’t really plan for this type of outreach. It happened only as God’s people were led to share the gospel with the people they were closest to. Our planned evangelism strategy served primarily to prepare and equip people for sharing Christ. God took them from that point and used them in sharing through their relationships. When I realized the reality of what was happening, I felt uneasy about the fact that our greatest evangelist fruit came not from our evangelistic program but through unplanned experiences of our members.

The problem with the lifestyle approach to evangelism for most churches in the USA is that most Christians are so involved in their local church that all their significant relationships are with Christians.  The fact that churches have so many programs to be involved with that demand more of their time spent with other believers (Awana, Board member, Missions Committee, Food Pantry, etc.) that they have neither the time nor the desire to intentionally build relationships with the lost.  Add to that the optional church softball team and family camp and you have a Christian who is taken out of the battle entirely.

There are some people using T4T in the USA, and they are having considerable success with it.  They are not having anywhere near the success of a Ying Kai, but they are seeing people come to Christ in far greater numbers than the average evangelical church and multi-generational groups are being started.  I’ll write other posts about those at a later time.  However, I sincerely question whether that approach will have long term “grass roots movement” type of growth like it had in China, because it goes against the American cultural mindset.  However, as I mentioned earlier, there are things we can learn from T4T for the Western context.  I will explore those in a future article.

Book Review: 8 to 15 The World Is Smaller Than You Think

8 to 15, The World Is Smaller Than You Think
By Tom Mercer

Tom Mercer is senior pastor of High Desert Church, a multi site church located just over the mountains from Los Angeles in Victorville, California, .   He started out in youth ministry, and was influenced early on by Dr. Win Arn to focus evangelistic efforts on the “Oikos”.

God has given each of us, on average, anywhere from eight to fifteen people whom He has supernaturally and strategically placed in our relational worlds. The Greeks used one word to describe this personal world— oikos, or “extended household.” This is the world God wants to use each of us to change, our individual world!

He started with a youth group of 4 kids, and through emphasis on reaching their oikos, it grew to over 300.  After 29 years at High Desert Church the ministry has grown from 150 to over 14,000 regular participants (they prefer the term participants to members or attenders).  However, this is not a book about another church growth program or strategy.  Mercer describes it as a mindset, a way of seeing the Christian life and ministry in general.     If you have ever read W. Oscar Thompson’s book Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples you will find much here that will remind you of Thompson’s approach.  I will break down his ideas into these main points:

1.  The church exists for the lost, not for believers.   Mercer lists three things that churches in America commonly focus on or want to be known for, and then shows that all three of them can and will be done much better in heaven than in this life.  Those three things are Worship, Fellowship, and Bible Teaching.  He acknowledges the importance of all three, but makes a strong point of the fact that our efforts in those areas on earth are a weak attempt to do what we will enjoy to perfection in heaven.  Did God save us and leave us here to do something so poorly here that we will eventually do perfectly in heaven?  There are only two things we can do here that we will not be able to do in heaven.  Those two things are sin and share the gospel with the lost.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  When he called his disciples he did so to make them fishers of men.  Before he left he gave the great commission, which was to make disciples.

The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing . That’s a constant theme at HDC, but it takes work to keep number one number one, as other important aspects of the Christian life keep trying to push their way up the list. But even mission critical elements do not deserve main thing status. Rick Warren challenged us to keep our focus in this life on what we won’t be able to do in the next—“ God’s kept us here on Earth to fulfill a purpose we cannot do better in Heaven.” 1

2.  As soon as we say that the church exists for the lost, people start getting nervous.  “Oh, oh, here comes the guilt trip about evangelism and handing out tracts and going door to door to share the gospel!”  But 8 to 15 is anything but that.  Not only is the concept of Oikos Biblical, it dramatically simplifies the task and brings it into the realm of doable.  He tells a story of a pastor friend who he was promoting the idea of Oikos with, but who was unimpressed with it.

