Eight years ago, Andy Hawthorne and 11 other evangelists began meeting in his office in Manchester, UK, to pray and push each other to make the most of every opportunity to share the gospel. As they spurred each other on, stories of people responding to what they heard came flooding in.
Seeing what God was doing, each member of that first group went on to set up their own group and Advance was born. As word about the groups spread, more people got in touch wanting to set up their own groups too. Today, you’ll find Advance Groups in over 90 countries around the world. But what’s Advance all about?
BEN, FOR ANYONE WHO DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT ADVANCE, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT?
Ben: The good news of Jesus is the only hope that the world has. So through Advance, we want to equip, encourage and empower the church to make evangelism a priority. The best way we’ve found to do this is through small group mentoring – providing places where people can come, share and encourage each other to go deeper in their faith and evangelism.
TELL US MORE ABOUT WHO THE GROUPS ARE FOR AND WHAT THEY DO.
Ben: Simply put, they’re for anyone who wants to understand the gospel more and be able to share it with boldness. It’s easy to think we need to work hard for chances to do this, but actually we can all turn everyday conversations into opportunities to tell others about Jesus.
Groups meet once a month for a couple of hours and work through the Advance guide (which they get for free). As they dig into what the Bible says about sharing our faith, members chat through what this means for them, sharpening and challenging each other to put it into practice. And prayer is central to everything Advance does, so groups pray together and support one another to know and love Jesus more deeply.
HOW ARE LIVES BEING IMPACTED?
Ben: It’s overwhelming to see how God’s taken the simple idea of Advance and multiplied it from the first group in Manchester to more than 11,000 around the world! Recently we’ve heard of groups launching in a courthouse in Peru, among staff at Heathrow Airport (London, UK), in South African prison cells, military units in Cape Verde, as well as among Ukrainian refugees.
The impact is shown in stories like Rejoice’s – a young Muslim woman from Sierra Leone who was introduced to Jesus by someone from a local Advance group. Since then, her life’s been totally transformed. She’s so desperate for others to hear the gospel that she now leads her own group and has led others to Jesus!
In Scotland, one guy caring for his mum as she battled cancer knew he could use even the toughest times to tell people about Jesus. So he chatted to the nurses and three of them became Christians! And a family of eight in Angola all came to Christ through Advance, got baptised and are now leading a group in one of the most deprived and violent communities in their city.
But what’s phenomenal is the growth of groups in places where people are persecuted for their faith. In India, a group member was badly beaten for sharing his faith but, undeterred, has launched another 25 groups and continues to pray for and witness to his persecutors! It’s exciting to see the way the persecuted church is rising up and this is a challenge to me every day. Did you know that today there’s a higher percentage of evangelical Christians in Pakistan than there are in Quebec? Imagine what God could do there.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ADVANCE?
Ben: Our dream is for there to be Advance Groups in every nation on earth in the next 20 years, and we’re on track to be halfway there this year! That’s not because we want people across the world to know about who The Message are, but because we want the good news of Jesus to be spread.
This means we’ll continue to translate the Advance guide into different languages so that it can be freely distributed to groups around the world. All of this was unthinkable a few years ago, but God is on the move. Our job is to be faithful to the opportunities he’s giving us to support the church through Advance.
Find out more at advancegroups.org