In this third article I wanted to say something about running special events as a church. How does this fit with an approach where we make evangelism about our day to day lives in a local community?
I don’t think it is a good thing if the sum total of a church’s evangelism is running special events and hoping that people will come along in response to an advertisement, but I do think that they can play their part in the church’s outreach. These events are a way in which the church as a body can be visibly part of the local community and provide another way of connecting with people. Some of the things we’ve done over the past decade include:
- Family Fun Days
- A community BBQ
- Arts Days
- A Jubilee “street party” (the Chapel driveway became the street leading into the building)
- A Latin American Festival
The most recent BBQ was part of an outreach week when a group of young people from a church in Texas came and stayed with us. We held it on the 4th July and badged it as a “Freedom Party” it provided the climax to a week of events including school visits and a children’s club. We invited the community come and help our visitors celebrate Independence Day whilst here. Alongside the BBQ we ran activities including a dance workshop and games on the backfield. I also interviewed a couple of the visitors giving them opportunity to share their testimonies.
The Jubilee Street Party became the main opportunity for our community to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and was attended by over 800 people through the day. OMers helped with balloon modelling and face painting, musicians played and we had a puppet show with a Gospel message. Local people were invited to run street “craft stalls” and we had a book table where people could take away free Gospels and other literature.
The idea of running an arts festival is something I’ve long been keen to see happen and so it was exciting to discover that there was an elder at the church with a similar vision. We ran a variety of these events usually using the whole footprint of the church site enabling people to engage with different types of art including paint, sculpture, dance, music and poetry. On one occasion we used the day to tell the whole Bible story with each “zone” looking at a different stage in the story. On that occasion we encourage people to work together on 7 murals telling the story from creation through to new creation.
On other occasions people were given a theme to work to in order to use art to reflect on their own life. They were then invited back at the end of the day to talk about the art. These events work best with “artists in residence.” This might include a painter or photographer known to the church, a composer who was a member and/or my wife running a poetry workshop.
As well as events specifically put on by a church, I believe it is good for churches to get involved in events that mark the life and seasons of the local community. For example, when I lived in Rochester, our church would get involved in the Dickens Festival and Dickens Christmas Festival by putting on street performance as well as opening up the building for refreshments. In Bearwood, our efforts to run arts days and the Latin American festival seemed to be part of a catalyst for a Street Festival. At the first event, we made our community café building available as the organisers’ HQ and first aid point. Then at the second event, we hosted a local drama group as well as running Messy Church and Sunday Night Church linked in to the Festival.
As with cold contact evangelism, the primary purpose of such events is about building connections with people and getting to know them. It’s another way of sharing your life with others. It’s also a way of getting church members used to inviting friends to stuff.
My approach to such events is to
- Find opportunities to gently introduce the Gospel whether through an interview testimony, the lyrics of a performed song or a puppet show.
- Enable people to take away good quality literature. Again it’s about booklets and DVDs not paper tracts that are quickly discarded
- Link the event into future events and activities So that people know what might be coming up next. This might be about signposting a weekly or monthly activity such as Messy Churhc or giving an early advertisement for the next big event (at a summer arts day you advertise Harvest and at the Harvest event you give advanced notice of the Christmas carol services and so on).
Remember that all of this is meant to link in and to support the day to day business of
Living in an area, getting to know people and knocking on some doors.