Integrated Family Life Evangelism is one of the most innovative and effective evangelistic methods. It combines vital family issues with conceptually compatible Bible doctrines in a unified Christ-centered approach.
This article seeks to answer three questions. Why should we do Family Life Evangelism? How can we use this approach? What does a Family Life evangelistic presentation look like?
Why Family Life Evangelism?
First, it's biblical. All through the Bible, God uses parental love to illustrate His love. Abraham's love for his son Isaac and his readiness to sacrifice him is a small but forceful example of the love of our heavenly Father as seen on Calvary. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah even as God gave His Son on Mount Calvary.
The Psalms portrays God's love in tender words: "As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him" (Ps. 103:13).* And the prophet adds, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast... ? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isa. 49:15, NIV). The parable of the lost son and the loving father stands forever as a classic example of God's enduring love for His children.
The Bible also uses marital love to illustrate God's love. For example, that's the message of the whole book of Hosea. And the book of Ruth teaches us about the heavenly Kinsman redeeming the one He loves. Then there are the wedding parables of Jesus, and the apocalyptic images of the Bride, the wife of the Lamb; and there are count less other examples in the Bible.
Second, it's practical. While the regular evangelistic campaign emphasizes preparation for heaven, Family Life Evangelism has a twofold emphasis. It prepares people for heaven and prepares them to live happily on earth. It deals with the "nuts and bolts" of life: love vs. infatuation, compatibility, marital roles, communication, conflict resolution, sexuality, money management, singleness, parenting, and much more. Moreover it is focused: "Seven steps," "Five ways," "Four keys," "Six secrets." And it is not theoretical; it's practical. It does not only say "what to do," it emphasizes "how to do it."
Third, it's multilateral. These days, multitudes are joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, if we analyze the influx, we would see that most converts come from the less-prosperous sectors of society. Why aren't we attracting a significant number of persons from other socioeconomic classes? Why aren't we reaching people in the higher social, educational, and financial strata of society? One reason is that many people in these classes of society are not particularly interested in the Bible. But while that may be true, they are interested in issues of health and family life. Family Life Evangelism has the potential to reach such people because it satisfies their felt need of happy family life, and will lead them to sense their unfelt need for eternal life.
Fourth, it's eschatological. Seventh-day Adventists are people of "last things" with a special eschatological mission. We believe that in Eden, God created two eternal institutions—the family and the Sabbath. We declare that God's seventh-day Sabbath has been trampled, and we believe that the life of the family has also been seriously depreciated. We proclaim that we are "repairer[s] of the breach" and "restorer[ s] of paths" (Isa. 58:12, KJV). We are famous for restoring the Sabbath!
But are we as famous for restoring marriage and family? When people come to our evangelistic campaigns, do they expect that a significant part of our presentations will focus on family life? If we are to be faithful to the Edenic restoration, shouldn't we be restoring both the Sabbath and the family?
More than that: We affirm that we are commissioned to preach the Elijah message of Malachi 4:5, 6—turning "the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers." Doesn't that involve a family life revival?
Doing Family Life Evangelism
Even before we can involve ourselves in this type of evangelism, we must believe and accept that this kind of evangelism is part of God's master plan to reach the unreached. The prophet Hosea tells us God's sowing and reaping plan: "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground . . . till He comes and rains righteousness on you" (Hos. 10:12). So we need plowing, sowing, reaping, and raining. How can we employ these concepts
We plow or soften hearts by praying and caring. In Family Life Evangelism, church members are asked to compile a prayer list of relatives, friends, neighbors, work mates, or school mates whom they would like to see accept Jesus during the campaign. Then each intercessor joins one or more intercessors to form a "care cell."
This small group chooses a time and place for their weekly meeting and they name a cell leader. The care cell meets weekly for study, prayer for prospects on prayer lists, and for Christian fellow ship. In addition to praying, each intercessor looks for ways to intentionally show care for his or her prospects.
Sowing follows plowing. "The seed is the Word of God," which is packaged in attractive new Family Life lessons. Then comes reaping, using campaign sermons or seminars.
Reaping should be followed by conserving. In too many cases, when the campaign is over we think the work is done. To put it graphically, giving birth and then abandoning the baby is murder! Eight advanced lessons provide a valuable tool for the conservation of new believers.
At every stage of the divine plan, we need rain—the "early and latter rain" of God's Holy Spirit. We need to "ask the LORD for rain" (Zech. 10:1). Following God's master plan ensures success.
But how do we do Family Life Evangelism? We see three different ways.
