Monday, February 14, 2011

How A Church Really Grows: The Oikos Phenomina

Oikos Evangelism

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the potential most churches and individuals have in terms of impacting their worlds with the gospel is far greater than the achievement. Program after program is launched but the results hardly ever come close to meeting the expectation. We still see almost 80% of churches either plasteaued or in decline.

There is a strategy however that has worked in every church, in every culture, and in every time frame. It is true in growing and non growing churches. The reason for its working is that each of us has a relational world and that relational world has been responsible for 90% of all the peoples who have become Christians and part of the church in their journey to faith.

How People Come To Christ and His Church
The Biblical Concept Of The Oikos

Oikos is a Greek word that is often translated "household" in the New Testament.  In English, "household" means the nuclear family.  In Greek, however, its usage was much broader and included family, neighbors, co-workers and friends and those with whom we come into regular contact.
Today it is called many things by the pastors and churches who are seeking to intentionalize this principle. It is your 8-15, your extended family, your fishing pool, your world, and sometimes simply by the Biblical world your
    Examples Abound Throughout The Scriptures:

    • Luke 8:39 The demoniac was told to return to his household and described the great things done for him
    • Luke 19:9 Zacchaeus was told salvation had come to his household
    • John 4:53 The centurion's whole household was saved following the healing of his son
    • Acts 10:2  This records that Cornelius was a righteous man who feared God with all his household.  When Peter arrived to preach the gospel, we see that Cornelius had a broader understanding of oikos than simply his relatives. 
    • Acts 10:24 When Peter arrived Cornealius had invited his relatives and close friends
    • Acts 18:8   Luke describes how Crispus, leader of the synagogue at Corinth, believed in the Lord with all his household
    • 1 Corinthians 1:16Paul baptized the household of Stephanas

    In addition to these direct usages of the term oikos the principle is taught throughout scripture

    • Mark 2:14-15 describes how Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector; and the scripture records that soon after many other tax collectors were following Jesus and dining with him
    • Luke 7:37-8:3 records how the prostitute came to Jesus, and soon after many other "sinful women" were following Christ
    • Luke 15  In the three parables about a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son, all tell of the rejoicing when the lost was found.  In all three cases they told their friends and family.  The message of hope was passed on through the oikos
    • John 1:40-41 tells of Andrew bringing his brother to Christ
    • John 1:44-45 tells of Philip bringing his friend Nathanael to Christ

    In these and many other passages we can see how the natural webs of relationships, which comprised the oikos of the early Christians, became the primary means for the spread of the gospel.

    Michael Green, in the book, Evangelism In the Early Church, observes the New Testament Church rigorously adhered to the oikos principle as its primary strategy for the Christian advance.  The early Christians knew when the message of faith was heard and demonstrated by friends and family who were known, and trusted barriers to the gospel were removed and receptivity to the message increased tremendously

    Oikos Evangelism Definition
    Oikos evangelism is God's natural method for transmitting a supernatural message

    Pastor Tom Mercer Leads the
    High Desert Church one of
    the best examples of the
     oikos principle
    The Key To Oikos Penetration

    • Integrity. The person’s in our oikos will see any lack of integrity on our part as disproof of the life transforming power of the Gospel. 
    •  Life transformation: What we were is well known by our oikos. What we have become and are becoming is the testimony of Christ’s transforming power.  “If any man is in Christ he is a new creature. Old things pass away and all things become new.”  II Corinthians 5:17

    The Principle Today

    How People Come To Christ And The Church
          In the past 30 years I have asked over 100,000 Christians in over fifty denominations in 28 countries this question: "What factor has had the greatest influence in your decision to become a Christian and become part of the church?"  The answers have never wavered more than a point or two from the ranges shown.

    SPECIAL NEED                                                                          1 - 3%
    WALK IN                                                                                        2 - 4%
    PASTOR OR CHURCH STAFF                                                 0 - 3%
    VISITATION/TELE-MARKETING                                               1/2 - 1%
    SUNDAY SCHOOL/SMALL GROUP                                        4 - 6%
    EVANGELISTIC CRUSADE                                                       1/2- 1%
    All OTHER CHURCH PROGRAMS                                          2 - 4%
    FRIENDS AND/OR RELATIVES     (Oikos)                             75 - 90%

    It is interesting to note that these statistics were just as true in declining churches as well as growing congregations.  The statistics explained growth but did not cause it.  In growing congregations a greater percentage of Christians take seriously the reaching of their oikos.

