By PJ Booth
A few years ago, we knew that we wanted to do a big outreach. We noticed that our peak month for church attendance was always around March/April time. So we decided to plan something special for the week before Easter. Then we could invite people back the following week for Easter Day.
Two books really made an impact on our thinking: The Irresistible Church by Wayne Cordeiro and Prayer Evangelism by Ed Silvoso.
We started in September with a whole series of teaching on the purpose of the local church. What is so important about church? The local church is the hope of the nation! There is no plan B; the church is God’s plan A for reaching the world with the good news about Jesus Christ.
We had to make a big decision: Sunday church is no longer for the believer. Sunday church is for the visitors. We wanted to make sure that people could trust us with their friends and neighbours. Our people needed to love church and to feel confident to invite people! Everything we did was geared towards that. (We have mid-week meetings that are geared around the needs of our own people for study, prayer and worship).
On Sundays, we keep preaching to a maximum of 35 minutes, and the message has to be relevant to what people do on Monday morning. I always bring in the Gospel message. We welcome everyone and explain what we are going to do so there are no surprises.
It even comes down to the language we use. If we start talking about the “blood of Jesus,” that can sound weird. We need to explain what we mean and use language that people can understand.
We began to recognise that we are all in this together. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” But Jesus does not turn on the lights or paint the walls - that is our job. Jesus holds everything together. He is our anchor and foundation, but He won’t put out the seats. We are all part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and, like a jigsaw puzzle, you can’t miss a single piece. So it is vital for everyone to play their part and use the gifts God has given them.
We have 60 people who serve on a Sunday making sure that our visitors feel welcome. If the guy in the car park is nasty or you don’t get a welcome on the door or if the toilets are dirty, a newcomer will not be impressed with the message we are trying to share!
Praying for our neighbours
Then after Christmas, we started to pray for our neighbours. From January all the way until the end of March, we prayed for people. We did prayer walks and arranged nights of prayer. Seven days a week, people were praying for their neighbours. And when you start praying for your neighbour, you really begin to care about them.
The concept was “Pray, Invite, Bring” - don’t just invite someone, but offer to bring them. Pick them up. Arrange to have lunch afterwards.
We told people, “Don’t invite 50; just invite one. Don’t try to be an evangelist; just love people and simply invite them to come church with you.” That took the pressure right off. If you spend three months praying for one person, it becomes easier.
At the time, we had 300 people in our congregation, but when Palm Sunday arrived, 700 people came and around 70 responded to the Gospel message! So often we become discouraged and stop expecting things to change. After that, our people were encouraged and grew in expectation of what God could do.
Many of those visitors came back the following week. Now, we have visitors every single Sunday. And every week, we see people choosing to follow Jesus. That is a shift.
This cost us nothing! Our own people are excited about it. Our church grew in faith, encouragement, and enthusiasm as much as in numbers. And I believe this approach will work whether you have a church of 10 or 500!
PJ Booth is Senior Pastor of Open Arms Church in Newbridge, Co. Kildare, and former National Leader of Assemblies of God Ireland. Open Arms was launched in 2000 with 30 people and since then has grown to be a congregation of over 500 people.