November 2009

We’ve run into difficulty in the past for failing to meet people’s expectations for an evangelistic event. They’ve rarely been disappointed with the quality of an event but they’ve occasionally been disappointed with the content. It wasn’t what they were expecting. It was either too much, or it wasn’t enough. It doesn’t help that we use the word ‘evangelistic’ to apply to a wide range of events. This leads to confusion and disappointment. We’ve needed to learn to be clear about the nature of the events and the likely duration and content of a talk. It just helps people know what they’re inviting friends to. And so we’ve devised the following phraseology to make things clear.

Level 0 is the non-gospel event: This is an event at which Christians and non-Christians do something together. The aim is simply to facilitate initial and ongoing contact with non-Christians in a social event hosted by the church. An example might be playing frisbee in the park. As Christians we ought to be doing this sort of mixing all the time. At every event we’re involved with they ought to be asking not simply, ‘which of my church mates will be there, but which of my non-church mates are coming? But sometimes there’s something to be said for having a bit of a crowd. The church run non-gospel event can guarantee that. Of course, the reason that people come to these sorts of events is the friendships they enjoy with Christians.

Level 1 is the cultural event: This is an event which is inherently attractive and to which non-Christians happily come. The aim is simply to invite non-Christians to an event that they’ll enjoy, at which they might hear something thought provoking. The quiz night is an example. People come for the quiz and they love it. Wine tasting would also fit into this category. The reason that friends come to these events is for the event itself. And therefore any talk ought not to be too intrusive or inappropriate. We might have a 3 minute slot to help people engage with an issue, to make a brief point or to invite them to church. But it won’t be much more than that.

Level 2 is an apologetic event: This is an event at which someone gives a talk to address a specific issue or common objection to the Christian faith. The aim is to help non-Christians recognise that their own objections are ill founded and that the Christian position is well grounded. Guest services tackling the suffering issue with a talk like ‘Where’s God when the bad things happen?’ would be an example. Church meetings ought always to fit into this category, at least at some level, as the preacher accommodates what he’s saying to the non-Christian visitor. The reason people come to these events is the subject matter of the talk and so the talk needs to address the issue.

Level 3 is the gospel event: This is an event at which a clear explanation of the implications of the death and resurrection of Christ takes place. This is the reason why friends come. They come to hear the gospel. And so there’s a call to repentance and faith. And there’s sometimes an opportunity to respond in prayer. The aim of these events is to give people a specific opportunity to hear the gospel and become Christians. Christianity Explored fits into this category. This is where we do most of this type of event. But we have run special one off events. And Sundays ought, at some level, to fit into this category. But it needs a theologically mature and evangelistically zealous congregation to bring friends to this type of event.

But why have events and a range of events at all? Why not just do church and that’s it? It would be less to organise and less in the diary!

They’re a concession to a lack of maturity as a church. We ought to be equipping one another for missional living so that, as we scatter after church, we take Christ into the social contexts in which he’s placed us. But events help us gather together so that someone, perhaps a little more practiced and able, can explain things to our friends. This is especially true with level 0 and level 1 events. We need to have had a conversation or two to invite friends to level 2. You need to be really on fire for the Lord and willing to cop a bit of flak from our unbelieving friends, colleagues and neighbours if we’re going to try and persuade them to come to a level 3 event. It’s easier for a new or immature Christian to invite a friend to a pub quiz than it is to a gospel talk on a Sunday. I expect that we’ll always need a range of events because we’ll always have a range of people with a range of maturity. At least, I hope so because I’d love for the Lord to keep using us to bring people to faith.

They’re a concession to a lack of interest in the world. Many of our friends won’t come to a gospel event unless they’ve been ’softened up’ by our relentless pursuit of their unbelief! But they might just come to a comedy night, enjoy it and be made to think differently about something that they’ve heard. They wouldn’t come within a country mile of the gospel event. But the idea of laughing at comedy is something they’re up for. If they have to ‘endure’ a 10 minute talk on the value and limits of humour, then so be it. They’ll accept that. God willing, He’ll use what’s said to get under their skin and help them engage. And so, until our cynical disinterested culture changes, I’m anticipating that we’ll have to keep on running and pitching up to the various events that fill our church programme.

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