    It is also interesting to note that the statistics tell why people come, not where or to what they come. The two most common places were the oikos member of a Christian first touches the church and its ministry is either through the worship service or a small group. My research shows that in those churches that are primarily cell based the oikos principle works by people inviting their oikos to the cell. In America it tends to be most often the worship service or a special church program. A Cell-Church oikos strategy goes from small to large while non cell based churches tend to go from large to small. Both however recognize the necessity of people being connected to the worshipping community and being a part of a cell/small group.

    Developing an Oikos strategy
    The four worlds of church members

    • Biological World — related to me by blood or marriage
    • Vocational World — work associates
    • Geographical World — immediate community, neighbors
    • Volitional World — the world of my choice, leisure activities, sports etc.

    The average Christian has between eight (8) and fifteen (15) people in their oikos who are:

    • Presently not Christians or active in any church, and
    • Live within a reasonable driving distance of the church of that member
    New Christians have a few more contacts; older Christians a few less. Just for a moment consider our evangelistic potential; if we take our average attendance and multiply it by 8 we will see that our potential growth just from oikos contacts is 8 times larger than our present congregation. The Gallup organization, as well as George Barna,  and Tom Rainer have documented that more than 50% of people, if simply given an invitation by a Christian they knew, would attend a church service or small group activity.  The issue has never been a lack of opportunity.  Jesus was clear: the need is for laborers.

    Applying an oikos strategy

    When we look at not only why people come to Christ but when three additional facts become apparent we can fine tune our strategy.

    •  First, the majority of people who become Christians do so in the first 18 years of life. When developing your oikos strategy don’t neglect either the children or youth of your church and community. This means encouraging parents Sunday School teachers in the reaching of children during these formative years. The most important part of this phenomina is to note if you look at the oikos source it is primarily a family member God used when you look at the conversion of Children

    •  Second when you look at adult conversions the majority of these converts would point to a friend as being the bridge. As churches we often either keep people so busy in the church they do not have time to build these relationships across which the gospel can travel or we actually discourage people from having these relationships with the misguided fear that those persons will draw the Christian away from the Lord and his mission.

    • Third, Jesus told us to look at fields that are white unto harvest. Studies have proven that individuals who have become Christians most often do so in a time of stress or transition. As we apply this practical fact with the truth of scripture there are some simple things we can do to focus on the harvest. When Jesus sent us out into our world the place where we were to have a harvest He told us to look at the fields that were “white to harvest”. How do we tap into this principle of receptivity.

    DDIS is it. this is a simple way to think about receptivity as the persons in your oikos go through change or transition

    • Death of a family member or friend
    • Difficulty or problem that does not seem to have an easy solution
    • Illness
    • Situation change. Job, marriage, divorce, birth of a child etc.

    The times of receptivity

    • The calendar:  People tend to be more receptive at certain times of the year. Examples include: Christmas, Easter, beginning of the school year, anniversary of a loved ones death, etc,
    •  Relationship.  The stronger a relationship a Christian has with a non-Christian the greater the receptivity to the gospel becomes. One or two hours per week invested with someone in your oikos is part of the process of increasing their receptivity Gospel.

    The Holmes/Rahe Scale
    There is a stress test developed by two doctors that was given to 750 people.

    In the study two conclusions emerged.

    First, the more stress inducing things that a person had in their life in the previous six months the more receptive they were to the life transforming message of the Gospel. Persons who have accumulated 150 points of greater in the previous six months are most receptive. After six months has passed most people go back to their previous life patterns unless they are converted.

    Second, People in very stable situations are unlikely to make any change including their religious beliefs, 

    When you look at the persons in your oikos focus first on those persons you sense will be most responsive to the Gospel at this time based on what has been happening. Theologians call this the preveinent grace of God. God is working with us so is at work in our oikos seeking to bring them to a point of readiness and receptivity.

    The sovereign move of the Spirit of God
    At various time in the past 100 years we have seen God moving in miraculous ways to bring in the harvest. In the period from 1952- 1970 following the Korean war there was a mighty harvest resulting  in the city of Seoul alone two churches over 500, 000 in size each and 9 additional churches over 30,000 each. Less than 2% of the population was Christian then. Today it approaches 50%.
    God’s Spirit has been moving sovereignly in Africa as well. South  of the Sahara most countries have nearly 50% of their people saved.

