3 Circles: A versatile tool for ministering the gospel to a variety of cultural contexts

July 15, 2019

The 3 Circles is a versatile tool to communicate the gospel in a variety of cultural contexts. The reason for its inherent flexibility is due to a variety of factors.

To begin with, it’s a framework, not a method. Previously, many Western evangelistic trainings taught step-by-step methods to help guide the learner through conversations. These trainings bore fruit for numerous reasons — one being that there was some familiarity with the biblical story in our culture. Assumptions could be made that when words were used, a collective understanding was present. However, when working cross-culturally, or in the current U.S. climate, that simply is no longer the case.

Having a tool to communicate the gospel that functions like a framework provides many advantages. First, the 3 Circles provides space to go as long or short as needed. I’ve seen children draw the three circles with sidewalk chalk in three minutes and I’ve seen a conversation around the 3 circles last more than two hours. The flexibility allows the appropriate space for understanding, not mere presentation.

The framework also encompasses, literally, the entirety of Scripture –providing access to as many, or as few, biblical stories/verses as you know. This helps because there will always be disciples at varying stages of their walk with Jesus. The framework gives space for the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation by allowing the disciple to connect the Word with the content of the conversation.

Additionally, the 3 Circles tool frames the conversation with the major questions of any worldview — questions of origin, purpose, problems and hope, among others — that can flex depending on the person you are conversing with. These core questions drive behavior, shape hopes and fears, and ultimately provide the content needed to see any person’s object of worship.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Any Christian with a Revelation 7 vision has bumped up against linguistic challenges in communicating the gospel. The 3 Circles tool can be communicated with pictures. For example, instead of writing the word “sin,” I’ve seen people draw a picture of someone running away from God. Pictures engage the imagination in a way that helps fight through one of the most difficult things of cross-cultural communication: that words and phrases do not translate into other languages seamlessly. Pictures provide an opportunity for translators and hearers to work through concepts in their own culturally appropriate ways and terms to aid in understanding.

The versatility of the 3 Circles tool also provides an expandable framework that can encompass all of life and all of the Bible. This is absolutely crucial in building trust with disciples of any culture. If done well, a disciple’s interaction with the Word, and with their world, will always be framed by what they heard from the beginning. So when someone is studying the book of Ecclesiastes, it fits into the bigger story that they first heard with the 3 Circles. When a couple struggles through a miscarriage, it fits into the bigger story that they first heard with the 3 Circles. And when people are disowned by their family because of their obedience to Christ, it fits into the bigger story that they first heard with the 3 Circles.

But remember, the 3 Circles tool is just that — a tool. Apart from prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit, this tool will be weak in the face of unbelief. But partnered with prayer and the Holy Spirit, this tool can bear much fruit.


by Josh Reed  
Adult Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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