The Celtic Way of Doubling Groups

"Belonging proceeds believing"

Because of its geographical distance, Ireland was out of the loop of the first round of major evangelization by the church. When it was evangelized by Saint Patrick, it operated underneath the radar of Roman control. Thus, its breed of Christianity grew up independently of much of the rest of the church. It was, to use modern missions terminology, an indigenous church.

Depending on who you listen to, Ireland was thoroughly Christianized between one and three generations--incredibly rapid growth by anyone's standards. Thus, it become a great model for us to study.

Here is an excerpt from George Hunter's excellent book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism that spells out the Celtic strategy for doubling groups contrasted with the Roman way:

"Bluntly stated, the Roman model for reaching people is: 1) Present the Christian message; 2) Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians and 3) If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship. The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American evangelicals are scripted by it! We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, we welcome them into the church! Presentation, Decision, Assimilation. What could be more logical than that?

The Celtic model for reaching people works like this: 1) You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith. 2) Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship. 3) In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit. "

Hunter then summarizes the two approaches with the following chart:

Roman Model

Celtic Model

Presentation Fellowship
Decision Ministry and Conversations
Fellowship Belief, Invitation to Commitment

To summarize further, "belonging proceeds believing." (Hunter, pages 53 - 54).

The question is, how do we do this? How do we squeeze one more thing into an already busy life? How do we do it in a systematic, consistent, regular, intentional basis?

Make it  priority

Rick Warren has taught us the importance of balancing all five purposes of the church: evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and service. I believe outreach ought to be our second church priority. Sunday morning is first. Sunday morning we get fellowship, discipleship and worship. The next church activity ought to address one or the other (or both) of the other purposes: evangelism and service. I believe we are going to have to move connecting with outsiders out, and way up, in our priory structure. If I were your pastor, I would give you permission to stay home on Sunday night and Wednesday night if you need to in order to create time and space to connect with outsiders.

Success is about concentration. What you say "No" to is just as important as what you try to do. We need to make a "not-to-do list" as well as a to-do list.

Make it a habit

The Bible says, "Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner." Romans 12:13 [Living] Psychologist tells us about 95% of our behavior is habitual. How we get dressed, get ready for work, go to work, go about our work, come home from work. . . it is mostly habit. Having guests home for dinner is either a habit--something we do most every week, or we don't do it at all. Get in the habit. Put in on auto-pilot. Make it the default mode. Make it the normal thing to normally do on a normal Friday night.

Start with the reachable

Good missionary theory suggests that if you had 1000 missionaries to deploy, and you had missionary fields that were unequally responsive, you wouldn't distribute your resources equally. You would send 995 missionaries to the places where the fruit is ripe and 5 missionaries to the less responsive areas, just to monitor the situation.

In a similar way, we do well to concentrate on people who are responsive. Who are the most responsive people? Research indicated that people in transition tend to be more responsive. People who have recently moved, gotten married, gotten divorced, had a baby or experienced other life changes tend to be more responsive than the general population. But, I have a better filter than that to discover the most responsive people on the planet.

The most responsive people on the planet are people who visit in your worship service. That is right, people who visit in your worship service. In most cases we have plenty of prospects if we will just concentrate on having people in our homes that visit in our worship services. And, although most church goers don't have all that many contacts with outsiders, recent visitors often do. If we will take real good care of them, they will tend to tell their friends and you will have even more visitors. It  all starts with reaching the reachable.

Make it specific, intentional, systematic, and consistent

This is why I like to talk about giving Friday nights to Jesus. It is specific, intentional, systematic and consistent. It doesn't have to be Friday nights, but Friday nights is a great time to "offer hospitality without grumbling." (1 Peter 4.9) Whether you use this time or some other time, pick a time. If you do it when you get around to it, you won't get around to it.

This is not punishment

I had someone say to me after a conference recently, "I am convicted that I need to try this, but I need to tell you, this will be really, really, really hard for me."


We are talking about dinner and a movie. We are talking about bowling. We are talking about BBQ. We are talking about food. We are talking about playing games. How hard can it be?

My Interim Pastor, Dr. Levi Price preached an incredible sermon this last weekend recalling story after story of Christina martyrs from Paul to Columbine. It was really moving. I found myself thinking, "We stand at the end of a long line of people who have paid an incredible price to follow Christ. My life is so easy by comparison."

Truthfully, giving Friday nights to Jesus is just plain fun to me. We had a couple over the other night. We had burgers, played a table game and had some fun. It was great. No big deal. But living this way, and inviting not only your friends but prospects, recent visitors to your church, absentees from your class--this is the Celtic way of spreading the gospel.

I have always thought playing cards was more fun than visitation. I know it is not for everyone, but for me, far more fun. And equally effective. It is the Celtic way. You can impact 1000 people in 10 years by doing this.

Get a team

Well, it may not be fun to you. I can appreciate that. It is fun to me, but, my Daddy used to say, "We don't all do things alike" There is some in your group that it is fun for. Cast a vision for them. Recruit them. Encourage them.

Any way you can

Ultimately, we get done what we want to get done. Develop a sense of urgency. Cultivate your want-to. Get a must-do attitude. Get it done any way you can. If you can get it done on Friday nights, get it done on Friday nights. If Friday nights doesn't work, get it done another time, but get it done. There is a God that deserves to be worshipped. There are people who need to be saved. There is a work that needs to be done. There is a cause that we need to give ourselves to. The Celtic way is a great way. Belonging proceeds believing. Get it done.

Dr. Charles Stanley

We recently had the privilege of hosting Josh Hunt for our mid winter Sunday Morning Bible Study leadership conference. The emphasis on investing and building relationships is the key to reaching our society today. Fellowship is premium in a world where we face an epidemic of loneliness. People are looking for more than a "friendly" church. They want a place where they can grow and develop lasting relationships that will assist them in building a biblical foundation for life. If you have not had the opportunity to have Josh Hunt in your church or attend one of his conferences, make plans to involve your leadership. His concepts will make a difference in your thinking about how simple it really is to reach out to people.


Charles F. Stanley
Senior Pastor First Baptist Church Atlanta

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