Monday, April 13, 2009

Go into All the World...and Help them Have Fun

I’m slightly miffed and puzzled.

That is why I am writing the post a few days early – to get this off my heart and mind.

This weekend, a church in Raleigh held a large Easter event in downtown Raleigh for the community. From everything that I could tell, the event was well organized and the church invested a significant amount of money and time putting it on. Thousands of people attended throughout the day.

There were moon bounces for kids and food, bands and story times and lots of fun for everyone. They also did multiple Easter “egg hunts” (if you could call them hunts – the eggs were scattered in the open for kids to pick up.) It was a great event and wonderful opportunity to share the gospel with the people in attendance.

Except that there was no gospel sharing going on. In fact, the band was playing “Folsom County Prison” by Johnny Cash at some point. You had to look real hard to tell that a church was sponsoring the event. Even the shirts worn by the volunteers had the word church written so small that most people would have never noticed. My wife took my son and daughter to the event while I was sharing the gospel in the streets and she saw no presentation of the gospel at any point. They didn’t even hand out church literature!

So I’m miffed that any church would put on such a wonderful event and NOT give an intentional presentation of the gospel and I’m puzzled as to why they would spend so much of God’s money and not share the gospel.

I talked to some of the volunteers about the event. First of all, I commended them for hosting such a visible and well organized event in the community. I then asked them several questions about the event. When I asked if there was any intentional presentation of the gospel, they responded by saying, “we are just here to serve people and love Raleigh.” I can appreciate that – servanthood is a critical component in ministry.

One of the volunteers said, “We just want people to have a good time.” They told me that this event wasn’t designed to share the gospel. I also asked if they thought that people in Raleigh were open to a presentation of the gospel and all said yes. However, two of the volunteers at some point said that they didn’t want to “shove the gospel down people’s throats.” (I wish I would have asked them to define what that meant, but that would have been too confrontational.)

At one point, an older volunteer got a little upset at me that I was asking all these questions about evangelism. She said, “You need to talk to someone in authority about that.” To which I replied, “Part of having authority in a church is transferring that to the people. You should be able to answer these questions.” Perhaps I was getting a little upset at this point too. So I thanked them for answering the questions and moved on.

I talked to a couple of people after the event and asked if they realized that the event had been sponsored by a church. They said no. The sad part is that many of these church members went away from this event thinking that they made an impact for the kingdom when in reality, they were just being nice to people. Here are some observations about this and suggestions for making an event like this intentionally evangelistic.

1) We can become so relevant to culture that we relegate the gospel to an offensive inconvenience for people. People are open to hearing the gospel and churches have a responsibility to share it at all times. Otherwise, the church becomes a mere social club.

2) To minimize or hide the fact that a church is sponsoring an event like this is dishonest. It is like the church is saying, “I’m ashamed of being the church. I just want to be accepted by the world rather than stand up for my Lord.”

3) Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is not an act of aggression; it is an act of compassion. (RE: Shove the gospel down someone’s throat.) It is possible to be offensive with the gospel. Also remember that the gospel is an offensive message to some. But not sharing the gospel is offensive to God. Who would you rather offend, God or man? Think of it this way: if you had cancer and your doctor knew it, yet he refused to tell you because he didn’t want you to have to deal with the negative emotions of having cancer, what service has he done for you?

Here are some ideas to make an event like this evangelistic…

1) Have trained teams of people interact with the crowd and share the gospel one-to-one. These teams can give out Bibles, tracts or something that will start a spiritual conversation. Even stickers that say, “God loves you” will help open the doors to a spiritual conversation. At the very least, have them give out church information and invite people to church.

2) Register everyone regardless of the size of the event. This will give you a list of prospects to follow up on. Give people an incentive for registering by offering door prizes. This will increase your registration rate. You could use the previously mentioned evangelism teams to register people for the event.

3) Use the door prize drawings to share the gospel. Require people to be present to win the prizes. At regular intervals, have someone share their testimony prior to each drawing. Be ready to talk with people afterward about salvation.

4) If you are going to use secular music, make sure you also use Christian music. Blend your music.

5) Have something unique for people to do but first require them to hear the gospel. For example, have a really cool moon bounce that all the kids want to play on. Have a gospel presentation and give out tickets for the moon bounce after the gospel presentation.

If you have other ideas to make an event intentionally evangelistic, I would love to hear them. Also, if you think I am completely off base with this analysis, I would love to hear from you too. Use the comment section below to voice your opinion.


Anonymous said...

You are right on. I took my kids to a church cookout and the band was singing bluegrass music rocky top tenn and some songs about the mines in west va we ate hotdogs cotten candy and had some snow cones and would not have known it was a church funtion if it was not on Church grounds, we finished eating and left, On second thought we should have shared the Gospel with them.

Darrel Davis said...

Anonymous - that is pretty funny. Next time, take some tracts and have a blast.

Anonymous said...

I agree! We are acting without compassion, if we only make unbelievers comfortable and happy on their way to hell. Thanks for not just getting upset, but speaking to them about it, and giving suggestions for a more meaningful event!

The Rookie said...

Hey brother,
I stumbled across your blog earlier this avo. My name is Andy and I'm a fellow evangelist working at a church in Sheffield, UK. I agree with most of what you said about this church event. I was just wondering about point 5, making people sit and listen to the gospel to get tickets for some activity. I think this could be ok, but would we be in danger of not following scripture in 2 Cor 4:2 - "Rather we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God." There is the possibility that we could start conning people into hearing the gospel - not that I'm suggesting you're encouraging this :-)

Another thought I had, would you say there is absolutely no space for purely social events run by a church? At my church we run events on 4 different levels:
Level 1: Relationship building/social (e.g. family fun days)
Level 2: Social + Short gospel content (e.g. 5-a-side soccer tournament with half time gospel presentation)
Level 3: Big gospel presentation (e.g. special guest service at church)
Level 4: Seeker Courses

We run different levels of events throughout the year and realise that some people wouldn't want to hear the gospel at an event, but would happily get to know other people. After a while, we hope and pray that they would be willing to come along to a level 2 event and so on.

Maybe this is just appropriate in the post-christian UK, if people are happy to hear the gospel, as your post said people were in Raleigh, then I guess a different approach may be acceptable.

I'm moving out to California in August to marry my fiancee and will hopefully be involved in the evangelism of her church out there, so I would really love to hear your thoughts.

Apologies for the uber-long comment :-)

Question of Identity said...


You are spot on with this. In our country the churches have a habit of setting up permanent "outreach" in their own churches that don't even mention Jesus. This to me is a crime! Church people are (wrongly!) afraid that others won't come.

I have recently set up an after school Christian drama club in a small village in Huddersfield. All the children who come are unchurched and yet their parents allow us to give them the full Gospel. We are now visiting the children and talking to their parents in their homes and sharing Jesus.

We have even been invited into the (secular!) local school to do Christian Drama workshops. God is opening up opportunity after opportunity in that village.


Michelle M said...

It is too true that we are all too often worried about offending people and talk ourselves out of sharing the Gospel. I see the need for purely social events, but I do think the attendees should know who is hosting and there should be some type of info collection so those who come can have an opportunity to hear the Gospel at a later point through follow-up.