An open letter on event evangelism

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Jon Randles sent this to me yesterday and asked me to post it. He won’t post stuff here on a regular basis, but may drop by from time to time.

The continuing dialogue on the BGCT’s blog concerning evangelism methodology is much appreciated and very stimulating. I am not a blogger, but I enjoy learning from the insights of those who do. Recently I read an excellent comment and would like to respond.

Tim expressed concern about the effectiveness of event evangelism as a useful tool in today’s culture. His concerns are justified. I think that it is important for me to explain what I perceive event evangelism to be.

An event is any opportunity to bring closure to what God has already been doing in the life of an individual. It is through the Holy Spirit’s conviction and the trust that is developed by intentional relationship building that prepares the way for closure. Events are not effective unless believers have already been cultivating healthy trust relationships with seekers and un-churched persons. In the past, many events have been failures because no relationship building took place in advance of the event. Many Christians are effective at building relationships but, are not confident in bringing the relationship to a point of commitment for Christ. I wish every believer was skilled at bringing others to a commitment in Christ; but until that day comes, events give those genuine believers an opportunity to partner with those gifted in evangelism. Ephesians clearly teaches that some are called to be evangelists. I believe that God has gifted some to the spiritual ability of drawing the net. We are all equal in Christ, but have different gifts. Partnering in evangelism is healthy and biblical. We are losing that ability to partner in the excessive individualism of our 21st century culture. The Bible teaches that some plant, some cultivate and some reap. An event is simply the culmination of partnering in the evangelism process.

Events must have effective follow up. I have also heard the horror stories of many responses and little lasting results. This is sometimes caused by manipulative methods. Such approaches are unacceptable and wrong; however, most often it is due to failure on the part of leaders to put the same amount of effort into discipling the new Christians and those making deeper life decisions in the weeks and months following the event. I was a pastor of three wonderful Texas churches for seventeen years before becoming a vocational evangelist in 1993. My deepest heart is discipleship. My training is through the Navigators, and I remain committed to the call of discipleship. The great commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is to make disciples. Evangelism is simply a critical part of that process. Wherever there is a horror story, I believe I can show a success story in event evangelism where the discipleship that followed the event was energetic and well-planned.

Sometimes the retention rate is better than people realize. Often the church or organization that hosts the event is not the cultural place where the new believer will be comfortable after the event. Many times leadership may say that they did not benefit because they did not gain in membership or baptisms. That does not mean that with proper follow up individuals did not find a place to continue their growth in an environment that is more conducive to their own culture and background. Often it is sometime later when the Holy Spirit moves an un-churched person into church life; yet, they will point to a salvation experience at an event possibly months or years before that began the process of their discipleship. My concept of an event also includes one to one moments where the environment is spiritually conducive to give an individual opportunity to bring closure to a ripened decision. I do not believe that persons are born again by osmossis. Some kind of event takes place in their lives that seals the decision. I am personally seeing events continue to be successful.

Events are also beneficial to the believers. The revivals and conferences that I have been privileged to participate in bring a spirit of camaraderie and encouragement to the church or organization involved. There are things that happen at youth camp that simply do not happen if a person simply attends on Sunday morning. It’s like fasting…there is nothing magical about missing meals for several days but an extended period of time in a person’s life focusing on God and spiritual matters creates an environment in which God has chosen to work for thousands of years. Gathering in groups for a common cause strengthens the group dynamic and level of energy. From my own experience, these events are still effective. We wouldn’t have enough youth pastors, pastors and missionaries if it were not for youth camps. Things happen at camp in an extended environment that simply does not happen otherwise. In adult life, a conference or revivals can produce much the same effect as youth camp does for students.

I realize that many of our pastors and leaders are interested in reaching the growing number of people who have embraced a post-modern paradigm. I have enjoyed learning about the exceptional way that Dr. Rick Davis is pastor to his Starbucks congregation. I am totally in favor of his approach. There is a large percentage of the population that must be reached through a post-modern intellectual and cultural paradigm. I completely agree with the necessity of developing more ministry and better resources for the evangelization and discipleship of this important segment of the society. At BGCT, an important start has been made in this area through the ministry of Lindsay Cofield. His title is Director of Multi-housing and Emergent Church Ministry. The title is somewhat misleading. Lindsay helps churches develop the methodologies and provides resources for starting indigenous cell churches in apartment complexes, bars, cafes, truck stops, etc. In 2007 over 250 cell churches were formed and around 3,000 professions of faith reported. This is only a start and there is much yet to do. You can contact Lindsay at Lindsay.Cofield@bgct.org . By the way, one of Lindsay’s cell churches is a group of motorcyclists who meet with him at a bar/café in east Dallas. Kudos to what Rick is doing at Starbucks and kudos to Lindsay as well!

