Churches that desire to use an outreach event aimed at reaching their community for Christ often struggle with strategies that are effective.
Over the years I’ve seen churches (including mine) use big events that require a lot of time, money, and volunteers, only to find that they were relatively unsuccessful at connecting unchurched people into their congregation.
Of course, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to using events to reach people. However, we can uncover some guiding principles of what not to do and what to do.
First, what not to do:
1. Don’t be pushy.
On my honeymoon a guy at the hotel offered us a “free cruise.” All we had to do was “listen to a brief presentation about their vacation timeshare.” We thought, “Why not? We have no money for a timeshare so this will be easy.” What we didn’t know was that the “cruise” was a boat ride to a private location with no way to get back except their boat. Finally, after several hours of very painful, high-pressure sales pitches, we were allowed to leave. I remember thinking, “I will NEVER do that again!”
I wonder how many “guests” feel that way after attending a church’s “free” event? Trapped and pressured.
Outreach events should leave people thinking, “I’d like to know more,” rather than, “Man, where’s the door!?”
2. Don’t get creepy.
One time a friend invited me to his church’s Halloween outreach program. He told me it was one of their best evangelistic outreaches with hundreds of decisions. We decided to go check it out.
It didn’t take long before I realized it was going to get weird. The “program” consisted of being taken into different rooms where volunteers acted out the story of a young rebellious girl. The first room showed her getting into an argument with her parents. The next room showed a mangled car with a shattered windshield. Next, they crowded us into a room with low lights and a casket. There they talked about how this girl had thrown her life away and would never get another chance to be saved.
From there they moved us down an intensely hot, dark hall a red light suddenly flashed on and the girl was standing behind bars of a side room decorated to be Hell. Several people were tied in chains to the walls behind her. Blood dripping down her face, she screamed over and over, “I’m in Hell! Help me!” Reaching her arms through the bars towards us she cried, “If only I had listened when I had the chance. Now it’s too late.”
Finally, they ushered us into the sanctuary, where they “presented the Gospel” and begged us not to get back into our cars until we had made certain we were saved. In fact they asked every person in the room, “Are you a Christian? Do you know for sure? Do you?”
I thought to myself, “Thank God I was a Christian before I came here because I’m not sure I would have ever considered Christ afterwards.”
I asked him afterward how many people had been added into his church as a result of the outreach and he responded, “A few.”
Remember, our goal is to make disciples, not decisions.
3. Don’t be tricky.
Whether it’s bait-and-switch tactics, high-pressure “seal-the-deal” evangelism, or scare-them-into-Christianity strategies, these approaches don’t effectively reach the unchurched. That’s why your church should consider a bridge event instead of just an outreach event.
What’s the difference between an evangelistic event and a bridge event?
Bridge events are pre-evangelism outreaches designed to build a relational bridge into the lives of the lost.
What Are the Elements of a Great Bridge Event?
1. It’s Free.
A great bridge event must demonstrate that the church exists to be a blessing to their community. Many spiritually lost people think of the church as a private service organization that exists purely for the benefit of its members.
A great bridge event needs to show that we exist for the purpose of our non-members. Going all out with no cost to the community says, “We’re here for YOU!”
2. It’s Fun.
Get in the mind of the unchurched and think about an event that they would enjoy. We’ve done this in a variety of ways including a free concert that played rock-and-roll hits from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
However, by far, our most successful bridge event has been our Santa’s Wonderland. You can read more about this event here.
A great bridge event should be a “no strings attached” environment where the people in your church can form relationships with the people in the community. Nothing does this better than good, old-fashioned fun.
3. It’s Focused.
Resist the bait and switch.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, Bible Belt evangelical, but I realize that you have to earn people’s trust before you can share the truth. There are no shortcuts to building a relational bridge. Spiritually lost people today are more skeptical than ever. Their guard is up and their hearts are closed.
A great bridge event that sincerely communicates care does wonders to lower people’s guard and open their hearts.
So, what great bridge event could your church do?