The Fringe: Walking with Searchers Toward Faith

Charles Kiser —  September 11, 2012 — 11 Comments

In the last post, I described a gap we’ve discovered in our relationships with non-Christians. In summary, we have focused on helping our friends belong with us to the neglect of helping them believe with us.

Ken Primrose from Norman Community Church introduced me to a concept he calls “The Fringe” that I’ve found very helpful for discerning how to bridge the gap in our community.

The Fringe is the social space between the Christian community and those who are not part of it.

In this process, there are three basic stages of relationship for a non-Christian on their journey to Christ and into Christian community. People certainly come to faith in other ways. The Fringe seems particularly helpful for communities who work out of a “belong then believe” paradigm and want to be intentional about it.

Stage 1: Acquaintance. An acquaintance is a non-Christian we know from our neighborhood, workplace, or third place (e.g., sports league, PTA, local coffee shop, etc.). We may even hang out together outside of those spaces from time to time.

Stage 2: Friend. Friend is a technical term which means that a non-Christian friend not only knows us but also at least two Christian friends in our spiritual family. In other words, we’ve partied with our non-Christian friends and our Christian family together.

The way that non-Christians move through the Fringe is by invitation. For an acquaintance to become a “friend”, they must be invited deeper into the life of our Christian community.

Stage 3: Person of Peace. According to Luke 10, a person of peace is someone who a) welcomes us; b) listens to us; and c) serves us.

Ken Primrose observes that the transition into the third stage of relationship often takes place when non-Christian friends attempt to invite themselves deeper into community. They have been touched by what they’ve experienced, and they want more of it – though they may not be ready to accept all of the claims or beliefs of the group.

Primrose told a story about a neighbor they had started hanging out with; he had partied with their Missional Community and enjoyed it. But he was a skeptic of religion and Christianity. One day he said to Ken: “If you guys need a resident skeptic in your community, just let me know.” He was sending a signal that he was ready to go deeper, even if he didn’t fully understand what he was asking for. He was a person of peace.

At that point, Primrose invited his skeptical friend into a “D-Group” (short for Discipleship Group), a gender-specific group of 3-5 people who journey together through Scripture to discover God. The basic framework of D-Group meetings is twofold: 1) What grabs your attention from the Scripture we read? 2) What are you doing to do about it? Even before they know it, non-Christians are able to tune into how God is speaking to them through what grabs their attention in Scripture.

Norman Community Church uses David Watson’s Discovery Bible Study curriculum as a guide for walking through the Scriptures in D-Groups. You can download it here. See here for NormCom’s D-Group resource page.

Stage 3 represents the gap we discovered in Storyline’s work with non-Christians coming to faith. We’ve been able to help non-Christians feel a sense of belonging but have struggled to have an intentional vehicle for them to use on their way to belief. The Fringe, and particularly stage 3, helps to keep belonging in balance with believing.

This fall I’m piloting a “D-Group” experience with four of my non-Christian friends as an evolved expression of Storyline’s Formation Groups. The request I made of my friends was to read Scripture with me on a weekly basis and commit to making a simple plan that responds to what got their attention from the text. Each person I asked said they would at least check it out!

The first few meetings have been pretty exciting. One of my friends had one of his first “God times” as a result of a plan he made in response to reading Genesis 1.

Those of you who are familiar with 3DM, Building a Discipling Culture and the discipleship vehicle called a Huddle might wonder: why not use a Huddle to fill the gap? I have two primary reasons:

  1. The content and tools that 3DM offers for use in the Huddle seem to assume the Gospel and at least some background in Scripture. The book Covenant and Kingdom and the “Identity Triangle” offer great tools for understanding the Gospel and Scripture but have only been peripherally addressed in the Huddles in which I’ve been trained. The framework I’m using in Formation Groups is very similar to the Circle LifeShape, used as the central coaching tool in Huddles, which asks a) What is God saying? and b) What am I going to do about it? The Formation Group essentially uses the Circle and applies it in depth to Scripture and the person of Jesus, which seems more appropriate to the journeys of non-Christians.
  2. The commitment level for a Huddle is pretty high (meeting weekly for 9-12 months initially; sharing life regularly in community; and openness to starting Huddles for other people), which might be more than a non-Christian person of peace would be ready for. I could be wrong. Making the ask for a Formation Group feels much more palatable than a Huddle. The Formation Group seems like it will serve well as an entry point and preparation for walking with someone in a Huddle.

Should people of peace come to faith in the midst of the Formation Group, it seems like it could easily transition into using Huddle content and tools with longer term commitment to the leader and to starting other Huddles.

What vehicles do you use to help non-Christians explore God and come to faith?

How are the vehicles you use similar or different than what I’m describing here?

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

11 responses to The Fringe: Walking with Searchers Toward Faith


    Charles, great post. Very interested to see how your D-groups work out. Could Missional Communities be that place of experimentation where PoPs experience an intro to scripture and the Gospel? Or perhaps D Groups function as that space between an MC and a Huddle for you guys.


      Thanks for commenting, Bruce!

      In our experience so far, most of our non-Christian friends who were PoPs have been a regular part of one of our MCs. The gap we sensed was that our MC was great in terms of introducing conversation about Scripture and application to life, but not small enough or high challenge enough to really offer support for non-Christians to enter the kingdom. So the gap between belonging and believing existed for us even while searchers were active parts of MCs. So I think your latter suggestion will be true for us – that our friends begin to belong as part of our MC (“friend”), then we invite into Formation Groups (“D Groups”). If and when they decide they want to give their life to Jesus we would invite them into a Huddle experience.