My personal belief is that culture will enter the post-modern paradigm at different rates of speed and at different levels. In many places, events are as successful as they ever were. In other places less so. A full discussion of what post-modernism is and where it is going cannot be addressed here, but already it is morphing. My work has been primarily with collegiates and the group under age 24 is far less existential than the group 24 – 38. This younger group does not seem to be adverse to events as a tool for reaching their friends.

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19 Responses to “An open letter on event evangelism”

  1. Jeff Parsons Says:

    It’s good to hear Jon’s philosophy on this. As one who works with Lindsay extensively, I am aware that many we work with aren’t in need of an event but a life change that can only come through a relationship with Christ. It’s good to know Jon believes these events are only a part of the process rather than an end in themselves. It will take all kinds of methods falling within the confines of scripture to reach an increasingly lost state.

  2. wackypreacher Says:

    This quote really caught my attention:”Events are not effective unless believers have already been cultivating healthy trust relationships with seekers and un-churched persons.”

    That may be why some feel that “event” evangelism is “ineffective”. I know each year we conduct a “revival” and have little or no results. Mostly they are to keep the older folks happy, cause we have always had a revival. But most do not or have not cultivated any relationships with seekers or non-church persons.

    In manychurches Christians only hang with Christians and so have little or no contact with the lost. It is the new Christians who are most effective at bringing in the lost, cause they are still in contact with them.

    Here at my church we are hosting several events to attract the non-churched crowd. We have had in the past year: Car show, trunk or treat, fourth of July picnic each of these had a good number of non-church people come to them. It has allowed for our church to have contact with some “lost” people. And slowly but surely some are warming up to us and we are gaining a hearing for the gospel.

    Keep up the good work Jon. Keep us up to speed on what God is doing in evangelism. Maybe a website could be put together with “outreach” ideas.
    Just a thought.

  3. Tim Dahl Says:

    I appreciate Bro. Randles letter/essay on the subject of Event Evangelism. I to have been taught that aforementioned benefits come from the Group Event. It really seems to make sense; pretty logical, goes with the best that sociology was to give us in the 1980s and beyond.

    However… And here is the rub…

    It isn’t working. Holistically, when you add up the total sum of everything; we are ending up in the red. Even the best statistics put us at about a 1% growth rate. What is the population’s biological growth rate? Yeah, we aren’t keeping up.

    You see, it isn’t just that our 1970-1980s way of doing evangelism isn’t working, it is the whole system that we’ve set up. Evangelistic Events that play to peoples emotions, that is bereft genuine transformation, coupled with a complete and total lack of Discipleship has left us in a horrible hole for the past 30 years or so.

    As long as we keep on trying the “tried and true” methods, then we will continue to get the same results we’ve been having: Failure.

    Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. It is time to try something else.

    At least, that is how I see it at the moment.

  4. David Says:

    Nothing I know of better before or since the late 1980’s: Church Growth Spiral approach to sustain the reaching of a city and growing of a church through the ministry of its Sunday School (see Andy Anderson’s book if you can find it). Statistics of 360 SBC congregations using the approach for an average of 2 years only: increases in . . . by . . .

    Baptisms . . . 95%
    Prospects . . . 133%
    Outreachers . . . 140%
    Contacts . . . 163%
    Workers . . . 63%
    Training . . . 310%
    Enrollment . . . 50%
    Units/Classes . . . 47%
    Attendance . . . 45%
    Worship Attendance . . . 44%
    Offerings . . . 60%

    I’d love to see a widespread use of the Spiral approach again today by Texas Baptist churches or some congregations set out to disprove it application to the 21st century.

  5. rick davis Says:

    Jon,

    I think Big Events or small events might most often be seen as consciousness raisers. The community around us might become more aware of us because of some event. As for “evangelism” occurring in an event setting, the traditional bitter sweet salvation invitation appeal requires massive amounts of work and the right demographics to prove successful.

    We might need to adjust our goals for events, in terms of evangelism

  6. Lee Says:

    Good thoughts, and at the very least, you’ve helped me understand the thinking behind the evangelism events. This is exactly why I think communication from the BGCT must be effective and broad. There is a whole constituency out there who thinks that the only people who have a say in what the convention does are “insiders” who have connections to the people who are in the Baptist Building, and that events are planned around that small group’s opinions and perspectives. But here you are, responding to the individual comment of a pastor. This is one of the biggest obstacles that the BGCT must overcome, IMHO, and this dialogue on this blog is a good way for it to happen.

