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