Do you find sharing your faith with friends intimidating? The new i61m app might help. In a recent REACH podcast, its founder John Kirkby told Elim’s Mark Greenwood all about it.
Did you know that 43 per cent of Christians don’t have any non-Christian friends? Or that 41 per cent don’t feel equipped to answer tough questions and one in four of us fear rejection or appearing to be different?
It was these stats that motivated John Kirkby (pictured, inset, above) to find a practical and accessible way to help believers share their faith.
The Christians Against Poverty founder has spent the two years since he handed over the charity developing the Isaiah 61 Movement and i61m app to help Christians “share life, share faith, share Jesus”.
“My heart and passion for the poor is well-known, but the other two things I’m passionate about are the local church and sharing Jesus,” he told Mark Greenwood during a recent Reach podcast.
“I’ve had two wonderful years of anonymity and this gave me space to look at why people are not doing what we know we should do.”
Working with the Evangelical Alliance, John began by researching why people aren’t sharing their faith. Together, they discovered those shocking stats about reaching out.
“It could be that eight or nine Christians out of ten have not been used significantly in the past five years. My wife Lizzie and I were among them,” he told Mark.
“Yes, we’d seen thousands saved and done evangelistic meetings, but me being involved as a friend? The answer was pretty grim.”
John decided to address this and turned first to Isaiah 61, which begins: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
He began by tackling his lack of Christian friends – by starting a community group, training to be a police chaplain and carving out time to spend with non-Christians.
Next, he focused on helping others do likewise, and to build their confidence in sharing their faith.
Here, his experience at CAP of helping people achieve their financial goals with step-by-step plans became invaluable. He was also inspired by the ‘Couch to 5K’ training plan for runners, which Lizzie had recently taken up.
“We just needed to make it accessible. I thought why don’t we put something together that’s a Couch to 5K for Christians who want to share their faith.”
So came the movement and app.
To make faith sharing feel more accessible John deliberately avoids the word “evangelism”, with its connotations of skilled preachers and gospel presentations.
“We’ve all watched someone do those and thought, ‘That’s not me, I can’t do that.’”
Instead, John focuses on three stages: sharing life, sharing faith and sharing Jesus.
“Sharing life is about finding space to make friends, sharing faith is about growing in confidence, and sharing Jesus is basically saying to a friend, ‘Would you like to know more about Christ?’”
Small, practical steps to get started with each stage are a crucial element of the initiative.
“Anyone can invite a mate for a curry or have a coffee with someone. The bottom line was that whatever we came up with, every Christian had to be able to do it.”
To test this approach, John and Lizzie launched an Isaiah 61 group in their home. It meets each month to use i61m’s resources and encourage each other to set and achieve small monthly goals.
The couple encourage total honesty. Doing so, John says, means the group feels comfortable admitting if they haven’t shared their faith recently or are afraid or reluctant to do so.
For John’s friend Steve, this was an important first step.
“Steve admitted he had friends who didn’t know he was a Christian so he set his first goal to pray for an opportunity to let one of his friends know that. Next month he came back and had done that. That was a massive step for him.”
Steve’s next goal was to invite a friend to a men’s curry night. He reported back to the group that the friend had come along, met his friends from church and enjoyed himself.
“Steve’s testimony isn’t that his friend has given his life to Christ – it was a curry with some lads. But what we’ve discovered is that the foundation for friendship is creating good soil. You share your life and plant seeds in relational soil.”
To help you do this, you set goals and dates to achieve them by in the app, which sends reminders to complete them, John explains.
“You just take little steps but your confidence grows and you’re accountable to yourself and your group. The stats are pretty stunning: if you just say you’re going to do something you’re pretty unlikely to do it – the odds are less one in four. But if you write it down it nearly doubles to 35-40 per cent.
“If you put a date on it, it’s about 60 per cent, and if you tell someone else it’s 70 per cent. This has been my experience in my work for the past 40 years.”
Steve’s experience proves the effectiveness of this simple approach, he says.
“The problem is we’ve thrown away our belief that it’s OK to talk about your life. But Steve simply told a friend he was going to church at the weekend. The guy didn’t then say, ‘I’m not going to be your friend any more.’
“You’re not proclaiming anything. You just say you’ve been a Christian for the past few years, you’ve got some really good friends, and while you’ve had some difficulties in your life you’ve always felt a sense of peace, hope and faith that God is with you.
“Or you can say your faith gives you an anchor in an uncertain world.”
It’s so important, John explains, to begin by showing a genuine interest in people’s lives and to listen.
“I’m not in any rush to share my faith. I’m just sharing my life and listening.”
He considers what people are potentially asked to do when it comes to evangelism: “‘Go and invite a neighbour to Alpha,’ for example. Imagine the conversation you might then need to have: ‘Hi, you don’t know me but I live down the road. Do you want to come on an Alpha course?’
“That’s a massive step,” John says. “But what about having a cup of tea with your neighbour and asking how they’re doing?”
Currently, there are more than 20 i61m groups, with several in Elim. John is aiming to coach more people to launch and lead these groups and is convinced that approaching faith sharing in this way could have a huge impact.
“It’s the Spirit who leads people to find Christ, not us, but we can plant seeds in the fertile soil of friendship, compassion and really caring about people.
“The Spirit is at work and the more you do it the more confident you become.
“Imagine if in ten years’ time half our churches have been involved in leading someone to Christ? This is about changing churches, giving people an excitement about their faith then seeing it in their lives.
“It’s accessible, it’s simple, it’s easy and it works. Everyone can do it!”