    I believe the youth camps and events in particular are very important, because they are used as tools by youth pastors and youth leaders and the opportunity for follow-up is actually a motivation to participate because the kids will go to these things. Adults, especially the post-moderns, aren’t prone to attending events, even highly publicized ones, where an evangelist can “draw the net.” I’ve developed a small group of people similar to Rick Davis’s “Starbucks Church” into which the subject of religion and Christian faith comes up frequently, now that I have been officially dubbed as the “resident reverend” of the group, but it is not nearly to the point where there is an understanding of personal salvation or conversion, ironically, in a group that believes in a lot of other metaphysical experience, and not a single person in the group would even come close to attending an event.

    Two years ago, Luis Palau had a big crusade here in Houston. Our church participated, with an expenditure of somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 toward expenses with the promise of receiving names of people who made “decisions” at the crusade for follow up. Over 100,000 people attended the event, over the couple of days it was held, blocking the access streets, creating a parking nightmare in the area around the park where it was held. The box score claimed was 1,000 “decisions” though the vast majority of those were “rededications” or counseling. Ultimately, we got one card, from someone who was already a member of our church, who came forward for “prayer.”

    I’d be all for any shift in your budget away from big events, and toward more ministries as you mention, like that of Lindsay Cofield, basing them in the other big cities.

  7. David Says:

    Rick:

    Have you had the opportunity to use the Church Growth Spiral approach in the churches you’ve served as pastor? Just asking, as so few seem to know about it these days.

    My understanding about the Spiral approach (which is based on Flake’s Formula) among other good things: an intentional focus on enrolling unchurched folks in Sunday School classes results in half of those enrolled being unsaved; during the course of 1 year, half of those will be saved and baptized.

    The vehicle which will take SBC/BGCT churches into the future is the Sunday School (or equivalent Bible study groups with the same tasks assigned), not event evangelism–though event evangelism certainly should be employed (it offers believers with the Invitational Style of evangelism another opportunity to serve in the church’s regularly sharing of the gospel). The 6 tasks typically assigned to the Sunday School are Great Commission/Great Commandment ones: (1) reach people for Bible study; (2) teach people the Bible; (3) witness to people about Christ, and lead people into church membership; (4) minister to people in need; (5) lead people to worship; and, (6) support/undergird the work of the church/denomination. No other ministry/program in the typical SBC/BGCT congregation has this same set of tasks–or has as great a chance for helping the congregation reach the city or experience biblical growth.

    So says one Minister of Education. I’d love for someone actually to demonstrate that the above cannot be reality in today’s world! I’d happily eat crow if churches baptized only 10% of those they enrolled in their Sunday Schools.

  8. Lee Says:

    The youth Super Summer events in particular are good because youth pastors use them as a tool to help disciple and evangelize the youth they bring, and because kids will come with their friends and with the youth group that they’ve associated with to an event such as this. The net can be drawn and there is a lot of follow up, at least, if the youth pastor and adult leaders are on the ball.

    I would say that the biggest value of the big events is the inspiration and encouragement that are provided to the church leaders who show up. Just as an example, our church put over $4,000 into the sponsorship of the Luis Palau crusade that came to Houston a couple of summers back. We were told that our participation meant that we would receive names of individuals in our zip code area that responded to the invitations for follow up. Over 100,000 people came to the crusade, clogging up the parking around the event, creating long lines at the port-a-potties in the park where it was held. The decision count at the invitations was given as 1,800. However, when the cards were distributed, we got just one, and it belonged to someone who was already a member of our church, and was a prayer request. We never really found out how many of those 1,800 decisions were first time for Christ, but I have yet to run into someone from a church that helped finance the event who received any names of new converts for follow up. It was, all in all, a very encouraging event, the live concert by Kirk Franklin was great, the preaching was inspiring, but I would say it turned out to be far more of a revival than an evangelistic crusade and if given the opportunity to participate in a similar event in the future, with financial support along the same lines, I believe my vote would be no.

    I think you are on to something with what Lindsay Cofield is doing, and I would support the BGCT expanding this ministry by increasing its staff and budget, and helping our churches get these kinds of things going. I’ve had a couple of “Starbucks congregations” in the past couple of years, mainly from the influence of reading Neil Cole’s “The Organic Church,” and it has been both exciting and frustrating, in terms of keeping things going. And I need more in the way of training to help get things to the point where the net can be drawn. Having a couple more individuals based in the bigger cities might do some real good in that regard.

