My good friend, Tom Harcus who started the Crossway Chapel church planting network offers some great insight on building relationships. Whenever you want to break ground and build new relationships, these principles will work. They are especially insightful and valuable to me because if you carry out these principles you will not only plant churches, but they will likely be new churches with a fun and inviting student ministry DNA from the get go.
My church in Fort Collins, CO, called Mountain View Community Church was planted by Tom and Dawn Harcus in the mid 1990’s and today it has a vibrant student ministry that is reaching hundreds of students at Colorado State University as well as hundreds of middle school and high school students all over our city. I believe one of the reasons why Mountain View has such a clear commitment to student ministry is because of the principles below which Tom kneaded like yeast into our leadership culture from the infancy of the church plant until today. Here are some tried and true biblical principles for building relationships especially with non-believers to help them encounter Jesus and be forever changed by him. These insights are from Tom’s dissertation, Developing Leaders for Christ’s Church: A Church-Based Leadership Farm System:
1 – SCRIPTURE IS SUPREME
Meditate on Missional Passages (for example, Matthew 4:19, 5:11-16, 28:18-20; John 17:18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; 1 Peter 2:9-10,11-13, 3:15.) This meditation will fuel the heart and increase motivation.
2 – IDENTIFY A FIELD OF HARVEST
Where or who has God called you to focus your prayers, love and energy? What are your interests? With whom could you reach out in community from your home group that may have similar interest? (Acts 16:9-10)
3 – INITIATE RELATIONSHIPS
Within that harvest field look for those God brings your way to initiate or invite into relationship. This initiation might mean simply spending time or gathering around similar interests or common experiences. (John 4:7-26)
4 – LISTEN
Listen Actively: Learn to prayerfully ask questions that affirm and value people as image-bearers of God. Active listening is a lost art in building friendships. Here are some examples:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Where are you from?
- What led you to move here?
- How do you spend most of your time throughout the week?
- What do you enjoy doing with your free time?
- What was the last book you enjoyed and why?
Then provide feedback that communicates in language that is affirming and accepting. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
5 – BE A PRAYING PEOPLE
Prioritize in Prayer: Begin to develop a list of those in your life who are pre-Christian and for whom you will pray throughout the week. Use your home group or smaller accountability group to recruit others to join you in praying for those without Christ. Establish lists that help you prioritize– for example, “Seven for Heaven” or “Top Ten” lists. Maybe it will look like Dr. Alvin Vander Gried, Executive Director, of Houses of Prayer Everywhere (HOPE), who teaches people the “five-and-five” prayer challenge. “The idea is to pray five blessings on five neighbors starting at five minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks”. (Romans 10:1)
6 – JUMP AT THE CHANCE TO CARE FOR PEOPLE
Anticipate Opportunities to Care: As one prioritizes in prayer and time with these pre-Christians, God will provide opportunities for you, along with your co-laborers from your home group or church family, to be the good news to them, by engaging in selfless acts of care or service. This commitment means the church embraces in simplicity what Steve Sjogren refers to as the “Outward Focused Church,” which responds to the needs of those around it in authentic service and care.(Matthew 5:16)
7 – WHEN GOD OPENS DOORS, SHARE
Respond to Opportunities to Share: Within a progressively indifferent, if not hostile, secular culture, relationships that establish credibility and trust have become the primary means God is using to draw people to Himself. As one spends time in relationship with pre-Christians, praying for and caring for them, divine occasions for sharing your story (testimony and maybe the gospel) will avail themselves. Respond in confidence to the God ordained opportunities that He provides to share of your journey with the Master. Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg refer to these as “Maximizing Your Moments.” (Acts 8:26-40)
8 – INITIATE TALKING WITH PEOPLE
Engage in Spiritual Dialogue: When God is working in an individual’s heart, he or she will begin to ask more in-depth questions that reflect an open and searching heart. Your relationship should reinforce a feeling of safety and openness. (Colossians 4:3-6)
9 – EXPOSE PEOPLE TO JESUS
Gather Around Jesus: As God continues to move in people’s lives,, one should seek to expose them to Jesus through His Word. Exposure can come in several forms. Simply getting together to discuss a chapter of the gospel of John or specific resources geared toward getting unsaved people interacting around a biblical portrayal of Jesus. (1 Peter 1:23 “…born again … by the imperishable, …that is through the living abiding word of God.”)
10 – INVITE PEOPLE TO ENJOY JESUS-CENTERED COMMUNITY
Invite into Community: Notice that most of your witness to pre-Christians has been outside of the walls of the church building. It is not to say they haven’t been exposed to the church. Remember? You have been reaching out in community. At this point you begin to invite them to the more formal, organizational elements of the church gathering events, accountability or home groups (Flocks) and Sunday Worship Celebration. (Hebrews 10:24-25).
TAKE A SMALL STEP
- Ask yourself, “How can my church adopt some of these principles to press into the mission field a bit more?”
- Evaluate your student ministry program based on these principles and see where there might be some growth areas the prioritize this year on one or more of these principles.
- If you know a church planter that is looking for a great coach or network to join, contact Tom Harcus… he’s got a great track record.
 Clegg & Bird, Lost in America, 121.
 Sjorgren., Seeing Beyond Church Walls, 25.
 Hybels & Mittelbery, Becoming A Contagious Christian, 84.