Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sharing the Gospel at Events

For the past 2 years, I have had the privilege of sharing the gospel with people attending the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. It is an outreach that has been going on for 14 years now led by my friend, Martin Davis of San Diego. I will be participating again this year.

Every year, thousands of parade goers begin lining the streets of Pasadena along the 5 mile parade route 1 day before the parade. Last year, we saw people staking claim to their viewing spot as early as 8:30 AM on December 31! These people often spend the entire time waiting for the parade to begin at 8:00 AM on January 1. By that time, 750,000 - 1 Million people have accumulated in that short 5 mile stretch of Colorado Blvd.

This scenario presents a unique opportunity for the church to get out and share the gospel.

Our team sets up a base camp on Colorado Blvd. where we give away free popcorn, face painting, balloon animals and "What's in a Name" certificates that we print on the spot with the name of the person and the meaning of their name. These giveaways allow volunteers to engage people in conversations about Christ and salvation.

We also send roving teams of volunteers down the streets to distribute gospel tracts and a unique parade program that shows the order of floats and a gospel presentation. This gives them the chance to talk with people about salvation. Last year, volunteers led 27 people to faith in Jesus Christ.

As you can see from the picture above, we have also used mime teams to present the gospel message to parade goers. These teams are very popular drawing crowds of onlookers who both see and hear the gospel presented through song, movement and preaching.

Community events like the Rose Parade present a unique environment for the church to spread the gospel. Nearly every community has an event that can serve as an outreach opportunity for your church. Even the small town that I grew up in, Conway (population 734), has a parade at Christmas.

Other events include community festivals, athletic events, holiday celebrations, business grand openings and recognition ceremonies just to name a few.

Access to these events varies from community to community. Open events such as parades and festivals may be easier to participate in than others. Some events may require partnership with the sponsoring organization. Others may require you to purchase a booth or to pay for sponsorship.

I have discovered that in this kind of relaxed environment, people are often open to talking about spiritual matters. Further, an event like this gives you numerous opportunities to sow gospel seeds through tract distribution. This last year in Pasadena, our team gave out 5,000 gospel tracts and 17,000 parade programs. Many of these seeds begin to grow in the weeks after the event.

Here are a few thoughts on sharing the gospel at your community event...

  1. Check local ordinances first to make sure you are legally conducting your outreach. For example, are you using some type of portable sound system during the outreach? Some cities may require permits for such equipment. Also, is the event public or private? Don't assume that an event is public just because it is held in a public venue. Sometimes organizations lease public venues for their event making them private. Private events may ban tract distribution and outreach activities.
  2. Decide which outreach activities best fit your church and the situation. Would servanthood evangelism projects work best in the situation or are more direct approaches to sharing the gospel needed?
  3. Train your volunteers to engage the people they encounter with the gospel message. It is easy to give away popcorn at a booth but don't assume that a person is going to ask you the magic question, "Why are you doing this?" You may want to use spiritual surveys to start a conversation. Whatever you do, don't be shy.
  4. Look for ways to establish partnerships with community organizations. These partnerships may begin small but larger doors may open in the future once the organizations learn that your church wants to be a vital part of the community. Too often, we retract the bridge and huddle up within the 4 walls of the church when we should be crossing the bridge.
If you would like further advice or help in planning an event outreach, please do not hesitate to contact me at I can also provide volunteer training to help your congregation learn to engage people with the gospel.

What events have you used to spread the gospel? What approach did you use during the outreach?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Open Ears?

"If anyone has an ear, let him hear:" (Rev 13:9)

This past Sunday, I attended the North Carolina Baptist Pastor's Conference in Greensboro where my friend, Alex McFarland, an apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary was speaking. Alex quoted a statistic that to me was quite eye opening.

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the General Social Survey, 89% of those aged 18-30 "would be willing to listen to a Christian explain their faith."


What does this say about the idea that post modern's are not open to the Gospel? For my international readers, I am not sure how these statistics compare to those of your culture, but the statistics support what I believe to be true: people are much more open to the gospel than we give them credit for.

This openness doesn't mean that they will necessarily embrace our faith right away. As Alex pointed out in his message, the gestation period for faith is much longer for this age group than it has been in the past. Imparting our faith to this group requires a relational witness reinforced by a holy life. It requires an investment of time.

But at the same time, we need to recognize that reaching this younger generation for Christ may not be as difficult as first thought. I believe this generation is looking for a faith worth believing. They are disenchanted with the church and organized religion but intrigued by Jesus. Further, they are not looking for the way to heaven, but are seeking to have a meaningful life and to make a difference here and now.

Jesus offers everything they are looking for. We must present His timeless message in these truth-less times with boldness and relevance. We must be willing to listen and to dialogue - not to lecture. And our efforts must be Spirit-empowered and guided.

In Acts 16, the Bible says that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to pay attention to the things that Paul was saying. She was baptized and eventually became a great help to Paul and his ministry. If we want to share the gospel with people in our day, we must depend upon the Holy Spirit just as Paul and the apostles did.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Rom 1:21 ESV)

Recently, I reestablished contact with a younger person that I watched grow up. (I am deliberately leaving their name and many of the details out for sensitivity reasons.) They attended a strong church as a child and youth. Even though this person was exposed to the gospel many times they have now, as a late teenager, chosen a totally different path. They now claim to be an atheist among other things.

While it would be easy second guess and ask, "what went wrong," it is more important to consider how this person might be reached again with the message of Christ. Here are some of my thoughts...

I am not trying to be overly simplistic here. I truly believe that prayer is absolutely essential to reaching the heart of a person that has rejected everything that they have heard about Christ. We must pray that their spiritual eyes and ears might be opened and that whatever is hindering them from believing would be removed.

What events have transpired in this person's life that may have caused them to reject God? Has there been a major tragedy in their life? Has this person been hurt by a professing Christian or group of Christians? What do you know about their family life? What do you know about their lifestyle? Did this person ever make a genuine profession of faith in Christ?

Many of these factors may give you an idea why the person has chosen the path they have chosen. I believe that a majority of atheists/agnostics have either a moral reason or emotional reason for rejecting belief in God. In other words, they are either living in open sin and refuse to acknowledge their condition or they have been hurt by people or life in general. (I am reminded of the young lady that my wife had the opportunity to lead to Christ in Wichita, KS earlier this year.)

This knowledge is not to be used as ammunition to condemn them, but as background information to help you understand and reach them.

Compassion should be the hallmark of the Christian life. Unfortunately, we as Christians can be some of the least compassionate people around. To be compassionate toward a lost person is to love them while they are yet sinners. It was said of our Lord that, "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench..." (Mat 12:20) By no stretch of the imagination did Jesus ever condone sin. But He compassionately reached out to the lost with the truth. we must do as Jesus did.

I know of no one who rejects God overnight. It is going to take time and lots of relation building to reach them with the gospel. The Holy Spirit must be allowed to work in their hearts and break down the walls they have built-up.

I am interested in your thoughts. What do you think it would take to reach someone has been exposed to the gospel message, but for whatever reason, they have rejected it's truth?