Although not commonly used in postmodern environments today, public evangelistic meetings have been used to launch many new church plants. The approaches have been varied –
1. A short series of meetings: Some planters have called in a guest evangelist to conduct a short series of gospel meetings – a weekend, or even a few weeks, of meetings. In some cases the planter will be the presenter. Advertising (brochures, newspapers, television, the internet, etc) informs the public of the meetings. Sometimes preparatory programs are used to widen the circle of contacts in a community – health events, children’s programs, door-to-door surveys, Alpha type initiatives, etc. Contacts and friends are invited. There may be (typically) anything from 3 to 21 meetings in this type of series – and the meetings are designed to introduce the Bible, explore biblical teachings and bring people to involvement in the newly forming church.
2. An extended series of public meetings: This model will usually involve an integrated one to two year program, and may include –
v Preparatory programs: a network of small house groups, children’s and teen programs, a variety of Bible seminars or classes, door-to-door community surveys, etc.
v Needs-oriented initiatives: relating to the specific community. These may include feeding programs, support networks, etc. In some cases these initiatives will be established as long-term ministries in the community. However, in many cases (unfortunately) they are short term (perhaps 3-6 month) initiatives that provide contacts to be invited to the public evangelistic meetings.
In this situation the evangelistic meetings and Bible seminars are often conducted once or twice a week over an extended period – for perhaps 8-9 months. Part way through this series a weekly public worship service is introduced – and the new church plant is launched. (Sometimes in the second year the whole process is repeated for the newly converted people now wish to invite their friends and family to share their journey of finding God.)
3. Advertised worship services to launch a plant: A core team of believers use door-to-door and phone surveys to build up a contact list. Extensive advertising is then used to bring together an initial group of potential members for the new church plant. This public meeting is used to introduce the plan to establish a new church, to model the style of worship – and to share their purpose, vision and values. This advertised meeting launches the weekly worship services of the new plant with children’s programs, Bible classes and various programs.
4. Seeker services: In effect, ‘seeker services’ are weekly public evangelistic meetings. To be effective, the church plants that use ‘seeker services’ have established a clear strategic path (the projected journey of an unchurched person to being a fully committed disciple) – with initiatives to form authentic friendships in the community, to invite friends into a network of small groups, and to introduce these friends to Jesus Christ. The ‘seeker services’ are like weekly, ongoing public evangelistic meetings – giving opportunity to believers to bring their friends to a worship service that they can understand and that introduces them to faith. A weekly (or in some cases monthly) believers service is conducted, giving opportunity to believers for deeper Bible study. In some cases this is conducted midweek – with the ‘seekers service’ being held on Saturdays or Sundays.
Opportunities & Challenges
There is no suggestion that preaching was a feature of a weekly worship service for believers in New Testament times. However, the gospel was proclaimed in public places – for unbelievers. While the methods must change and adapt, public evangelism provides opportunities (and challenges) for church planting teams –
1. A different cross-section of people: Advertising a series of relevant presentations will bring a totally new circle of interest – different to those made through friendship networks and needs-oriented evangelism.
2. Inspiration and encouragement for believers: If the evangelist shares credible gospel centered messages and communicates in a relevant style, the church planting core team will be spiritually rejuvenated and inspired.
3. Equipping opportunities for the core team: Any public evangelist effective in a postmodern environment will also bring equipping skills to the core team. This provides an opportunity for the local core team to be trained in building friendship, sharing faith and bring friends to Christ.
However, there are also some challenges –
4. There can be a tendency to abbreviate the message: When the public evangelist is a visiting speaker, time constraints may result in the abbreviation of the biblical message or an imbalance between head-knowledge and heart-experience.
5. The transition from dependence upon the evangelist to a local church community is difficult: New believers from a public evangelistic series do not always have a network of friends among believers. Involvement and integration provide challenges – especially when the new church plant has already started. It is easier if the new believers actually form the new core team.
6. There is the temptation to compete with other Christian churches for members: Mark Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: 1994) traces the origins of those public evangelistic methods that are used to build up churches in competition with others. Today the ‘pool’ of believers has reduced, and the primary task of a church plant is to reach new people with the gospel – not to reshuffle the pews!
Application & Ideas
In some societies we have built a church or community building in an un-entered area or city and conducted the public evangelistic meetings in this new venue. The evangelistic meetings continue indefinitely as the newly established church.
This method has been used to launch second or third worship services. When replanting the Burwood church (Melbourne, Australia) we launched the third worship service by conducting evangelistic meetings in a nearby Deakin University lecture theatre at 4.00 pm on Saturday afternoons (the planned time for the new service). After some weeks the meetings transitioned into the church facilities – launching a new worship group of approximately 50 people.
In some places we have used cafés and restaurants, reception centers and performing arts theatres. A basic principle today is ‘we’ll come to you’ – taking the gospel into environments where the people are relaxed and willing to listen. As in New Testament times, public preaching can be adapted to today’s audiences to lead people to Jesus Christ. The venues and styles of preaching with differ. The themes by which the gospel is introduced vary. Church planters will look for every opportunity.