A few years ago I began meeting regularly with a group of pastors in San Diego. As you can imagine, from the very beginning of the group’s relationship, the oikos principle bled into every one of our conversations. But one of the guys would look at me sideways every time oikos came up. He just couldn’t believe effective ministry could evolve out of such a simple premise. I talked him into attending a workshop anyway, hoping he would come to better understand the principle— at least then he would know what he was rejecting! After the first part of the presentation was over he walked up to me and said, “I’m sold,” as if there was never a doubt! I actually thought he was teasing me— up to that point he had been so resistant it was hard to believe he had done a “180” so quickly. I asked, “What happened?” “Tom,” he said, “it was the weirdest thing . About halfway through your talk, my wife leaned over to me and whispered, ‘I can do this!’ When she said that, the light went on!”

3.  Most people come to Christ as a result of relationships.  Mercer says that 95% of people come to Christ through their “Oikos”.  That number is a little higher than I’ve read elsewhere, but it is certainly true that somewhere between 80 and 95% of people who come to Christ do so as a result of a relationship with a friend, family member or coworker.  People certainly do come to Christ as a result of a stranger handing them a tract, a Christian radio or TV program, an evangelistic crusade or meeting, or some kind of cold calling.  But those methods are not very effective.  We have reliable statistics to prove that.  Mercer says that if you could demonstrate a 95% correlation with the success a business methodology or a medical treatment or an investing strategy, everyone would jump on it in a heartbeat, but for some reason the church continues to pursue other methods of reaching the lost.

4.  The focus on Oikos enables us to focus our prayers and efforts where that focus will produce the most fruit.  Mercer says that “if you feel that your job is to witness to everybody, then you probably aren’t witnessing to anybody“.  In other words, focus is necessary.  He quotes from well know business writers on the importance of focus for success in business.

The difference between Christians who are coherent and Christians who are incoherent is this element of laser sharp focus. Everything and everyone cannot be a priority to us— or nothing and no one will be. Every caring believer wants the world to know Jesus, but if we try to evangelize everyone we will end up evangelizing no one.

I’ve always believed that most churches are like most Christians, they try to do too much. And, in doing so, the most important thing gets lost in the shuffle. Jim Collins is one of our generation’s most respected business analysts. He put it as succinctly as anyone could—“ Good is the enemy of great.”

5.  Mercer gives some indications of how he incorporates OIKOS into what they do at HDC.  Every participant at HDC carries with them a card with spaces to write the names of their Oikos members that they are praying for.

Oikos Prayer Card
Oikos Prayer Card
 
Oikos Prayer Card

Every single week , in virtually every service, I’ll say something to this effect, “God has brought eight to fifteen people into your sphere of influence. He has surrounded you with this group of individuals, strategically and supernaturally, because He wants to reach out to them and He wants to use you in the process .” And then I’ll continue, “And the Greeks called this group an…,” and thousands of people will say in unison, “oikos,” because they are never allowed to forget what the endgame looks like.

He emphasizes that OIKOS is not a program.  It is the main thing they do, and everything they do is evaluated in the light of OIKOS.  Speaking of their decision to build their ministry around this concept, he says:

What we didn’t know at the time was all the rethinking we would have to do about the various elements of “doing church” that up to then we had taken for granted. We had to peel away the layers of the traditional “feed me and give me” mentality and craft a whole new set of “make me and send me” priorities and values , based on an oikocentric way of seeing the world. Rome wasn’t built in a day either, but everything changed when we put on that new set of lenses and began to view the world through the eyes of Jesus.

6.  Mercer encourages participants to invite members of their Oikos to church, and every week he concludes the sermon with a simple gospel presentation that he calls the ABC’s of the gospel.  I will write about his presentation in a future post.  Because he does it the same way every time, 52 times a year, the participants of HDC learn a simple way to share the gospel.  Eventually, without taking any classes or memorizing any outline, every regular attender of HDC will be able to share the gospel with a member of their Oikos.

Strengths:

1.  Mercer is focused on the most important thing.  I’m so tired of churches with the best expository preaching that leaves believers with notebooks full of notes but never sharing the gospel with the lost.  I’m so tired of churches that emphasize fellowship and everyone loves it and yet they have no relationships with lost people and never share the gospel.  I’m so tired of believers going to great Christian concerts and choosing the church with the must uplifting worship experience but fail to reach lost people.  Mercer gets this right.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  We don’t make up our own mission statement for each church.  He has already given us one.

