By SEAN TAYLOR
Sometimes, finding out how your church fits into your community can be a bit
befuddlinglike completing a puzzle only to find that the last piece doesnt fit
the remaining hole.
By utilizing special events, churches across North America are finding ways
to reshape that last puzzle piece. They are discovering how to break free from
the stained glass, overcoming barriers and getting involved in community
Tears of joy after sincere prayer are a common occurrence at
uncommon events like block parties. Churches can reach their communities in
ways individuals cant.
PHOTOS BY GIBBS FRAZEUR
Gone fishinFor Al Odum, of Sumter,
South Carolina, founder of the Fishers of Men Bass Tournament, getting out from
behind the stained glass meant chucking it all and going fishing. His outreach
tools? A boat, a rod and a tacklebox.
What weve done is use the infrastructure of churches to assist us in
conducting our bass fishing events. We run competitive fishing tournaments with
a little different slant to them, he says. Were trying to catch men for the
Lord, as well as catch fish. And weve seen more than 40 men come to know Christ
The tournament depends on church members getting involved and joining the
tour. Tour members form two-person teams and fish together for the entire tour.
Odum encourages partnering with non-Christians.
The tournaments strength is its philosophy of bridging gaps between
Christians and non-Christians. What makes this unique, says Barry Leach, one of
the fishermen, is that we all have something in common to start with. We love
the outdoors. We love fishing. And that certainly gives you opportunities to
talk about other things. For me, it obviously leads to opportunities to talk
about the Lord and how to know Him.
Theres a deeper bond, according to John Blair, another fisherman in the
tournament. Its a way to bring people into the common need we all havethe need
for a Savior, he says.
Before sending the competitors out to fish on Saturdays, the tournament
always begins with a meeting on Friday nights, a meeting that is mandatory for
fishermen wanting to earn all the points they can.
Its a pre-tournament meeting at a local church, says Odum. Its a time of
inspirational singing and speaking, a fishing seminar, and during that time we
challenge them with the gospel and give them an opportunity to make a decision.
Decisions are recorded privately on cards that Odum uses for follow-up.
The original concept is what we still follow, says Leach, a member since the
beginning. We want to bring people to the Lord, people who may not have gotten
around to hearing the message. This way, weve invited people to come spend some
time with Christians, to see and hear what we do, to come eat and fish with us
and enjoy the outdoors with us.
And hopefully get to know Jesus along the way.
The ABCs of outreachHelping people get to
know Jesus is the ultimate goal of special event outreach. According to Toby
Frost, Evangelism Events Manager at the North American Mission Board, There is
a difference between an evangelistic event and a church fellowship, he says. In
event evangelism you use an A-B-C formula to intentionally reach people for
Christ. The goals are to attract the unreached people around you, build a
relational atmosphere and communicate the gospel.
Open-air evangelism can put people at ease and encourage dialogue. It can also
reach people who may never enter a church building.
Event evangelism assures people that theyre not sharing their faith alone.
Its easier to be more vocal when you see others around you doing the same
thing. It also alleviates the ambush factor. People know they are coming to a
church-related event. Its not as if they are being blind-sided in the midst of
their busy lives. That helps keep the automatic defense mechanisms
Perhaps the most important benefit of planning evangelistic events is that
they accomplish the core of the Great Commission, putting Christians in contact
with non-Christians to share their faith. They allow a church to find its fit
within the local community and the local population of unreached people.
Party in the hoodWhen the North
American Mission Boards School of Evangelism went to Philadelphia, William
Scott, then pastor of Second Pilgrim Baptist, knew the opportunity had come to
inject his church into the inner-city community around it.
When you look at the black church, he says. Id say that most of the time
90-95 percent of the members are not from the community. They commute in and
get back out. And I really wanted to touch the community, to let the church
know it is part of the community.
Scott agreed to host a block party to give both the visiting School of
Evangelism students and his own congregation an opportunity to share their
faith in an inner-city environment. After preparing food for about 1,500
people, and attracting an almost full-capacity crowd from the neighborhood, the
party resulted in 300 people coming to know Christ as their Savior.
Community healing also resulted.
People came from four blocks away to say, This is the first time in all the
time Ive been here that someone has reached out to me, says Scott.
Colethia Faison, a church member who took part in the party, spent most of
her time meandering through the crowd seeking out people to talk to.
