This past Saturday, our church did a public evangelism event at our local library. The West Coast is deservedly considered one of the more leftist areas in the United States. The Governor of Washington State recently ended an unsuccessful presidential run in which his platform consisted of climate change alarmism. Paper straws are mandated in Seattle. The homelessness crisis in urban centers along the I-5 corridor grows ever worse. Marijuana is legal. The sexual revolution is in full swing.
Olympia, WA (the state capitol) is one of the more secular areas in a very secular region. It’s a small city; not much more than 50,000 people. Together with Lacey and Tumwater, it forms a modest metro area.
My experience is that, in the Midwest, your church can grow (albeit slowly) if you (1) preach faithfully, (2) do a children’s event like VBS in the Summer, and (3) maybe a few other odds and ends. I also found that many people think they’re Christians already because they’re Americans.
Olympia is different. Really different.
I never saw urban ministry modeled in a healthy way. I come from the KJVO-flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, where “run and gun evangelism” was the order of the day. I’ve had to fiddle around and figure some things out for myself. I don’t have much figured out, but one thing I have figured is that churches need to be winsomely aggressive with evangelism in this culture.
So, that’s where the library event comes in. A few years ago, I saw a flyer in the library for some kind of “intro to Buddhist chanting” class. I thought to myself, “why don’t Christians do this kind of thing in the public square!?” I looked up the public meeting room policy, and anyone can reserve and use the rooms free of charge. You just can’t sell anything. Fair enough.
But, I’ve been busy. It hasn’t been the right time. Blah, blah. We brought on board second elder, and he’s been here for about seven months. The time had come.
So, we did it.
The format we used was pretty simple:
- A 25-minute overview of the Christian faith and message.
- A one-hour live question and answer from the audience.
We advertised heavily on FaceBook, and gave invite cards for church folks to pass out to friends and family. Newspaper advertising is dead, and it’s too expensive. With FaceBook marketing, you can tailor your ads to the gender, age, area and interest of your target demographic. It’s outstanding. For our next event, we plan to continue FaceBook ads but fool around with Pandora and Spotify ads, and perhaps YouTube, too.
We titled the event, “What is Christianity Really About?” We wanted people with real questions to come hear the Gospel outside a church building, in a neutral place. We also wanted to give people a chance to ask questions.
We tried to partner with the Bible Presbyterians across the street. The pastor there, who is also the President of the local Bible Presbyterian seminary, is a cautious guy. A good guy. He hedged his bets and attended the event, but declined to be part of the Q&A panel or have his church promote it. I think he wanted to see if we were theological wimps. If we were the William L. Craig, Mike Licona “mere Christianity” type, then he wouldn’t be interested in partnering. I think he was happy with what he saw, and we hope to partner with them at our next event in April or May.
So, what did we do?
For the “overview” section, I wanted to do more than a “1-2-3, pray after me!” presentation. I wanted to present the broad sweep of the Christian story, and attack the secular worldview I assume most of the audience had. My talk had six parts:
- Misunderstandings. I quickly rattled off some common misconceptions about Christianity, and explained that the Christian message is really about reconciliation. We’re not good people. We’re bad people who need to be rescued. I also explained we’re doing this public event outside the church building because this message is so important.
- Worldviews and scripts. I briefly explained what a worldview is, and suggested we’re all handed “scripts” about how to think and live our lives. We edit these scripts throughout our lives.
- Big questions of life. I suggested that not all “scripts” are true; some of them are wrong. I challenged the audience to consider whether their “scripts” for their lives made sense. I asked them to think about how they answered the so-called “big questions” of life.
- The Christian script. I presented the Gospel with the framework of “creation + fall + promise + redemption + restoration.” I explained how the Christian faith answered each of these “big questions” with this framework. I was able to explain the Gospel fully and completely.
- What’s your script? I then suggested that a secular, materialist script could not answer the “big questions” of life. I presented the implications of this worldview, and challenged people to consider whether they actually lived in light of these depressing implications. I worked in the teleological and moral arguments for the existence of God along the way.
- Evangelistic invitation. I then urged the audience to believe the Christian message, because it made sense of who they are and of our world. It answers questions their worldview cannot. I referenced Augustine’s City of God, and his contention that moral degeneracy destroyed the Roman Empire, and his plea for the Romans to choose Christ. I asked people there to do the same.
The overview went to 28 minutes. I was hoping for something like 20-25 minutes; preferably closer to 20. Next time, I’ll cut out some unnecessary material at the beginning and the end. But, all told, it was good enough. I’d give the presentation a B+ for content.
The live Q&A was outstanding. Our church has two pastors. We took turns fielding questions, and helping one another out. I haven’t had so much fun for a very long time. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get any questions about homosexuality or transgenderism. I suspect people were too polite to ask. Among these present, a few interactions stand out:
- A young Jewish woman and her friend were there. She asked about the problem of evil in Genesis, along with some other questions. I was able to discuss compatibilism, and only used examples from the Tanakh that highlight this dilemma. I suggested she read Isaiah 53 and ponder whether Jesus is the promised Messiah. I also encouraged her to get Michael Brown’s five-volume set Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, even if she only wants to figure out how to argue with Christians!
- One man asked about the Old Covenant law and its relationship to the New Covenant. The other pastor handled that one, and I followed up by directing him to the appropriate section in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
- Another man, who appeared to be from the Middle East, asked what core beliefs a person must have in order to be a Christian. He also seemed to believe Christianity was a performance-based religion (i.e. you become a Christian by performing certain rituals), and I did my best to correct that. I directed him to read Romans and James.
- Another man asked if he had to believe in the Trinity in order to be a Christian.
- One lady, clearly a Christian, asked about how to deal with bitterness in her life in light of what Christ has done.
I’m not aware of another church doing something this aggressive in our area. There might be one; I just don’t know about it. Many churches seem to do evangelism by doing service projects. They want to let people know they’re nice. That’s good. I’m convicted that we ought to do more. Everyone else is pushing their narrative in the public square – even the Buddhists! The Christians ought to do the same. This event is one small way to do that.
All told, it was a great time. We should have advertised more. We packed the place with church folks so it didn’t look quite so dead. We had seven visitors, but they didn’t realize they were the only ones! We’ll do a few things differently next time. But, it was a great success. As we partner with other churches and pool resources, we’ll attract more people for our next event. I can’t wait!
Your church can do something like this. We aren’t a large church. By that, I mean we’re well under 100 in attendance on Sunday morning. We didn’t do PowerPoints. We just showed up and talked. We had tracts and other literature available. This was a minimalist event. It’s easy to do.
The audio for our event is below. The overview presentation goes to 28:00; the rest is the Q&A. My voice is the one you hear at the beginning; the other pastor doesn’t chime in until he opens the Q&A session after 28:00.
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He’s also an Investigations Program Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?