LOCAL ASSEMBLY-BASED OUTREACH
As we continue our series about spreading the good news of salvation I have been asked to give some examples of how this might be achieved. Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Secondly, the instructions given to Christians about spreading the message are threefold: "Preach the word" (2 Tim 4.2); go out with the gospel (Mt 28.19); go out into the entire world with the message (Mk 16.15).
We do not have Biblical guidelines about where we can preach, to whom we can preach, or the situations in which we can preach. To listen to some preachers you would think we had detailed rules about when and where we can preach the gospel. All we have are specific and clear instructions that state we must go, we must go to all peoples in all places, and we must preach Scripture. The maxim, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God", must underpin all of our outreach and preaching (Rom 10.17).
Always seek the Lords guidance and direction before starting any work. This is not an excuse to be visionless but a reminder that "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps 127.1). A careful reading and study of the book of Acts and Romans 15 will give some examples of visionary planning to spread the gospel aligned to a sensitive awareness that the Lord will open or close doors as He sees fit.
For most of us this is the standard way of reaching out with the gospel, but we need to be conscious of practical issues when arranging meetings. Times, format, singing or not singing, location etc. are not Biblical issues but nevertheless issues that need to be addressed. Our key instruction from Scripture is "to preach" - where, when, and to whom will be variable dependent on our situation and circumstances. My major concern is often the lack of effort we put in to getting people to hear the message. However, that might not be the result of nervousness about the message but about these other issues. To give the saints the confidence to bring people along to gospel meetings we need to be sure of the following:
Community Gospel Tea
In addition to our regular gospel meetings we have been running a monthly community gospel tea for a number of years. This starts with some singing, a short story for children, and a gospel message. Keeping the message clear, simple, and in language that people understand is very important. After the message has been delivered we serve a light tea. This gives people time to chat and give us the opportunity to talk with those unsaved that come along. We have seen over twenty unsaved come in regularly from the local community, a number have come back to other meetings.
Personally, I find this a very hard work to do. It is quite scary to start cold calling in a fresh area explaining who you are, what you are doing, and why you would be so bold as to knock on the door of a person you have never met before.
Where you have existing contacts in a community you would be wise to start by visiting them. Showing an interest in people and being willing to help them with their problems is a very important way of gaining peoples respect. Lets be honest - why would you listen to someone you do not trust or who has never shown any interest in you?
When I am working in a new area I start off with a very low-key approach. I am not at the door to preach but to introduce myself and to invite them to a meeting or some form of gospel outreach. It has been helpful at times to offer a free copy of the Bible or to invite requests for prayer. This shows people that you are interested in them. We know that "selling religion" is not what we are about but they dont and we need to win their confidence.
There are many opportunities that come up from time to time to give out large quantities of literature at events. I know that a number of believers have focused on this very effectively. Our first attempt to do this was during Liverpools year as European City of Culture. Every house with an "L" postcode received a leaflet that had been specially written for this event.
Since then we have been trying to capture and use as many other opportunities as possible. This year we have written tracts for the Chilean Miners tragedy, the Titanic Event and the Olympic Torch event as well as general tracts for Liverpool and our Football Outreach. These are all starting points from which a conversation could develop. Remember, if you have web-based resources put the details clearly on all of your literature. Allow people to access the gospel by every means!
In addition to this we have focused on covering specific areas of the city of Liverpool with literature. Some assemblies that I work with have purchased a half page of print in a local newspaper and on a bi- monthly basis are writing articles and inviting people to meetings in their hall. In one case this means they get literature into 19,000 homes at the cost of £150 per issue. Very cost effective; the results as always have to be left with the Lord. Incidentally, this particular assembly had ten people come to their hall as a result of the first article/advert. Its worth the effort!
Parent and Toddler work
I know that quite a number of people reading this article will have an immediate aversion to the idea of an assembly running a Parent and Toddler Group. The reason usually is that they associate it as being a "churchy" thing to do (and therefore inappropriate) or a social service that we do not need to provide.
My experience has been that you can use this opportunity to get to know people in your community. A short message can be given explaining the gospel and/or a brief Bible story for children. You build bridges and an awareness of what the Word of God says as well as laying simple foundations from the Word of God for another generation. To be truthful I did not see the full benefit initially but have learned that this simple (but hard) work creates many opportunities that can be developed over years to bring adults and children to other gospel outreach meetings.
Opening your hall and erecting a Bible exhibition for a week can be a very worthwhile exercise. The other alternative is to approach local schools to enquire if they would be happy to host a Bible exhibition in their school hall. This exercise provides the opportunity for children and adults to be presented with the Word of God in a setting which they do not feel is threatening. We all know that the power of Scripture is immense, and so exposing people to the Word of God can only be beneficial in the long run.
A number of Bible exhibitions are available for use around the United Kingdom. They are all slightly different; some have been around a long time (The Ayrshire Bible Exhibition), and some are very new (The Bromborough Bible Exhibition). It is worth doing some research to see what is available and thinking about how you could use an exhibition effectively to support your gospel work.
This is an idea that I have not been involved with but I know of a couple of assemblies where they have used this method of reaching people. The idea is to help people with limited English learn basic words and phrases while showing them kindness and in time teaching them what the gospel is about. Essentially it is another bridge building exercise.
Hopefully you can see that there are many things that can be done to reach out with the gospel. In the next article we will broaden our view of this aspect of spreading the message. If you have the time and energy the doors that can open to "evangelize" are limitless. Essentially it will all come down to an evangelistic mindset. Are we willing and ready to obey and get out and about with the gospel?
To be continued.