We were able to get peoples attention with the big party, she says. When
they got there we were able to tell them about Jesus. One-on-ones varied from
person to person and I did a lot of them at the party. Some people were more
receptive than others, and then you found some who were absolutely ready. Some
just wanted to listen and still others needed a quiet place to talk about
Those who shared their faith sometimes had to think fast to break through
the barriers that people would erect, such as when one young woman worried that
her skirt was too short.
She wanted to come, says Faison, but she didnt want to come with the clothes
she had on. A member assured her that she was fine in what she had, but she
didnt feel comfortable. So she worked it out and got the girl something to
Clothed in an outfit that made her feel less conspicuous, the girl decided
to stay. She became a Christian and was baptized that night.
Clothes are not the thing, but if clothes are going to make somebody feel
uncomfortable, and if theyre going to allow clothes to come between them and
God, then wed better grab a garment. And if theyre hungry, grab some food
quick. People have needs and sometimes they come to you talking about those
needs before you can talk to them about Jesus, adds Faison.
An ongoing presenceAs the national
base for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City is one
of the most religious cities in North America. So when the Southern Baptist
Convention (SBC) met in Salt Lake City this summer, many local churches used
the occasion to reach out to their neighbors, Mormon and otherwise.
Marilyn Patrick, a member of Holladay Baptist, helped organize the church
Schools Out Celebration.
We had a carnival with dunking booths, moonwalks and all sorts of things,
but we also included in each of those a way to share the gospel, she says. We
used the witnessing bracelets. We had a Christian band giving the message. We
had puppets, and we had people walking around sharing. We were able to give out
New Testaments. We had saturated the lot we were meeting on. There werent many
places people could go that day and not be shared with.
Although rain lightened the events turnout, Patrick has found that the
events reach extended far beyond the grasp originally imagined. Weve had a lot
of visitors at the church because of it. And we have a whole lot more
opportunities to talk to people around us about Christ. People are asking
questions they wouldnt have before. Its been amazing to see how it continues to
While Patrick and her church were hosting the carnival, Alta Canyon Baptist,
in neighboring Sandy, Utah, conducted surveys in the areas around the church.
Alta Canyon member Michelle Griffis coordinated the event and served as a
contact for the survey teams, which were made up predominantly of SBC visitors
from other states.
Were a small church and didnt feel like we had enough members to do
something like this ourselves, but we wanted to be involved, she says. The
church members have, however, spent themselves sacrificially to stay on top of
Join the PartyThere are many kinds of events you can
use to reach your community. Try a few of these on for size.
Super Bowl parties
Backyard Bible Clubs
Evangelistic sporting events
Street and open-air evangelism
Want more info? Check out these resources:
Special Evangelistic Events (SEE)
Seminar/Preparation Workbook (084008708X, $3.95)
SEE Resource Kit (211-96P, $59.95)
The Evangelistic Block Party Manual
English (0840087144, $3.95)
Korean (0840069804, $3.95)
Spanish (0840069790, $3.95)
SEE: Halloween for Christ
SEE: Outreach Events at Thanksgiving
and Christmas (available Oct. 1998)
To order these resources call the Customer Service Center, 1-800-233-1233 or
Half a dozen made firm decisions for Christ, but there are 25-30 more survey
sheets from people who said they were interested in hearing more and maybe
coming to Bible study.
Weve been visiting the people who made decisions for Christ. We take them a
five-day Bible study and an introductory brochure for the church.
Then we go back a week later and give them one of the JESUS videos. We make
sure that they have Bibles and that they understand the decision theyve made.
And we try to encourage them to be involved in a church, says Griffis.
In spite of the churchs small size and few members, Alta Canyon is
determined to reach out to those missed by the canvassing. The mission isnt
over, she says. Were committed to go out and continue working the survey.
As a result of these events and many others that made up Crossoverevents
such as block parties, street evangelism and drama ministriesmany Christians
learned the joy of sharing one-on-one and leading others to Christ. Statistics
1,715 people made professions of faith.
Some 5,000 people called the NAMB hotline.
More than 2,000 wrote in to request the JESUS video.
Nearly 500 college students took part in the events.
How bout you?Event evangelism is not just for big
churches with big budgets. Its not just for churches in urban environments. Its
for churches that actively want to find their place in their cities or towns
and are willing to reshape as needed to fit that place.
All it takes is the want-to, as summed up by Colethia Faisons simple prayer
of submission: One night, I cried so much, and I couldnt understand why I was
crying. I said Lord, whatever it is you want me to do, here am I. Send
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC