Three Reasons Why Big Events Are Ineffective in Most Churches

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Rainer seems to be making an implicit assumption, and here it is: An evangelistic event is a failure if it doesn't result in conversion and church membership.

That's not true. That's completely false. I believe this assumption is poisonous. When we do VBS, an outdoor church event on the town square, or have a booth where we'll preach the Gospel to children at our town's upcoming Christmas event, our goal is not to (1) convert people or (2) create new church members. That's God's job. I think we can safely leave that in His hands. No, our goal is simply to preach the Gospel. If we do that (which includes the command to repent and believe), then we have done our part. The event is a success, biblically speaking. 

I had a conversation with an elderly church member a few years ago, and this is how it went:

  • Him: "Pastor, our VBS was a failure!"
  • Me: "Why?"
  • Him: "We didn't have any child make a profession of faith!"
  • Me: "That's not our job. They each heard the Gospel clearly and accurately every day, and they had fun. That makes it a success."
  • Him: "Well, I guess you could call it a success if you use those standards . . ."

Folks, we are making a terrible mistake if we equate conversion and church membership with success. That is wrong. That is man-centered. Our job is to preach the Gospel - period. God will convict. God will draw. God will convert. He uses the preached Word to do it. We need to think carefully about our role in evangelism, and God's.

This was a disappointing article. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

As one who has also pointed at a lack of persistent numbers from VBS--specifically the case of churches reporting gaudy numbers of "conversions" but with no members or consistent attenders between the ages of 18 and 30 or so--one thing missing here is that big events often draw attention to the event and the HYPE instead of....the people.  

Now Tyler's point about God giving the increase is well taken, but a parallel point to be made is that disciples do not appear to be made, Biblically speaking, through big events, but through relationships.  A missionary my church supports noted that he'd given away about a quarter million tracts with little results....but relationships (and donuts) have borne great fruit.  

BIblically speaking, consider the results of the one on one interaction with the woman at the well versus the results of the feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000.  We don't know how things worked out long term, but in terms of people appearing to come to faith in Christ, I'm thinking John 3 leads by a wide margin--as do the sending out of the 12 and the 70.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bert:

I think you're right about relationships. There's a young lady who works at the restaurant in our little town. I know (because this is a small town) that she has drug problems, two young boys, and is trying to stay sober. I'm intentionally trying to get to know her when I'm in the restaurant so that when I preach the Gospel to her, or give her literature, or ask her if our church can do anything to help her, it means something to her. She is my current target for evangelism, so to speak. That is why Christians should intentionally build relationships with unbelievers - it's the goal.

When it comes to big "events," I only look at them as vehicles to preach the Gospel to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be in a position to hear it. If people heard he Gospel, it is a success. If a large number of people heard the Gospel, it is even more of a success.

I suppose I would say that a church should never plan and execute a "big event" with the goal of winning converts, because that may never happen. You'll discourage your workers, and discourage yourself. You'll think you failed. And you did fail, because your goal was un-Biblical. Your goal should simply be to preach the Gospel. The apostles preached the Gospel without any "positive result" many times over. I'm preaching through the Book of Acts right now, and you can't escape that fact. The goal is to preach the Gospel. The more people who come to your event, the merrier.

Hopefully, they came because you billed it as a preaching event, and didn't try a bait and switch on them once they showed up! We're preaching the Gospel to little kids at our town's Christmas event this year. I was at a planning meeting for it last night. One of the village trustees asked me if I planned to dress our folks up in Mary and Joseph costumes. I told them, "No." I told them that this event was a vehicle for us to read the Bible's account of Jesus' birth, preach the Gospel to them, and send them away with literature for them and their parents to read later. We're not there to entertain. That, however, is probably a topic for another post . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Our job is to preach the Gospel

I thought it was to make disciples. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

If a church puts on a VBS, and no disciples are made, was it a failure because the church didn't "integrate" them into the church?

I think you understand what I'm saying. We aren't responsible for the results of preaching. Our job is to preach, the Lord will call and convict as He wills, and if a disciple is made they can be "integrated" into the local church. We have absolutely no control over whether a disciple is made. The Lord uses the preached Word to call, draw and convict sinners. Preaching and proclaiming the Word is our job. Regeneration is His.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Phil Siefkes's picture

But disciples were made if the Gospel was proclaimed. However, not all disciples are believers, but all believers are disciples. Remember John 6:66. The term "disciple" is general, covering the spectrum from simply initially hearing the Gospel to being a genuine believer. Context is king. Making disciples includes proclaiming the Gospel to unbelievers as well as teaching the Word to those who have been regenerated by God.

I agree we have too often had the wrong view of success.

 

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

JohnBrian's picture

In a recent newsletter from a missionary friend, he wrote that his young protege, after visiting the Billy Graham Library, committed himself to "preaching for decisions."

That is so unbiblical, as others in this thread have noted, and leads to manipulative preaching.

Years ago my father told a visiting evangelist that he had misrepresented a particular text in his sermon. The evangelist agreed but stated that "it made for good preaching."

Our job is to preach the word and let the Holy Spirit do His work in the hearts of people.