    People who look at missions and ask where is God’s Spirit moving today  point to South America. There is presently a tremendousspiritual hunger for God and the churches that see the fields as white to harvest are seeing hundreds of persons becoming Christians. The number of churches in South America over 3000 seems to be increasing every year. A Church in Bogota has become the world’s 2nd largest church A church in Chile has over 80,000. A river village in the Amazon Basin of 19 households has seen 17 of them become Christians in the past 3 years. Everywhere you look there are signs of God’s moving to bring in the harvest.

    Seven Steps in Oikos Evangelism

    1.    Identify the persons in your oikos


    2.    Learn as much as possible about your oikos contacts
    Knowing a person beyond simple biographical details is an essential part of effective disciple making. The more we know about their interests, hobbies, past experiences, etc. the more effective we will become in our effort to reach them

    3.    Pray regularly and specifically for your oikos
    ·      We have been commanded to pray
    ·      It stops the work of the enemy. We do have the authority to bind him
    ·      It gives us wisdom in our witness. If we lack wisdom God promises to give it
    ·      It protects the seed of the gospel. The parable of the sower says the enemy seek to steal the seed
    ·      It changes my character. God will reveal any obstacles in your life that are hindering the clear transmission of the message
    ·      It recognizes I am a co-laborer. Without us God won’t. Without God we can’t. We need his power and presence if our witness is to be effective.
    4.    Focus your efforts
    ·      Different people are at different points of receptivity Focus on the most  receptive
    ·      I have limited time. We are stewards of our time. Investing the time we have where there is the greatest opportunity for a harvest is good stewardship.
    ·      God's prevenient grace is at work. God’s Spirit has been working. Be sensitive to it and look for it.
    ·      My relationships are a different stages. Those with whom I have had the longest relationship may be more receptive than those I have just recently met.
    ·      God's Spirit will lead me to the most receptive.
    ·      Our church can best support our witness to specific individuals. Look at your church. Does it have programs that relate to specific needs of persons in your oikos? Are there people in your church who would relate easily to the unreached needs and interests?

    5.    Develop a disciple-making plan

    Caring: link great commission and the great commandment. Jesus stated that people would know that we were His disciple by the way we love. Loving one another only is not enough we like God need to love those who are not yet part of His family.

    Strengthening of the relationship. Receptivity increases as the relationship grows.

    Involvement of other Christians. The more Christians a non-Christian knows the more complete their understanding of the Christian faith becomes.

    Providing a variety of exposures to the gospel. Most persons hear the gospel many different times and in a variety of ways. The evangelistic Bible studies, your personal testimony, church services, Gospel films, are just a few examples. The research provided by Flavil Yakley shows that 6-8 exposures to the gospel are normally required before a commitment will be made. It really is a process. Most of us know that our own conversion occurred after hearing the gospel a number of times and in a variety of ways.

    6.    Work the disciple-making plan

    ·      Attentive listening If we will listen our unreached friend will communicate to us so we can best communicate the Gospel to them.
    ·      Relate to needs. The door of entry to a persons real spiritual need is often through the door of their felt need.
    ·      Identify receptive moments.
    ·      Appropriate timing. Look for God to open the door. It may come through a question or comment your friend makes.
    ·      Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. The scriptures teach that it is His responsibility to draw people to Christ.
    ·      Use understandable language. Most of our unreached oikos is not familiar with church or, religious language.
    ·      Be patient. Jesus used farming parables about seeds. They take time to grow. We need to nurture, and water the seed and wait for it to grow.

    7.    Incorporate them into the church/group

    ·      Disciples, not decisions, is the goal
    ·      Unincorporated converts rarely stick. The advantage of reaching people through a small group is that they already belong and the decision they make is rarely if ever regretted.
    ·      Incorporation begins before conversion. We often think we need to reach people and then bring them into the life of the church. The reality is we need to bring them in love and accept them and in that environment they will come to faith.
    Resources For Oikos Evangelism

    My favorite books

     Oikos Your World Delivered Pastor Tom Mercer

    The Best Oikos Church To Visit And Learn From

    Contacts Re Oikos Help for Your Church Or Region

    1 comment:

    1. Thank you, Dr. Orr. I really enjoyed this post. God has been capturing my heart with this idea of oikos and your article was a great encouragement to me. I plan to share it with the brothers and sisters in my oikos :)