Option 1 is the evangelistic campaign. This uses short plowing, normal sowing, and short reaping. Plowing lasts for one month and employs the "praycare" plan stated above. Sowing lasts about two months using short, simple family life lessons. Reaping lasts about a month, and at this stage we provide two tools. One is the Happy Family Evangelism Manual, a comprehensive handbook of 10 units containing every thing one needs for an evangelistic campaign: master sheet, 24 sermon outlines, 5 Sabbath services, Series AA lessons for preparation, Series C lessons for conservation, weekly visitation guidelines, new nightly decision cards, half-night prayer service, and the Happy Family theme song. Accompanying the manual is the Happy Family CD contain ing 24 PowerPoint presentations with multi-ethnic graphics. All presentations are in English, Spanish, and French.
Option 2 is small-group evangelism. While the evangelistic campaign is still the traditional route, small-group evangelism is fast becoming a more effective methodology.
The small-group method uses long plowing, long sowing, and very short reaping. Plowing lasts about two months, using the "pray-care" procedures mentioned above. In addition to praying in the weekly cell meeting, each intercessor looks for ways to intentional ly show care for his or her prospects. The groups practice "pray-care" visitation, using the "LAP" procedure: Look for areas of interest; Ask questions to ascertain needs; and Pray for those needs. This "pray-care" is spiritual "daycare," where hearts are softened by love.
The long sowing takes three to four months, and the dynamic of this process is the expansion of the care cell, which is converted into a "family fellowship." Each prospect is given lesson 1 with an invitation to the family fellowship. This cell, or this small-group meeting, becomes the center of operations.
What do we do in the weekly family fellowship? We study attractive small group lessons. These are really 15 of the 24 sermons that have been simplified and redesigned for home use! Like the sermon, half of each lesson is on the family and the other half on Bible doctrine. In addition to study, the family fellowship focuses on prayer. Here we pray for each other, and even more, we teach prospects to pray.
Although study and prayer are vital, the most important element of the family fellowship is fellowship! Whether it be singing, drinks, cookies, or chit-chat, we create ways to build friendship, to show care, and experience Christian love.
After this long sowing, the harvest is ripening, and we are ready for a short reaping! The reaping campaign needs just two weeks to present the sermons that were not covered in the group les sons. These are decision sermons.
Prospects from all the Fellowships are brought together for massive fellowship, and the preacher, using the identified decision sermons from the manual with the matching presentations from the CD, calls people to decision. A variety of baptismal services are scheduled during this reaping campaign.
When the short reaping is over, where should the new believers go? Back to the weekly care cells! For the next two months they study the conservation lessons (Series C). But they do more than study together. They pray together and fellowship together. Fellowship is the key! The greatest benefit of small group evangelism is that it provides an effective conservation mechanism. The newborn is surrounded by a circle of friends who give spiritual support in a loving, caring environment.
Option 3 is the professional evangelistic seminars designed to reach persons in the upper levels of society—people who do not come to the tent or the church. This option needs very long plowing, long sowing, and short reaping.
If the gospel seed is sown on "stony ground," there will be no harvest! So we need to "break up" this "fallow ground." We do so by operating a six month "pray-care" plan of praying, caring, and visiting.
We build strategic spiritual alliances with professionals and business persons in their "marketplace" and in their "ballpark"! We visit them formally and informally, ascertaining and satisfying their felt needs, praying with them and for them. This is plowing.
As in option 2, sowing is done in small groups called "Family Fellowship." Here we use lessons, specially designed for professionals, such as, "God loves business persons," or "God loves educators."
During the three months of sowing in the weekly fellowship, once each month we bring all the prospects of all the small groups for an appropriate Croup Fellowship, such as a Prayer Breakfast, Gospel Concert, or Stress Management Seminar. It would be advantageous if these monthly events were hosted at the proposed campaign venue.
The reaping is unique. We are not preaching sermons; we are conducting professional seminars! We use the 24 Happy Family Bible Seminar study guides with the multi-purpose CD. However, professional seminars need professional dynamics: attractive venue, professional ambiance, interactive teaching methodology, appropriate materials (folder, pen, and study guide for each participant), and prior registration. Moreover, since it is a professional seminar, we recommend that there be a modest registration fee.
After the reaping is the conserving as the attendees return to their enlarged care cells for study, prayer, and fellow ship; for again, fellowship is the key to conservation.
Family Life Evangelism brings many blessings. First, heightened community interest resulting in larger baptisms; second, reaching persons in the upper levels of society; third, baptisms of more families than individuals; fourth, revival of the church while evangelizing the world; fifth, enrichment of the preacher's own family life; sixth, effective consolidation of new believers. This innovative, internationally tested model is a highly successful method of reaping God's harvest.
* All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version.
All cited materials are available from the Family Ministries Department of the Inter-American Division of the General Conference. Samples can be viewed at <www.interamerica.org>.