It was July, the season for Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs, and I had just come from college to be the associate pastor in a large church in Spokane, Washington. This particular year Jane, an Adventist Christian from California, came to Spokane to visit her sister Laura. Jane wanted to bring her sister’s children to our VBS, but things did not work out for that to happen. So just before returning to California, Jane asked me to visit her sister; she felt that Laura was receptive to the gospel message. She turned out, in fact, to be the ideal seeker.
I went to visit Laura and took with me Sally, a local church member. Immediately we started two Bible studies. Upstairs Sally studied with Laura and her daughter, Kim; while downstairs I studied with Laura’s other daughter, Sue, and Sue’s husband, Gary. Laura and Kim were baptized in less than two months. Even while Sally was studying the Bible with Laura and Kim, Laura started to share Jesus with her son Charles, who got baptized about a month after she did.
Later Laura started a small study group in her house and invited her neighbor Dee to attend. After a few meetings Dee invited her husband, Ken, to join them. A week or two later Dee asked her other neighbor, Terry, to be part of their fellowship. Dee, Ken, and Terry were all baptized about six months after Laura was. While Laura and Dee were active in sharing their faith, Sue and Gary invited their close friends Edgar and Terri to the Bible study I was conducting. All four of them were baptized about a year later.
Laura, Kim, Sue, Gary, Charles, Dee, Ken, Terry, Edgar, and Terri: 10 living testimonies to the power of relationships. It’s clear from all indications that the most effective way of reaching people with the gospel is through a natural web of relationship and family influence. The New Testament uses the Greek word oikos to illustrate this point. Oikos is literally translated as “household,” and the Bible uses it to mean the influence of this natural web of relationships.1 It was through oikos evangelism—sharing Jesus using the network of existing relationships—that these 10 people came to the Lord and into His church.
This is the power of relationship. This is the power of invitation. This is the power of sharing our faith with our children and families, friends and neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances. I’m convinced that because of relationship evangelism many people will walk up to friends and family members in heaven and say, “I am here because of you!”
Oikos Is Biblical
What happened to Sally, Laura, and me is the biblical model of spreading the gospel. The Bible is full of stories of people bringing their loved ones to Jesus. At the beginning of his Gospel John tells the story of Andrew, one of the first disciples of Jesus, bringing his brother Peter to meet the Lord (John 1:41). Then we see Philip finding his friend Nathanael and giving him a gospel presentation that led Nathanael to be a follower of the Messiah (verse 45).
The Scriptures also tell the story of Andrew and Philip. Andrew first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “ ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ). . . . Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’ ” (verses 41-45).2
This story is repeated again and again in the Gospels and the book of Acts. When God delivered Paul and Silas from the Philippian jail, they spoke the Word of God to the jailer and all who were in his household. The result was that the jailer “took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household” (Acts 16:33, 34). The jailer received something from Paul and Silas that compelled him to share it with his loved ones. The gospel is such wonderful news that it must be shared. When we understand that the stakes are sky-high (eternal life and death) and when we start experiencing the joy of salvation, our natural tendency is to share it with those who are dearest to us.
Now notice how Jesus used the oikos principle. After He healed the demoniac, Jesus said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19). Jesus knew that the most persuasive witness is the testimony of a changed life shared in a natural way with those whom we love and trust.
Another time Jesus saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office. Jesus bade him to follow Him, and Levi at once arose and followed Jesus. Here is the interesting thing: later on, Levi invited Jesus to dine at his house, and he also invited many tax collectors to come and hear Jesus. The result was that many of the tax collectors who were there eventually followed Jesus too (Mark 2:14, 15). And in John 4, when Jesus healed the son of the nobleman, he and his entire household believed (verse 53).
Why Is Oikos Effective?
Oikos—sharing faith through relationships—is effective because it’s natural. It operates from two premises. First, when we experience Jesus and His joy, we will be compelled to share Him. Second, when our loved ones see the change in us, they will ask about it and be much more inclined to want it. Oikos is the most efficient evangelistic approach, low in cost and high in return, often winning entire families and constantly enlarging our source of new gospel contacts. The entire process is done in natural, unhurried ways and in an environment of love and acceptance, building on the relationships we already have. Your family and friends already like and trust you, qualifications that a “professional” evangelist doesn’t have. God has given you a mission field in the people you already know.
The most effective evangelist is one who takes a personal interest in others to the point of sharing Jesus with them. Some of the most effective evangelists in the world are moms and dads. Research demonstrates that most people come to the Lord and His church through personal influence in relationships. More good news: when we win people to the Lord through existing relationships, new members already have a built-in, personal connection to the church and a support group to disciple them in their newfound faith.
Daughter Knows Best
Sandy came to one of our local church evangelistic meetings with her 7-year-old son. Sandy had rarely attended church before and had very little knowledge of the Bible and Christianity. The Holy Spirit, however, nudged her to attend. She loved everything she heard. At her request, at the end of the meetings we set the date for her baptism. As a pastor I was in the habit of giving invitation cards to those getting baptized to send to their friends and relatives inviting them to the baptism. I believe that baptism should be a time to cast the vision for evangelism. Those who come to witness the baptism become the new interests with whom the church can work. Sandy sent out more than 50 invitations. One of the people who came to her baptism was her father.
Sandy’s father had little interest in Christianity, but he came to support his daughter. He then stayed for the potluck, held to celebrate the baptism. A church member sat beside him and struck up a conversation. They both loved fishing, so the following Sunday they went fishing together. Three months later I had the privilege of baptizing Sandy’s father. The oikos method again proved its effectiveness.
Each one of us can have similar experiences because we’re the most effective evangelists for the people we know: neighbors, siblings, parents, children, coworkers, and friends. We are their best opportunity to hear and receive the gospel and learn of Jesus and His love for us. Every one of us can be the most effective evangelist in the world using the most effective method of evangelism in the world: the biblical method of oikos evangelism, a natural web of relationship.
This is the power of relationship. This is the power of influence. This is the power of a changed life.
1 Jurgen Goetzmann, “Oikos,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), vol. 2, p. 250.
2 Bible texts in this article are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of Christian Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published February 16, 2012.