If we are to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are going to need to do it in a range of ways. At Oldham Bethel Church, we have three broad categories of stuff that we do to reach people outside of the church.
For every person you meet who wouldn’t touch Christianity with a barge pole unless they’ve been friends with a believer for years, I can show you someone who would rather chat through stuff in the relative comfort of obscurity with a stranger. We have to accept that there are different strokes for different folks. What is more, if we throw all of our eggs into the friendship basket, how are we ever going to meet and connect with the overwhelming majority of people who we don’t know and have no other means of Christian contact. For that reason, some cold contact evangelism is vital.
We have three main approaches to our cold contact work: open airs; leafleting; door to door.
With our open airs, we go into the town centre, with a board, some visual aids and some gospel literature and we speak to folks who are there. We will share gospel talks, we will interview our members about their faith, we will float and respond to questions from those listening and we’ll chat quietly to individuals about what they’ve been hearing.
With our leafleting, we take an A-board advertising the church and a stack of leaflets into the town centre and simply seek to raise awareness of the various things on at the church. If people stop to chat, we have a chat. If we can turn the conversation to gospel things, then we talk about that. If not, we simply tell them who we are, what’s on and that they’re very welcome.
Our door-to-door is necessarily more sporadic as we don’t want to keep returning to the same people, in their homes, uninvited. But we will periodically go round to doors and simply invite folks to things that are on that may be of interest to them. If we get to chat about Christ at the door, that’s great. If we don’t, we simply invite people to the things that may be of interest to them.
But all these means are way of reaching people we don’t yet know, and have no contact with, who are yet to come to the church.
The warm contact stuff we do are meetings and other things where we tend to see the same people every time. We might not see these people outside of these meetings, but when we do see them, we can build upon the things that we have discussed the previous time. We can assume a higher level of willingness to engage and can know that some background has been covered simply from previous meetings.
We have three key warm contact things: English Classes; Dialogue Evenings; various courses.
Our English Classes are clearly meeting a specific need and reaching those who have English as a Second Official Language (ESOL). Whilst much of the time is spent teaching the basics of the English language, we typically root reading tasks in the Bible stories and build conversation practice around things that we have read. We also have a time in the classes where short gospel talks can be delivered as everybody groups together and a time of tea and coffee built in where these things can be discussed further. The folks we see come back week on week, so we have ongoing gospel input rather than one-off cold contact.
Similarly Dialogue Evenings are a way of engaging our Muslim neighbours. We rotate the venue between our church building and a local Islamic centre so that no group has it on their territory at all times. We have a local imam who will share on a Muslim view of a given topic while we will present the gospel by means of that same topic. We have time for Q&A after each session. Following this, we eat a meal together and carry on talking about what we have heard around tables. Again, we see the same people week on week and can build on what we have heard at previous sessions. The opportunities to talk around tables helps us to move beyond just talking and towards real friendship.
We have also run various courses. Sometimes we have put on Christianity Explored, other times the Identity course and sometimes something else altogether. Often we have set these up for our Farsi-speakers whom we know don’t yet trust the Lord. But we have used these with others too. As with the above, we see the same people week on week at these courses and are able to build upon things that we have heard before in them.
These activities are less direct and overt. Some of the things we do here may not involve any sort of gospel talk, presentation or discussion. These things are simply means of getting to know people and becoming friends. We hope, during the course of that, we will have opportunities to share the gospel but it is not the principal goal of these things.
The main thing on this front is our community football.
There is nothing overtly spiritual about what we are doing here. It is simply a way of meeting local people and getting to know them. We hope it will provide us with opportunities apart from the games to share our faith with people and feed them into other things going on.
Now all of these things have a legitimate place. In fact, we very often find that people come to one thing and then, from that one, jump into others.
For example, some folks coming along to our Dialogue Evenings – where the gospel is shared clearly and overtly – started to later come along to the football. At the football, we were able to get alongside and chat with them in a totally different setting, in an entirely different way. Likewise, we’ve had people go from football into English Classes. Because of the friendships they’ve built up they have jumped into other things in which the gospel is more clearly presented. We very often see people come from our warm contact things to some of the one-off events we run – like our annual Light Party or our Carol Service – that they would never have considered were it not for their involvement in these other things. Similarly, we’ve seen people meet us at some of our cold contact stuff and come to an event or down to the church for something else.
This makes sense when we think of people. Some folks will prefer different approaches and recoil at others. But more than that, whilst somebody may initially engage in an open air, that may not take them all the way to faith in Christ there and then. But their curiosity and interest may move them to explore Christianity in another setting with us. People are often far more complex than simply responding to a friend or hearing a challenge in a town centre and immediately converting. We need to spread our net wide, engage in as many godly means as possible, so that we might have a chance of being as effective as we can be for the good of the kingdom.