Over the past month I have had the privilege of working with 3 Baptist Churches to help them connect with people in their communities. The people they had in mind are the vast majority who wouldn’t consider attending their services or taking the initiative to engage with the Christian faith on their own accord.
The Baptist churches have been very different but all three have wanted to be creative and relate to people in a way that wouldn’t be too heavy and ‘preachy’ but rather spark off conversations and interest in the Christian faith and encourage people to investigate further.
What has struck me about the 3 different opportunities I have had to serve is a willingness to ‘go and tell’ rather than being stuck in a ‘come and hear’ mode of sharing good news.
Going with some new ‘vehicles’
In Whitchurch near Cardiff I worked with Bethel Baptist Church on a training day that had a number of practical elements to it of going out and meeting people using a number of different ‘vehicles’ for the message of good news.
Some of the ideas petrified those taking part in the day, but some creative ideas gave them all the permission and confidence needed to engage with those around… there was a range of activities to chose from that helped show and tell the christian message, the listening project was such an easy one for people to do.
I was surprised when a retired couple asked if they could do some ‘free hugs’ with a difference… they wanted to bring their dogs with them too! they reasoned that people could stroke the dogs if they wanted to, as well as have a hug! What a genius idea, one that I must admit I didn’t think would work but rather it attracted lots of people, some asked questions about what they were doing and why they would be willing to stand on a street with 2 dogs offering free hugs! Bizarre I know, but people asked questions non-the-less.
Some teams went and offered prayers of blessing over people based on an old Celtic prayer where people could choose what they wanted to ‘keep in’ and what they wanted to ‘keep out.’ A brave thing to do, yet people appreciated the gesture and responded to the prayer in different ways, some with tears and others just with a simple thank you!
Going to create ‘Thin Places.’
Thin places refers to the distance between heaven and earth. Creating an atmosphere where people can engage and encounter something of God’s love and presence means good news freely flows in tangible ways rather than propositions and arguments.
Chipping Campden Baptist Church served their community by offering a ‘chill out’ zone in their church at the local annual Dovers Games, as well as engaging with the thousands of people at the Games through offering gifts as well as ‘Prayers of blessing,’ lollipops and also prayer for healing!
Much to my surprise people stopped and asked for prayer in the midst of the burger stalls and games. The team were able to pray for people, some of whom experienced something of the presence of God among the noise and crowds and some shared that they felt ‘healing’ too.
It seemed that the willingness to pray for those who needed healing as well as being lavish in offering gifts and fun engagement by taking part in the historic Dover’s games created good ingredients for a ‘thin place’ as well as favor in the community.
When I arrived at the event I started setting up our small stall and banner. I was dressed like a clown, wig and all and out of the blue a burly security guard asked me to leave immediately! As soon as I explained I wasn’t some illegal tradesman stroke clown, but that I was with Chipping Campden Church, the apologies flowed! The church over the years has successfully worked in partnership with the organisers of the games and this was seen in the permission granted to set up our stall wherever we wanted to.
After the games had finished around 10pm the Church opened it’s doors to a ‘chillout’ zone, one like I have never seen! It was lavish in it’s decor and offered free toast and hot drinks. Hundreds of people used it, seriously, hundreds! (I’m not stretching the truth here…)
The zone spoke to me about the strength of being the church willing to ‘go and be light’ in the community as well as creatively invite people to ‘come’ and use the church building. For most guests the first impression wasn’t ‘this is church’… but they loved the atmosphere.
Similarly, Bethel Church also engaged with people in fun ways, but also had a spiritual dimension to what they offered. They created a fun day with a mix of food, bouncy castles and games as well as prayer and an opportunity for people to ‘hear from God’ through something they called ‘stepping stones.’
Going and telling good news with the added dynamic believing that God speaks to people in a fresh way has also been an exciting part of seeing ‘thin places’ created.
Each Church I have worked with have also been willing to engage in ‘Treasure hunting.’ This phrase sounds so much friendlier than writing ‘prophetic evangelism,’ two words side by side that terrify most Christians! The problem is both words are loaded with misunderstandings and carry a plethora of examples of manipulation and ‘God language gobbledygook.’
Yet, the simplicity of treasure hunting is asking God: Who is it that we’re going to meet and what does that person need?
It would be impossible to write the story of all the people whom we have met, but it’s safe to say that out of the 3 churches 25 people ‘had a go’ and out of the 25 we have met and prayed for at least 30 people; many of whom were stunned that God would lead us to them! For me the most amazing was knocking on the door of a care home where I asked the lady who answered whether she needed prayer for anything… 15 minutes later she is still pouring out her heart as to why she needs prayer. She was reassured that God knows her and loves her, so much so that he would guide 3 nervous Christians to the door of her work and support her in a difficult time.
Going to do something new…
I was invited to speak at Cottingham Rd Baptist Church’s 85th anniversary. Instead I suggested we should hold a party where we could invite the community to attend and experience something of church. This was the first time in 85 years that the church cancelled it’s Sunday morning service to hold a party with a free BBQ and activities for the children.
Click this link to see a Video from the community party put on by the local church.
It was an honor for me to do a ‘family magic show’ and explain why the church was celebrating it’s 85th birthday in such a way, rather than holding a service and meal for it’s own members. People heard good news , but also saw it through what was being offered.
Each Baptist church has a unique opportunity to hold a party for the community on a Sunday… what an impact that would make in our communities up and down the country!
If all our mission initiatives are geared up for people to ‘come and hear’ we will be disappointed. We need to be willing to ‘go and tell’ like the first friends of Jesus who were commanded by Him to do just that. Jesus declared over them then and over you and me now: “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Questions to consider:
- How do you celebrate your church anniversary? How about planning a party where people can encounter church and hear your story?
- What do you feel about the idea of Treasure Hunting? Is it something you would be willing to ‘have a go at?’
- In what ways do you create ‘thin places?’
- What vehicle’s could you use to demonstrate a particular part of the Christian story?