Gateway’s experience is far from unique.
Several years ago, while I was an editor at a Christian publishing house, I met a pastor who was an aspiring author. He told me that his church had experienced dramatic growth as a result of their focus on biblical community, and he hoped to write a book about their experience.9 He invited me to visit his church to see what God had accomplished.
When I arrived, the first thing the pastor did was to drive me around his neighborhood. I cannot recall his exact words, but I remember being very impressed with how well he knew his neighbors. As we drove up one street and down the next, he told me the names of the families who lived in each home. Some were already Christians when the pastor and his wife purchased their home. Many others had come to Christ and joined the church as a result of the lives and testimonies of their Christian neighbors. And still others were interested in the gospel and were seriously considering receiving Christ. I had never seen such an effective neighborhood outreach and asked him how it had happened.
He explained that when he and his wife first purchased their home, they discovered a handful of other couples from their church living in their neighborhood. They all agreed to form what they called a “home group” that would meet regularly in the members’ homes with a focus on fellowship, prayer, recreation, and neighbor outreach. In many respects their home group was similar to small groups that meet in churches throughout the world. But because each of the members lived in the same neighborhood, they found it easier to get to know and serve each other on a daily basis, rather than simply once a week. As they grew closer to each other and experienced the other-centered unity described in John 17, their group also began to invite non-Christians in the neighborhood to join their gatherings. The pastor writes:
We have made the task of evangelism a high priority for our Home Groups. We call it community evangelism, and it is as effective as any method I’ve seen. Members of the Home Group pray for and connect with those in their area who are unchurched or non-Christians—as well as with Christians in their neighborhood who attend other churches.
In the natural flow of everyday life, a member of the Home Group will often invite one other family in the Home Group and a new neighbor over for a barbecue or invite them to go out for dinner. In our neighborhood the men of the Home Group get together to play basketball every Wednesday evening. This is a great opportunity to invite other men to join us and get to know each other. When the time is right, the Home Group member will usually invite these men either to a worship service or to a Community Group or Home Group gathering. . . . We know that if non-Christians can see true Christian community—bathed in love and compassion—being lived out in a neighborhood, they will be drawn to the God whose grace and power undergirds it all.10
Some individuals drawn to a genuinely loving church may not fit the category of unchurched. They may come from the church itself. One man from their neighborhood describes how his life has been changed by community evangelism. Although he is still at a point where he misunderstands God’s grace and the gift of salvation, he is drawn to what is happening at the church through its home groups.
Throughout my entire life I’ve had a casual attitude about attending church. However, I have led what I would consider a moral life. Recently, my neighbors invited me to attend their church and their Home Group, which meets in the neighborhood. What I realized is I’ve only been going through the motions of being a Christian—there is more to it! Home Group consists of people extending their families into the community to talk, study, play, and portray their Christianity to all. They seem to have found a special peace. Home Group has welcomed me unconditionally and has been a constant encouragement through discussion and providing resource material to help in my search. Their support . . . has been amazing.11
9 This book was eventually published as The Connecting Church. See previous note.
10 Ibid., pp. 233–34 (Kindle edition).
11 Ibid., p. 155.