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.
- 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.
- 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?