      I was reflecting with a friend today that a “D-Group” might just be 1 of 3 major iterations of a Huddle – one Huddle is formatted for non-Christians; one for Christians who need to be discipled; and a third for disciples who are Huddling / leading others in discipleship.


        Charles, any reaction from the 3DM coaches when you run your dilemma by them? I know MC’s are supposed to be the place where you can acquire people for Huddles. But at the same time, BDC assumes so much of a churched background. So much of the material explaining the failure of traditional churches I would think would be seen as irrelevant. I feel like they need to write a version of it for non-Christians (what a concept?) where they integrate shapes with some of the material from C&K. I have one person in my huddle with very little biblical knowledge. She enjoys it but her learning curve is so steep. Perhaps there is no replacement for time in the word here.


        There are different approaches within 3DM about it. Some talk about inviting non-Christians into Huddles. In their latest book, Multiplying Missional Leaders, they allude to other vehicles outside of MCs and Huddles that are being used in effectively for mission and discipleship: one such vehicle they mention is the “Discovery Group,” which is seeing lots of people come to the Lord through group Bible study and discovery – which I’m almost certain has to be influenced by David Watson and Discovery Bible Study.

        Most of the stories I heard about evangelism during the recent 3DM Learning Community were the “on-the-spot” type where evangelists met a person of peace who was ready to come to faith on the spot (another way people come to faith, for sure). But not very helpful in speaking to an intentional process that God might use as well.

        Your comment makes me want to share this with my 3DM Huddle leader and get his feedback – I think I will. Thanks for the kairos moment!


        Charles, I look forward to hearing your feedback as you share your kairos. Thanks for being out there on the edges of the kingdom 🙂


    Charles, thanks for your thoughtful analysis of Storyline’s dilemma and for providing the great links. Both are a blessing for someone like me who is new to the practical application of the missional paradigm. I’ll be looking forward to hearing your experiences with the experimental group you are leading.


    Bruce – I emailed Eric Pfeiffer, 3DM’s Director of Coaching, and asked him to react to my blog post. Here are a few thoughts he sent:

    “I think D-Groups are effective (similar to our use of Small Groups) where folks have an opportunity to go a a bit deeper without getting married. I generally encourage these groups to function within the life of a Missional Community, which provides the relational incubation to help someone move further down the Engle Scale until they become a Christian.

    I also think having intentional, rhythmic ways of celebrating those who “get married” (ie. Baptism) creates an opportunity for those who are going deeper to see that there is a time when we have to make the “for better or worse” commitment of becoming a disciple of Jesus.”

    I hadn’t been making the connection between Small Groups that break out within the life of the MC and D-Groups/Formation Groups. That was a helpful insight for me. And I think he’s right – the MC is important relational incubation for the D-Group/Small Group experience. Instructive to me because only one of the 4 guys I’m in this Formation Group with is a regular part of our MC.


      That is interesting (Eric is my coach too :-). Interesting that he uses marriage as a baptismal analogy. I hadn’t heard him speak much on it. I tell that analogy to people a lot. We all believe something happens to us at our marriage ceremony, something changes — also true for baptism. His putting the D-Groups within a relational space is interesting and would seem important right? So question, how would one make these D-group Bible studies function within the life of the MC? Would this be considered an UP? Would this be part of an UP meeting time or just something on the MC calendar?


        My guess is that 3DM folks would say just to break out into those D-groups as part of the MC gathering (probably UP, yes). But it could also happen at other times separate from the MC gathering as well. The former option is good for streamlining time commitments; the latter is good for having plenty of uninterrupted time to connect and talk. So maybe the answer is – whichever works best for you?


    I got this response from Jeff Saferite, my 3DM Coaching Huddle leader:

    Our small groups/Expedition Groups will meet outside of our Missional Community space. Our Community nights are strictly for the invitation of persons of peace to join and do “normal” life celebration with us. The only spiritual content given during this time is towards the things we are thankful for and stressed about, which ends with prayer for those things. We have a lot of non-Christians in our midst.

    For individuals who attend Community night and service opportunities regularly, we will invite them into Expedition Groups. At this point, we are looking to use The Story Formed Life as a vehicle for EG’s….Story Formed Life is 10 weeks long, which I like. Our basic idea here is for persons to understand the story of God and what he is up to.

    After the Expedition we want to invite them into an Open House. Here we are looking to use the Tangible Kingdom Primer, an 8 week study laying out the need for incarnation/missional community. Our pilot group has really loved TKP. This is a little bit higher commitment (emphasis on little) as it asks the individual to do daily devotions based around a certain topic for the week. Our basic goal here is to help them see what the church should look like (a community on mission together).

    It’s important to remember each of these are happening in the midst of normal community life. It’s like getting to look under the hood of the car while it’s turned on. Our hope is that this gives us a good balance of information and imitation. Most individuals that will be invited into the Expedition and then Open House have been active participants in our Missional Community for sometime.

    After the Expedition and Open House, we will invite them into a Huddle. We will probably use a different name than Huddle and will bridge a lot of Covenant and Kingdom into the beginning of it since most of our participants will be new believers. This will also mean that the majority of their reading/Kairos moments will come from Scripture rather than BDC. I am trying to reserve BDC (which assumes a church and gospel background) and Huddles to the training for MC leaders. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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