I’ve been writing about how we go about building back our outreach as we move out of lockdown. In a recent post, I wrote that I didn’t think we should rush to put back some of of our traditional outreach ministries such as children’s clubs and Toddlers groups. The reason for this is that we tend to think of these as stepping stones into the church, people will come along to one group and then become interested in other things about the church. I think that misunderstands how people see attending or dropping their kids off at such an activity. They don’t think that such an activity is about attending church, they don’t think that suddenly you have become pastorally responsible for them. They think they’ve made use of a particular service. I’m no more likely to transition from bringing my kids to a club to attending a Sunday service than I am to start swimming at the weekend as well as using the leisure centre gym in the week.
So, instead of those things, I argued that we should focus on equipping our church members to be able to share their faith whilst encouraging them to build up friendships with their neighbours. Of course, there is nothing new to this is there in that it sounds very similar to good old fashioned friendship evangelism. The risk with that is that there’s often minimal friendship and even less evangelism. Therefore, I think that the difference here has to be intentionality. This is about encouraging church members to build up the links in their neighbourhoods, to go beyond natural friends to create opportunities to meet others. In fact, it may well be better for a home group/community group to do things together rather than just leave it to individuals to build up confidence.
What I’m coming to here is that there is a bigger problem still with leaving evangelism to “friendship evangelism.” The problem is that there will be plenty of people who don’t have Christian friends. How will they hear the Gospel? There is still a need for “cold contact” evangelism. I still expect to do door to door and street evangelism post COVID.
So what will that look like?
I’ve found that door to door and street evangelism works best with a gentle approach. The aim is to get some form of Christian literature into people’s hands and preferable Scripture. I’ve never been convinced by tracts. These are easy to throw away. You want to offer something that people are likely to hold onto and engage with. So, over the years, I’ve bought up good quantities of Luke and John Gospels. Whether at the door or in the street, I’ve explained that I’m from such and such local church and that we wanted to give them a free gift to read. I might ask them if they’ve read any of the Bible before and if so what they made of it. Sometimes this leads to more of a conversation, sometimes not. I don’t worry too much about the level of conversation we get into at this stage I’m not expecting immediate conversion or even an on the spot deep and meaningful conversation. Our aim with first contact is to let the person know we are there and to give them the means to start following up.
The other thing I would do regularly pre COVID was to prepare a church newsletter. This would include a comment piece, topical to the time when printed and details of events and activities going on. If offering this on its own, I would explain it was the church newsletter and ask them if and what they knew about the church. Sometimes a parent or grandparent had been to the church, sometimes they had taken children to the Toddlers group. Those connections did not make as much difference as you might expect to their level of engagement. Interest tended to be generated by someone having a particular need or struggle.
Post COVID, we need to be aware of two things. First of all, that it seems likely that some requirements for social distancing and mask wearing will remain in place, possibly through to the Autumn. Secondly, that a lot of people are going to remain wary and anxious for some-time to come. This means you do need to take some practical pre-cautions to comply with rules and reassure people. Remember to step back from the doorstep to give people space when you visit them, carry hand sanitiser with you and if you are doing street evangelism, it may be best to allow people to approach you, perhaps making use of a book table than to walk up to them.
Take courage. We may feel fragile, knocked back, but Christ is Lord of the Harvest and he tells us that the fields are white and ready.