"How to Win Souls in Your Living Room"
May 1, 2022 | Judy Klein | Communications
Cedar Lake, MI—Pastor Jacob Gibbs and his wife, Emily, have been hosting a small group in their home, with about twelve non-Adventist attendees.
Three years ago, right before COVID-19 sent the world cowering into their homes, Gibbs felt impressed to begin a small group in Cedar Lake.
Gibbs is no stranger to small groups. In 2006, he went to Australia and studied under Johnny Wong, author of the book Business Unusual and a leading authority on small group ministry. During his year stay, Gibbs saw amazing results from the small groups. Wong’s group, Gateway, started in 2003 with the goal to plant a church every three years. Gibbs reports that Gateway is now on their fifth church plant, even seeing significant growth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gibbs points out that these groups weren’t just growing and fizzling out, but the baptism retention rate was unusually high. He explains that people grow, and if “they don’t grow into the Lord, they will grow into the world.” Small groups give new and old members alike a place to grow into the Lord, instead of the world.
This model of evangelistic ministry is very Biblically based. Gibbs references Acts 2:42, where they ate together, prayed, and studied. These are the three elements necessary for a small group. Serve a meal, fellowship, pray and study together—there’s nothing unusual about that, other than the results.
“Small groups play a part in every single part of evangelism,” says Gibbs. Small groups sow the seed, they help with harvesting (commitments are more likely to be made in a small group setting) and, of course, they help with preservation. According to Gibbs, the small group equips new members, enabling them to turn around and win souls themselves, strengthening their own spiritual walk. He further comments that, “if there was one ministry you could do that would organically have every phase of the cycle of evangelism in it, it would be small groups.”
Gibbs references Biblical examples such as Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, dividing the children of Israel into small groups in Exodus 18. The apostles and early Christian churches met and worshipped in small groups. “[There are] constant references to small groups in the book of Acts,” Gibbs says. Even early Adventism utilized the small group. Gibbs explains that when Adventism began, there was not enough money for large campaigns, so small groups were used, not as a replacement, but as an equal. In some places, where Adventists had begun with just a small number, they grew up to 400 people.
Gibbs believes that we should utilize small groups as did the early Christians and early Adventists. “People hear a lot about small groups,” he explains, “but they don’t see the fruit of it.” He has seen the fruit of small groups, both in Australia with Wong, in the Upper Peninsula where he used to pastor, and now in Cedar Lake.
Two people were recently baptized into the Cedar Lake church, and they have been attending the small group, which meets weekly on Friday nights. One of them will even begin teaching the group soon. The small group has given them an opportunity to grow their own faith and spirituality through leadership and fellowship with like believers. Gibbs also mentions that it is a good idea to have small group meetings on Friday nights, as this will give new believers something to do in the beginning Sabbath hours. Without this, new members can sometimes fall back into old habits out of uncertainty of how to keep the Sabbath.
Gibbs reports that he has about three or four Adventists who attend on a regular basis, and about twelve seekers—persons searching for something spiritual.
Small groups are an evangelism opportunity that doesn’t require a campaign. It doesn’t require thousands of dollars, banners, and speakers. What it does require is a few souls who wish to reach other souls, a living room, prayer, and a few extra Bibles—things all of us have within reach.
To start a small group, you need to establish a core group of like-minded spiritual people who will work with you, and with your seekers who come to the group. Next, you need seekers. Gibbs explains that small groups are not just social—they are missional. Your core group needs to understand that. He will pause his small group if there are no new faces. “If there are no seekers, Adventists tend to just go into social mode and the dedication to holiness and spirituality can plateau,” he says.
If there aren’t new faces or non-Adventists attending your small group regularly, you and your core group need to sit down and find more people. What happens if your guests begin bringing friends? Are you supposed to have a medium sized group of thirty or more crammed into your living room?
No. The principal, according to Gibbs, is gaining by losing. Once a group has outgrown its smallness, it is time to split. It can be sad, but, as Gibbs says, “not all growth is enjoyable.” Splitting also encourages new leaders—leadership who is not the pastor. “They think I need to be there for them to be successful—but it doesn’t need to be that way,” said Gibbs. If your pastor leaves unexpectedly, your small group should be able to continue without them. If you leave unexpectedly, your small group should also be able to continue without you. That is why having a core group is so important: losing one person does not cause the whole group to shatter.
Gibbs explains that sometimes groups become pastor dependent, when this should not be the case. Splitting to make more small groups begins the evangelism process all over again. He also assures that “if a seeker has been with you for six or seven months they’ll understand [the change].”
In addition, when you split your large group into two small groups, don’t keep the best leaders for yourself. Send them away to develop their own skills and leadership by themselves. God will replenish your need, and doing so grows both your faith and that of your developing leaders. Splitting a group also encourages seekers to come to church to see friends they have made during the time spent at the small group.
Gibbs believes that some may have left the church had it not been for the small group ministry. He urges everyone to read Business Unusual and to visit rightlytrained.org for training and more information. There are many pastors, including Gibbs, who would be willing to mentor you in your journey as a small group leader.
Our work is not to work for ourselves, but for the Lord. Let this be a calling for you to open your home and your heart to those around you who are searching. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). The Lord is near, and there are seekers. Why shouldn’t they find Him in your living room, by your fireside, while eating in your dining room? Let your home be a place where seekers can come to find the Lord. May your influence and your work for the Lord win many souls for His kingdom.