  9. rick davis Says:

    David,

    I remember the Growth Spiral; also WIN, Faith, the Net. David, I even remember TU.

    I think Jon is writing about the kind of event evangelism he gets to see work in various places. I am writing about the kind of out of the place evangelism I am using. I wish I believed we could institute a program, any program, other than day to day, person to person, exegete your field evangelism that meets people where they are. All the Growth Spiral principles are valid. I would prefer churches do the something rather than the nothing. I just think the box church stuff misses the out of church population.

  10. David Says:

    Rick:

    Thanks for your reply and clarification. I don’t disagree at all–though I have higher hopes for Sunday School (or equivalent small group Bible studies with the same tasks assigned) done right than I do for any other form of outreach/evangelism–at least in sustaining the rate of conversions and the growth of the congregation. No one, to my knowledge, has shown otherwise so far.

    On programs: I don’t think I disagree; but it seems that “programs” get a bad rap these days–when, if the church were to do anything Great Commission well and effectively which is able to be sustained, it essentially would become what might be termed “a programs”. For me, a “program” simply is a way to do things, those many of those ways have become sacred cows which no longer produce.

    At this point, I’m convinced–and think the research demonstrates–that nothing about the world has so changed during the past 50-100 years that Sunday School done right no longer works to reach people. The problem is the workers, not the program (at our church, the ministry staff has many great ideas but not many great workers to partner with us–which simply points out more of our work: pray for and train workers).

    Have a better than average Sunday, brother!

  11. spiritualsamurai Says:

    Why do we not have the workers? Are there less spiritual gifts? If the training too demanding?

    With our consumer culture, we would need someone to fill all of Rick Yount’s philosophy types, all of Jung’s type preferences, and an A/V budget (with techs) in the upper five figures. All within a church running less than 100 in Sunday School.

    We must find a way to guide people to take responsibilty for their own spiritual quest and seek to deepen the desire for the discipled life. I believe this can only come through new “heroes” in the church who are willing to travel this road less traveled and who will invite others to journey along.

    The model set by Saint Patrick is one I am trying to employ. It is not a program, but a way of living founded on a way of being.

  12. David Says:

    Ephesians 4:11. I agree.

    Barna in 2002: only 17 million evangelical adult believers (the kind my church is trying to make) among the 102 million born-again adult in the U.S. (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=119). Too much “motivating the saints” but not equipping, and too few saints presenting themselves as blood-bought motivated believers now ready for equipping and service. But it’s a leader AND a follower issue, though; the reason for our call.

  13. jon randles Says:

    Rick is right. “Conciousness raising” is a great way of saying it. Evangelism is made easier in that environment if intentional relationship building proceeded the period of raised conciousness. Beach Reach, Congreso, and YEC are examples. Conferences and revival type experiences are,as well.

    Where communities or cultural groups are receptive to this approach it is still very effective and I believe should not be abandoned. It is not a replacement for other approaches nor effective with every cultural group.

  14. jon randles Says:

    David’s comments are important. Cell groups are a powerful tool for evangelism because they are a rich ground for building relationships and trust. Whatever you call them….cells. life groups, sunday school,etc…the principles of Flake’s formula still work. The spiral got a bad name with some because adding a name to the cell without the hard work of relational inclusion didn’t work. It still comes back to relationships and trust

  15. Rick Davis Says:

    David,

    The week after the last Sunday School is closed, some enterprising young person will reinvent it. Human beings need to connect. Not all, or even most it seems, connect in a large group setting. My Starbucks Church is an outreach SS class, intent on taking Jesus to where people are. It is as stylized and programatic as any 9:30 Sunday morning, except we have no quarterly, no real format and no doughnuts.

    My spiritual gifts are prophecy, teaching and administration. I just intend to use them outside the walls of the institutional church, while supporting the ministries of the local congregation.

    No, there is nothing wrong with programs of ministry. In fact, we use them constantly, whether we admit it or not. The Growth Spiral is as good as any and better than most. Read my typepad spot, http://aintsobad.typepad.com for some explanations of what I see impinging on our programatic approach and our institutional churches.

    By the way, the happiest part of my life in the last month is getting a trained, experienced RE man on my staff. He is organizing our program of ministries with me for greater efficiency.

  16. David Says:

    The second-to-last thing that 98.9% of all SBC congregations ever will abandon totally is their Sunday School (the very last thing: their Sunday morning worship service at the traditional 10:45 or 11:00).

