The ‘sports stadium’ model, designed by Christians in Sport, demonstrates that often different people have different sorts of questions, and that a typical way of coming to trust Jesus is a progression through these stages.
CU small groups can tailor their events to their friendships. Sometimes well-meaning small groups hope that an event will serve to introduce their sceptical friends to other Christians, answer all their questions and calls them to repent and believe all at once! In practice, trying to do all of these means doing none of them well. It’s better to focus and to achieve a defined aim based on where your friends are at.
According to the model, events can be tailored to friends who are in the:
Hospitality tents. Those in the hospitality tents at an athletics meet aren’t very interested in the action on track – they’re there for the free sandwiches and beer! Some of your friends may be miles away from even considering the claims of the gospel. They think that Christians are weird, odd and disengaged from real life. If your small group mainly has friends like this, your event should be predominantly social, and act as an opportunity for these friends to get to know Christians other than just their mate. Then the conversation line of, “You’re OK, but all other Christians in the world are plain weird!” should be put in its proper place. The aim of these events is to demonstrate the goodness of the gospel in Christian friendships, which then should lead to conversations about the gospel.
Ideas for hospitality tent events… enjoying a meal or going out for pizza together, going to the cinema as a group and then chatting afterwards in the pub and so on.
Back of the stands. Those at the back of the stands have some interest with the action ‘on the track’ but aren’t yet ready to take a closer look at what’s going on. This relates to those who’ve maybe seen something of the difference Jesus makes in the lives of their friends, but who consider the gospel implausible. If your small group are sharing their lives with those around them, your friends will often be in this category. The aim in these events will be to create a forum where you can listen to your friends’ questions and to demonstrate something of the gospel’s truth and goodness.
Ideas for back of the stands events… a Grill-a-Christian panel, hosting your own ‘hot potato’ apologetic discussion (over jacket potatoes!) or discussion supper (where you invite friends to chat over dinner about a provocative subject, like ‘If I were God, the first thing I would change would be….’). One CU small group did this once a month over spaghetti bolognaise and generated quite a crowd of regulars! Summer barbeques work well too – at exam time, not only can you take time to care for your friends, but someone can speak briefly on ‘What does the Bible have to say about stress?’ or on trust for the future or another appropriate subject. Film discussions can also work excellently – any film which raises questions about truth, justice, hope, certainty, life, death or identity (i.e. pretty much any film!) should work. There’s more on them elsewhere on this blog.
Front of the stands. Those at the front of the stands have an active interest in what’s happening on the track. This group corresponds to those who are intrigued by Jesus. They’ve seen something of the difference that being a Christian makes, and have received answers to some of their questions. They’re now ready to take a closer look at Jesus’ life and claims. Front of the stands events focus explicitly on Jesus. A dinner and a message, with either a clear testimony or unpacking a passage from a Gospel works very well. One-to-one or group evangelistic Bible studies should be offered interested friends into off of the back of such an event. Additionally, most friends who are at the ‘front of the stands’ will probably be enthusiastic about being invited to church, so do make sure that’s happening too.
On the blocks. As they hear the gospel, some will have the courage to step on to the track and move onto the blocks. This relates to encouraging enquirers to come and have a closer look at Jesus and his claims. Often this will be a chance to thoroughly discuss the claims of Jesus and to ask questions of what it is to follow him. This will be a time to study the Bible pretty closely. This may be done by individual small group members. Occasionally a small group might decide to run an Uncover group, Christianity Explored or Alpha course. This may be particularly appropriate after a period like a mission week.