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Wayne Wilson's picture

We have never viewed VBS as a way to make disciples...not at the event. It isn't even primarily to have the children make decisions, though that has happened.  The goal is to initiate relationships with the community, to let people see that church folks aren't scary, that it's a good, safe place for their kids to be. Events are a good way to help people who don't know the Lord feel more comfortable about the church. When they get the invitation, or sense their need for something more, they don't go anywhere, they come here to find out about Jesus.  "Oh, I've been over there. It's alright."  

That does happen, and it is the beginning of making disciples. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, well said. That's the primary reason why we started a big "Church on the Square" event this past Summer, and will continue it every year. It builds relationships and takes us outside the walls of the building. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

If a church puts on a VBS, and no disciples are made, was it a failure because the church didn't "integrate" them into the church?

It depends on what it was intended to do. Church events of all types need to be clearly defined as to what they are intended to do. Then we can adjust expectations and measure results, which is actually a good thing, not a bad one. And discipleship can be a pretty broad category. 

The main concern I have is the abandonment of the Great Commission and the biblical office of pastor as one who is not simply to preach, but to make disciples. Jesus could have said, "Go preach," but he didn't say only that. The preaching had a bigger goal--the making of disciples. If pastors think their only responsibility is to preach, I think we have a problem. Which leads me to say ... 

I don't wish to talk past anyone here, and perhaps few will disagree with me, but I wonder if we are drawing a false dichotomy. I am not convinced that the Bible has a category for being unconcerned about or not responsible for the results of preaching. I am not sure why that is being juxtaposed against faithfulness or the work of God. The point of clear preaching and being ready to reprove, rebuke, exhort, etc. implies that there is a measure of responsibility we have for our preaching to address the people in front of us with the goal of reproving, rebuking, exhorting, teaching, etc. If our preaching is not doing these things, then we are not fulfilling the biblical mandate for preaching. It may be that God has called some to an Isaianic type of ministry (Go and preach so that I can harden their hearts), but that seems the exception rather than the rule.

How can one say we have absolutely no control over whether a disciple is made? If we don't meet with people, are disciples going to be made? If we preach in a way that people don't understand, will disciples be made? If we give exegetical lessons rather than preaching, will disciples be made? And who is responsible for these things? Is it not us? Do we not have control over the people we meet with, the things that we say, the application of Scripture to their lives, and the pleading (both with them and with God) for their souls? Can we say, "That's just God's job"? I don't recall anyone in Scripture who said that.

We rightly say that the Lord uses the preached Word ... but the word must be preached ... and that we have control over. If our preaching is not making disciples, perhaps we should give consideration to our preaching--either what we are preaching or how we are preaching. Paul begged people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. He prayed for it and asked others to pray for it. He was concerned when that didn't happen. He talked of the pressure of the daily concern for the churches, a phrase that makes it seem like he felt some measure of responsibility for them. Why be concerned about something he had no responsibility for? 

Of course regeneration is God's work, but he doesn't do without us. He does it through us and through the preached word in its various forms of delivery. 

My only caution would be against an approach to ministry that says as long as we preach, nothing else matters. 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Reason #3: The church does not have an outwardly-focused DNA.

This reason is the single most significant reason for ineffective events, and it is the issue where few church leaders have awareness. If a church is truly only focused outwardly for one or two events a year, the event could do more harm than good. The Great Commission cannot be limited to special holidays. The event should be only a part of an overall heart and strategy to reach people with the gospel. This issue is much like churches expecting the stand-and-greet time during the worship services to make them a friendly church. Genuine friendliness is not limited to a planned moment. And genuine outreach cannot be limited to one or a few days a year. Do not plan to use the big event in your church for reaching people unless that is your church’s consistent behavior.

 

Bert Perry's picture

This phrase--thanks Tyler--illustrates perfectly to me why I've always hated handing out tracts.  It's just so impersonal.

Now, chatting up the young man who's not decided to join the youth group, asking him how his college plans are coming?  Absolutely!  Hosting kids for a knitting party to create a blanket for the baby of a youth group leader?  You bet!  (can you tell I've got teens in my home?)  Lunches with friends, spending time with people to share Christ with them?  Amen.

Tracts?   Somehow I think it sends the wrong message--you are tempted to think your work is done when in reality you've hardly (if at all ) started.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I was able to speak to the single mom-waitress in the town restaurant (mentioned above - here) yesterday. She told me she knows she's ruining her life with her choices, she has some Christian background that is pulling at her conscience, but she said she's terrified to actually go into a church building. I shared the Gospel with her, and she said she wanted to come over to our house and have a Bible study with my wife and I next week. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

M. Osborne's picture

TylerR wrote:

She said she wanted to come over to our house and have a Bible study with my wife and I next week.

Praise God, Tyler! What encouraging news to start a morning. I will pray for you and your wife.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Bert Perry's picture

...I was actually just thinking that churches who have retired missionaries & pastors in their membership might do no better than to have a fund to make sure that they get out to the local cafe from time to time.  (think your church might help pay for your horseshoes with such a ministry, Tyler? )  :^)

I gotta admit I'm also surprised that I just learned what a "horseshoe" is, as my mom grew up 2 hrs. from Divernon near Macomb.  One would have thought the names would carry over, but I guess not.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I use a horseshoe as an illustration to explain effectual calling. No joke. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?