Saturday, 14 April 2018

Bridging the Gap by Going Out of Our Church Buildings

This will probably be my final post in the “bridging the gap” series as I’m about out of ideas! For more recent followers, I’ve been focusing on ways that Christians can bridge the ever growing gap between believers and non-believers. So far, we have looked at being real, keeping the focus on the Gospel and using words that people understand.

We need to think about this issue because people from the street are not just walking into our churches. We can be pretty good at hosting church events and inviting people, but what about those who would never attend because the event is in a church building. They don’t want the inevitable questions if they are seen, or perhaps, they are fearful of what might happen during the service.

To ensure everyone hears the Gospel, and to properly obey the Great Commission, we need to go into all the world and tell every person the Good News about Jesus. The Open Air Mission has evangelists all around the country who do this on a daily basis. I’ve just returned from their annual training day in Bromsgrove which was a great encouragement. We were reminded of the huge impact 160 people committed to open-air work could make across the country. Even more so should we all manage to get our church fellowships on-board.

A former full-time worker, probably now in his seventies, was asked whether open-air work still has a place in our society, or whether it’s had its day, as many churches seem to believe. He responded with a story about his own conversion, having been raised in a non-Christian home seemingly with no Christians even on his radar. He pointed out that currently less than 10% of the country is being reached with the Gospel through schools and churches. Someone had taken the trouble to step out of their comfort zone and tell him the Good News about Jesus when he was in his late teens. He is left with the devastating reminder that generations of his family are subject to eternal punishment. If his story ended there it would be pretty depressing, but this man is so grateful that someone took the trouble to reach him in his lostness, that he has dedicated his life to doing the same thing for others. How anyone could fail to be moved by such an answer, spoken with such conviction, about something so important, is beyond me.

What about the average Christian, though? Someone who just has a few hours here and there and wants more flexibility, or a little less confrontation. With the support of your church, you could try setting up a simple book table in your town. All you will need in a small fold-away table, deck chair (optional,) literature and a sign highlighting what you are offering. Then, find a space that isn’t in the way, I usually use a sizeable doorway, and set up.

Recently, I noticed what a difference good weather makes as people are much more willing to stop and chat, and just seem more cheerful in general. A typical few hours with a book table in my town produces the following types of contact:

My time began with a man from a different church advising that he had a load of Christian literature to dispose of and discussing methods of evangelism. He was quickly followed by an enthusiastic Christian lady who started off by encouraging me but then suggested I should give leaflets to people instead of waiting for them to be taken. I explained that I do give out leaflets as part of other outreaches, and our church puts leaflets through every door in the town over the year, but that for this outreach, I’m just making the literature available for those that God prompts.

Next, a white van man who has been mentioned in a previous post, made a bee line for me. His opening question was, “Have you got a copy of the King James Version of the Bible yet?” I informed him that I was sticking with my ESV. He told me that it was corrupted, that I was missing out and that he was just trying to help me, before walking back to his van calling loudly behind him that I should get a King James Bible. I resisted the urge to ask him if he was going to church yet….

Then, two at once, which can be tricky, especially when they start talking to each other and one seems to be leading the other off topic. An older man on a mobility scooter had been watching at a distance for a while and eventually made his cautious approach. We had just begun talking, and he was examining the literature, when an even older, white haired, lady walked between the man and the books and announced that she was a devout Catholic and congratulated me on having the courage to be out in the street. I never know what to say when this happens, as it’s not really something worthy of praise, but voicing too much humility can be counter productive.

The lady quite loudly took over the conversation stating that we were all the same before asking me what religion I belonged to. I was somewhat surprised by the question as my sign clearly says “free Christian books.” When I said I was a Christian she looked temporarily confused. I wondered whether she was just enthusiastic about the prospect of religion in general entering the high street. She continued talking to the man as if she had invited him to look at her books, and as if she needed to carefully explain things to him. When she spoke about people being oblivious to God, I managed to get in with a short comment about our sin and need of forgiveness before she was off again. The man interjected to ask for an Ultimate Questions booklet before taking his leave. The woman followed him along the street, still talking at him. I was a bit bewildered by the experience but grateful that the man took the book.

A quiet lady then took Where is God when things go wrong? by John Blanchard, after studying the books for a while. Then, a lady who I met at the book table on a previous occasion, who attends another church, passed by and we had a brief chat about how to get a mutual friend who isn’t a believer to church. I then overheard some young girls on the other side of the street, on seeing my sign, comment that they weren’t “holy” or “Christian”. One of the reasons for going out is to trigger this type of reflective conversation and to make people think about God.

Finally, a man who attends another church, out of the area, came over. After a brief chat about our shared faith, he seemed to veer off topic with questions about my age and marital and relationship status. Nevertheless, he encouraged me in the work and said he would pray for me before wandering off. Never a dull moment.

I thought it might be helpful for those who are considering this type of outreach to get an idea of what could happen if you brave the unknown. However, every town and every individual is, of course, unique, which is why prayer is crucial.  

Pray, try it and see what happens.

Mark 16 vs 15

Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

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