2.  It is sometimes easier to share the gospel with a stranger than with your own family and friends.  I’ve known believers who were great at approaching strangers with the gospel, but couldn’t talk to their own coworkers about Christ.  The Oikos emphasis is the right emphasis.  Not only do we see numerous examples of it in action in scripture, but statistics prove it’s effectiveness.  People come to Christ primarily through personal relationships with believers.  This book is all about focusing an intentionality of prayer and outreach on those people.

3.  There is a strong emphasis in this book on focus.  There is plenty of evidence that every successful endeavor is a result of a laser like focus on what really matters.  Most churches easily get side tracked into multiple “good” programs without any discernable clear focus on what the end goal is.  Mercer gets this.   His ministry has focused on one simple concept, that every believer has 8 to 15 people in their lives who only they can reach.

Weaknesses:

1.  There is a strong emphasis here on inviting people to church.  I have watched a 4 part sermon series they gave at the church on Oikos, and each one was preceded by a video testimony of people who came to Christ through their Oikos.  Most were invited to church and came to Christ through the weekend service.  It is a wonderful thing when anyone comes to Christ, but how much better would it be if individual disciples of Jesus actually led members of their family to Christ?  I watched another video of Mercer giving a seminar at another church on the subject of Oikos.  He said,

“I’ll ask people how they came to Christ, and they’ll tell me, ‘you led me to Christ’.   But I don’t even know them.  What they mean is, when I explained the gospel at the end of a message they put their faith in Christ.  I always tell them to think back on who invited them to Church, because that is the real person who led them to Christ.”

Clearly the first answer from the new disciple indicates who they really thought led them to Christ.  There is a saying, “What you win them by, is what you win them to.”  In other words, if someone gets saved by going to a church, they are going to think that they must invite their friends to church to get saved.  I fear that this approach does not empower the saints to lead friends and family to Christ themselves.  But even more, I fear that they will miss out on the joy of actually leading their friend or family member across that threshold of faith into eternal life.  Simply bringing people to church where they can hear the gospel from someone else leaves the average believer out of the most important and most exciting part of the new birth.

2.  As a result of the emphasis on a large weekend service, the success of HDC has resulted in building campaigns and multiple campuses.   This means a significant amount of time and financial resources are going into buildings.   HDC is still a mega church, and I’m convinced that model is not the Biblical model or the most effective model.

I can recommend this book and give it a 4.5 out of 5.0 rating.  It will be most useful to pastors and ministry leaders, but any layman can benefit from this approach to reaching the lost for Christ.

Practical Prayer Evangelism

The following article is reproduced here by permission of the author, John Edmiston

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Practical Prayer Evangelism 

Praying for  the lost works

      In 1993  I led a bible study series with a group of twenty or so rather boisterous University students who asked to be taught about prayer. In the process we had a book for the prayer points with three columns, Request, Date Entered, and Date Answered. They started praying for their friends salvation, and within a couple of weeks the converts started rolling in, two or three a week, and often ending up at the bible study. Every person “put in the book” for prayer came to Christ, and naturally enough the prayer journal became known as the “book of life”.  If memory serves me correctly about 25 people came to Christ, through prayer       alone, that semester. Prayer worked, even with inexperienced believers, who hated witnessing, and people were saved. What are they key ingredients to such successful prayer evangelism?

  1. A group of believers gathered in unity. (Matthew 18:19,20)
  2. Being taught in how to pray. (Luke 11:1)
  3. And praying in faith. (Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24)
  4. For the lost. (Romans 10:1-3, 1 Timothy 2:1-8)
  5. Who are their “neighbors”. (Luke 10;25-37)
  6. Lovingly by name. (Exodus 33:17, Isaiah 43:1)
  7. Regularly and persistently. (Luke 18:1-8)
  8. And recording the answers and building faith. (1Chronicles 16:4)

That said, why does prayer evangelism work?

  • Prayer wrestles against the powers and principalities (Eph. 6:10-20).
  • That keep people in spiritual bondage (Eph. 2:1-4; 4:127-19).
  • And which can deceive them away from the truth (1 Tim. 4:1-14).
  • Prayer also opens people’s spiritual eyes (Col. 1:9; Eph. 1:17-19).
  • And assist with the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). For more on How To Pray For The Lost go to http://www.aibi/ph/articles/praylost.htm

How then can a local church or home church undertake prayer evangelism?

Firstly teach your people how to pray. (Luke 11:1) Christians generally have to be taught in how to pray. It is a process of learning about who we are in Christ, our spiritual authority, and how the promises of God can be claimed in faith.   Free material on how to pray can be found at http://www.aibi.ph/prayer/

Get a Prayer Journal and use it. Faith is built when we see prayer answered. It is good to record the deeds of the Lord. So get a large notebook and rule it into three columns, a wide column for the prayer request and two narrower columns for date entered and date answered. Make the Prayer Journal part of every prayer meeting and weekly bible study for that group.

Pray regularly and persistently. Pray each week at the bible study or home church meeting.  Pray for all the unanswered items, each week. Within four to six weeks you should start seeing people saved.

Pray in faith and expect answers. (Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24)The Scriptures tell us to pray “believing we have received”, faith and holy expectation reach Heaven.

Pray lovingly by name for people. Names are important to God who “knows us by name” and “redeems us by name” (Isaiah 43:1 Exodus 33:17)) and for some reason have great power in the spiritual realm. Prayer that is directed personally and lovingly, in faith , on the basis of redemption of a soul, is powerful.

Pray for “neighbors who are lost”. God has put us next to certain people for their salvation.  There is often a divine purpose in who we meet and who the Lord places on our hearts. Ask God to give you a prayer burden for specific people of your family, friends and neighbors.

Any group of three believers can do this. It does not require you to “be an evangelist”, to hand out tracts or to knock on doors. If someone wants a gospel presentation you can direct them to an online gospel presentation such as:

http://www.aibi.ph/articles/gospel1.htm

You don’t even need to form a committee! Just get your notebook, your bible, a couple of friends – and pray for the lost.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.

The highest value in personal evangelism….

I’m re-reading Bill Hybels’ book Just Walk Across the Room Publisher: Zondervan
these days. It is probably my 3rd time to read this book. There are so many really good books on evangelism, but in my opinion this is one of the best. And I could give several reasons why this book is so good, but the one that stands out here is the following statement:

These days, I’m more convinced than ever that the absolute highest value in personal evangelism is staying attuned to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

You read it right. The only thing you need in order to sustain an effective approach to evangelism year after year after year is an ear fine-tuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t agree with him more. Here are some follow up quotes that elaborate on what he is trying to say:

The key is this: my objective is not to contrive ways to “get someone saved”; rather, my objective is to walk when he prompts me to walk, talk when he says to talk, fall silent when I’m at risk of saying too much, and stay put when he leads me to stay put.

After telling a story of praying for an opening in a conversation that didn’t materialize, he said,

I had been willing to see, hear, and feel what the Spirit wanted me to see, hear, and feel, but frankly I saw, heard, and felt … nothing.

Friends, sometimes there will be a wide-open door, and sometimes there won’t. Remember, being walk-across-the-room people means that we walk when the Spirit tells us to walk, and we don’t walk when the Spirit says not to.

For each touching illustration I offer about walking across a room and witnessing something miraculous unfold, I could recount several hundred occasions when walks across rooms never left even a wrinkle. Times when I invested in people — loved, served, and cared for them; shared the gospel with them; put my heart on a platter on their behalf — and absolutely nothing productive happened.

I love that. Why? First of all, I love his honesty. Having read a lot of books on evangelism lately, it gets a bit frustrating to read all the success stories that leave one feeling that the author just has a gift that the rest of us don’t have. Hybels is a successful evangelist both on the personal one-to-one level as well as in public speaking. But he tells it like it is. But secondly, depending upon the Holy Spirit is so freeing. As another author said, the two biggest enemies of evangelism are guilt and pressure. One of my greatest challenges is learning to wait upon the Lord, and not be pushy.