    So, as long as all of us are going to do it until the Lord returns, we might as well do Sunday School (or equivalent small group Bible studies with the same tasks assigned) right! Sunday School done right is: (1) with the full, vocal, active weekly support of the senior pastor (if he doesn’t get 110% behind–and in front–of the Sunday School done right, the congregation’s Sunday School isn’t going far no matter how well the church loves its Minister of Education); and, (2) unapologetically as THE evangelistic arm of the congregation.

    Sunday School’s 6 tasks: (1) reach people for Bible study (same people–and new people continually); (2) teach people the Bible (not the quarterly, but the Bible opened in front of their very eyes!); (3) witness to people about Christ, and lead people into church membership; (4) minister to people in need; (5) lead people to worship; and, (6) support/undergird the work of the church/denomination. This is the vehicle taking those 98.9% of all SBC churches into the future, or they probably won’t be reaching the end of the 21st century. Just my opinion.

    Thanks for the dialog, Jon and Rick. Keep up the works of faith and labors of love where you are!

  17. David Says:

    P.S. Evangelism done through the Sunday School requires continually high-quality Sunday School classes (Life Groups, cells, etc.)–else the folks reached evangelistically won’t be kept relationally (another reason to revive the Church Growth Spiral model among us–it focuses on quality, quantity, and ministry–and directly impacts other important areas of the church such as worship attendance and stewardship). I think the FAITH approach to evangelism via the Sunday School would be a better one if: (1) training for it didn’t take 16 weeks and lots of money to implement as designed; and, (2) SBC Sunday School classes already were healthy enough to retain the people enrolled in them.

    It seems to me that, when LifeWay/BSSB got “into FAITH” almost a decade ago, it sort of got “out of Sunday School”–but has returned big-time to promoting Sunday School and the ministry principles supporting it since after mid-year in 2005.

  18. graceshaker Says:

    im prolly dating myself here but theres an old pink floyd song from the wall called the show must go on. the key lyrics are below:

    there must be some mistake
    i didnt mean to let them
    take away my soul.
    am i too old is it too late?

    where has the feeling gone?

    the show must go on.

    many thanks to roger waters for rending my heart.

    let me explain. i have many roles as a pastor. one them is shepherding the youth of our community in bible study and spiritual disciplines. this past summer we went to three major events in conjunction with our local ministry efforts. they included a trip to dallas to go to six flags and attend a two day conference put on by the bgct and attended by thousands. it was quite a show. the worship was powerful. the concerts were loud and exciting. and the preachers were dynamic.

    our next trip was to onecamp in palacios tx where we met up with hundreds of other youth for a week of spiritual growth. palacios is right on matagorda bay and has beautiful sunrises despite the clammy humidity and near 100° temps. it was quite a week. the worship was powerful. the concerts were loud and exciting. and the preachers were dynamic.

    finally we drove up to midland/odessa for rock the desert where we joined with thousands of others in a two day concert event featuring some of the hottest loudest christian rock bands around. the worship was powerful. the bands were loud and exciting. and the preacher was dynamic.

    when we werent touring the state in search of a big christian event this summer we were here in alpine – a small west tx town without a walmart. and as pastor im responsible for their spiritual growth and well being. over the course of several bible studies and worship services ive noticed something.

    the youth are bored and uninterested.

    and im not even remotely surprised. im not sure exactly when these type of events became the thing but im guessing it roughly correlates with a drop in the quality of everyday spirituality among teens. we have placed our hopes for reaching teens in these big events but as a result we are raising yet another generation who will only be able to have a meaningful moment with god in a vast auditorium full of people loud music flashing lights and super-hyped preaching.

    and im guilty. im as much to blame as the people who put the shows together or their bosses who gave them the go ahead. its true that i inherited a youth program already in motion on these events but i did very little other than ride along.

    and for spring break we went on a ski trip.

    and it makes me want to shout – but not hallelujah thank you jesus. im repulsed by the lack of depth in the church today and im part of the problem bc instead of boldly speaking out about the vital necessity of everyday spiritual disciplines…instead of demonstrating how they can lead to shalom and what that looks like – i have become a cog in the machine churning out event-based entertainment-oriented christ followers.

    so maybe im not cut out for this.

    but maybe i am. and maybe its exactly why god brought me here. bc if theres one thing any of the teenagers in this town need its a real life – a life lived in a daily meaningful relationship with god.

    and maybe we dont need to pack the vans and haul em off to yet another over-hyped event where we come out on the other side all pumped up and set up for a let down. maybe we dont need to feed into the mentality that fosters this entertainment based culture we live in. maybe – just maybe – we should pull back from all the hype and take a look at psalm 46:10?

    be still and know that i am god.
    i will be exalted among the nations.
    i will be exalted in the earth.

    yep. maybe its time to question some things…

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