A strategy for church evangelism
One of the changes in evangelistic approach over recent years is the development of event based, and targeted evangelistic meetings. Undoubtedly, focusing our outreach for particular groups of people can be quite effective. So events aimed specifically at men, women, the young or the elderly, lawyers, students etc., does seem to help to draw along a group of unconverted people. However, they are not great reaping opportunities.
I am convinced that the most effective missions are the ones where the focus is on the direct proclamation of the gospel, rather than a tag-on epilogue, or an after-dinner talk to a group of people who have really gathered for other reasons. Not that such events are of no value. Of course they are, but they are pre-mission events rather than part of a week that should see greater reaping.
When I spoke at the fifth evangelistic mission that Stenson Fields Christian Fellowship held in Derby, we had a blessed week of both sowing and reaping. It was encouraging to see people who had been converted through the previous mission two years previously bringing their unconverted friends to the week’s events.
Stenson Fields is a new housing development on the edge of Derby, famous for Rolls Royce. There are about 1,500 mixed houses on the estate. I will describe the week of mission, but it needs to be stressed that it is built on a deep commitment that means the leadership is faithfully praying for and meeting numerous unsaved individuals. These leaders are deeply involved at all levels in the local community. For example, Jem Hudson, evangelist and one of the church elders, is the Chairman of Governors at the local Comprehensive School. It means that he and his family cannot take holidays, which would make them absent from the work, or the people they are seeking to reach with the gospel. Jem and Sue and their five boys live on the estate and the children go to local schools. Theirs is not a nine-to-five commitment, but one where there is a readiness to respond to any need, twenty-four hours a day, and to be regularly involved in one-to-one Bible studies with seekers.
The mission programme
The mission was called ‘Real Lives’ and lasted for a week. The main event began each evening at 6:45pm and lasted about eighty-five minutes. The people who gathered were not asked to join in anything, instead they followed a programme that was presented to them. After the welcome, we showed the Bible reading on a screen using the DVD John’s Gospel. Throughout the week we went through passages from John. Then sitting in an armchair I interviewed somebody with an interesting testimony for half an hour, such as Paul Jones (of Manfred Mann), Fiona Castle (wife of Roy), John Mosey (whose daughter was killed in the Locherbie tragedy) and Debbie Flood (Olympic medalist). The evening meeting would have a title based around the interview, such as ‘Locherbie father wrestles with disaster’. Then there would be a musical item, not for the guests to join in with, but to enjoy, before the preaching of the gospel which would last for about thirty minutes. I then closed in prayer, sometimes a prayer of repentance, faith and commitment so that those who wanted could join in. Afterwards, as refreshments were enjoyed, those who came for counselling were spoken to and some led to Christ. We found that people kept coming, some of them every night. Before people are earnest about seeking the Lord, they usually attend a number of events so have time to hear, understand and consider the gospel.
At Stenson Fields, the week was billed as a family week. Everyone was invited, and so lots of children came with their parents. They didn’t need a baby sitter! Many of the children regularly attend the church’s very popular ‘Explorers of Life’ groups that meet each week. Usually before, but sometimes after the interview, the children left to have their own programme based on the identical passage which I was speaking on in the gospel of John. Family Week also meant that the evenings were all signed, so that the deaf were welcomed too.
After an early morning daily prayer meeting, there were other evangelistic opportunities taken throughout the day. We went into schools to take assemblies and Christian Union meetings, there were coffee mornings, a barbecue, and on several nights after the main event there was a youth event with the main guest being interviewed. Several classes from local junior schools came to the church during the day for refreshments and a showing of a ‘McGee and me’ video. Jem Hudson is known in these local schools through his state-of-the-art Bible exhibition, which he takes into the schools annually.
Careful follow up
Every Christian rejoices to see immediate fruit of people coming to faith in Christ. There were several who did profess faith in Christ. However, I refuse to manipulate people’s emotions to try to get instant responses. I tremble at the thought that I could damage someone spiritually by inducing a ‘new birth’ before it is right. I publicly urge each one to trust Christ. However, if instead a person enrols for a follow-up course, I know that the church will take great care in regularly meeting with them. At Stenson Fields they have used to great effect ‘The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus’ course, produced by John Cross. In the past, this has seen people who have shown initial interest in the things of God at the mission, coming to faith, as they have systematically studied the word of God.
In the past sixteen years Stenson Fields Christian Fellowship has grown to become a fairly large church. It has not been done by importing Christians from elsewhere, but by praying, getting involved in the community, proclaiming Christ to children and adults, and then carefully leading them to Christ and nurturing them. There have been many heart breaks along the way, but there is a thriving church in an area which previously had little gospel light.
Roger Carswell is an itinerant evangelist taking university and church missions in many parts of the UK and beyond. He is a member of the Association of Evangelists.