Hybels on Using Parties for Evangelism

At Christmastime last year, I did what I have done every year following Willow’s Christmas Eve service: I threw a Matthew Party. Despite wall-to-wall meetings, planning sessions, and run-throughs that week, my mind kept drifting to the Matthew Party that was only days away. I couldn’t wait!

I had invited about twenty people who were living extremely far from God, by their own admission. These men and women had never been to Willow before, had never been to my house before, and spiritually speaking would profess to be “going it alone.”

To that group, I added about twenty people who were in the Seeker Slow Lane — the remedial class of Christianity, you might say. On the rare occasion when I would badger them mercilessly, they’d agree to come to Willow. But it was sporadic attendance at best, usually involving a fair amount of kicking and screaming on their part. Most of them had been to my house previously to attend other parties, and all of them knew I was “working” on them, nudging them along the (very) slow path to God. Maybe they would step across the line of faith someday, but in my estimation, it was going to take some time. A lot of time.

In addition to the twenty or so people who were very far from God, and the twenty or so people who were in-progress types, I had sprinkled in a dozen or so very strong Christ-followers from Willow to mix it up a bit. The screening process for this group in particular had been intense! I knew I couldn’t afford any overzealous types showing up. No truth vigilantes. No bounty hunters. Just normal, mature, relationally intelligent, open-hearted, radically inclusive people who understood how high the stakes were that night — after all, I was going to put them in a room with friends of mine who, apart from a bona fide miracle, would spend eternity apart from God.

As with every other year, fifteen minutes before guests arrived, my heart started beating fast. I’m sure the tension I felt was completely natural — I had no way to control the outcome of the party, no way of knowing how the guests would interact, and no way to prepare for the exact conversations that would unfold and what God would choose to do as a result.

But I wouldn’t have traded that anxiety for anything in the world! As I greeted the first guests to arrive, I braced for the adventure to come as a final burst of adrenaline exploded. Here we go!

I wish you could have been there to watch what unfolded that night. In my house in Barrington, Illinois, in the twenty-first century, we enjoyed an approximation of Matthew’s first-century experience. It was incredible to witness so many God-moments in the making, not to mention it was just a heck of a party. The first time I glanced down at my watch, it was well past midnight, and guests ended up staying until two o’clock the next morning — and only left then because I kicked them out.

So what was it that gave it the buzz? What made it such a magical, edgy experience? I mulled over questions like those in the hours and days that followed. Want to know what I decided? The single greatest reason that the party was such a success was because the Christ-followers I’d invited from Willow did exactly what Christ wants all of his followers to do: they took a walk across the room.

When the Willow people had first arrived, they gathered in little Creeker circles, safely huddling together to talk about the weather, the Christmas Eve stage set, plans for the weekend, you name it. (They had to start somewhere, I guess.) But then, after about twenty minutes, it happened — and I was so proud of them when it did. One by one, they looked around the room and started excusing themselves from each other’s company. “Well, I’m not going to stay in this circle all night,” they would murmur as their minds raced. I’m going to walk across the living room and stick out my hand and introduce myself to someone.

“Excuse me,” they would say, if with a complete lack of confidence. And then slowly they turned and walked. And how I related to the thoughts they had as they made those walks. I’d made hundreds of similar walks across rooms, and I knew how fast their hearts were beating, how dry their mouths were becoming, how curious they were about what would take place once they said, “Hi. My name is …”

Every step of the way across my living room that night, each Christ-follower was thinking, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I don’t know if this guy is going to want to talk to me. I don’t know if that woman will want to engage in conversation with me. But you know what? I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to pray every step of the way as I walk across this room, I’m going to introduce myself, and then I’m going to step back and just see if God does anything more.

The discussions instantly began to light up. I was so grateful that the Spirit was opening doors! Everyone at the party had attended the Christmas Eve service together, and that shared experience provided the perfect conversational springboard. Some people talked about how they’d never been on the inside of a church before. (What an honor that Willow was their first experience!) Others admitted to just needing “more facts,” and still others had recently purchased Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, intending to read it over the holidays.

As I meandered through the crowd that night, I thought about all of the requests I’d made of God in the days leading up to the party. “Oh, if this person and that person could get together and be in conversation with one another, that would be incredible!” Or “If only so-and-so and my other friend could chat, that would be so kinetic — they have so much in common.” Sure enough, while I wandered around my own home that night, refilling drinks and making sure people had enough to eat, I would catch a glimpse of those exact pairings occurring. “God is good!” I whispered quietly. “God is so good!”

Thankfully, no Pharisee types showed up at my house that night to throw water on the delicate sparks that were flickering. I remember walking back into the kitchen with a feeling of soul-level satisfaction. It took hours before that buzz wore off! Finally, after I had given everyone the boot, I halfheartedly picked up the remaining dishes, grabbed stray glasses, and headed back into the kitchen, dazed by the significance of all that had happened.

Sometime just before daybreak, my mind still racing from the mystical aspects of the party, I thought to myself, The whole thing comes down to nights just like this one. The future of the kingdom of God comes down to whether individual rank-and-file Christ-followers will do in their everyday lives what just happened in my home tonight!

It really is true: the spread of the gospel — at least in today’s reality — boils down to whether you and I will continue to seek creative ways to engage our friends, inviting them to explore the abundance of the Christ-following life and helping them choose eternity with God instead of settling for a terrible fate when this life is all said and done. — Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith (Bill Hybels)

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Josh Hunt
Josh Hunt loves small groups. He travels extensively training group leaders. He has spoken in some of America's leading churches including First Baptist Church Atlanta and Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, VA. He has written several books on group life including You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less, Disciplemaking Teachers and Make Your Group Grow. He writes a popular online curriculum called Good Questions Have Groups Talking. His website is www.joshhunt.com