One of the key focuses of New Wine Ireland is "outreach". In one seminar during Sligo 15, leaders from two different churches shared examples of how they are reaching out with the Gospel. VOX Editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of what they had to say.
George Newell heads up evangelism at Willowfield Parish Church in East Belfast. He shared stories and examples from the year of mission in their community.
We decided that we would do a door to door visitation of our parish. There are 7,000 homes in our area. I’m not really into door to door. I felt God was telling us to do this and I thought, “Oh dear.” I wondered what are we going to do on the doors. We took an idea from Causeway Vineyard in Coleraine - asking three questions:
1) Have you got time to answer three questions? That’s the first question.
2) If God could do a miracle for you today, what would it be? That's an opportunity to pray with them, right then and there, for God to do a miracle.
3) What is the greatest miracle that God has done for you?
We started in December. There are 25 of us really involved. The first time we went out, at the very first door, the girl gave her life to the Lord. It surprised me! There is something about inviting the presence of God into a conversation right at the start!
We are not there to debate with people or argue our point. We are not there to hammer people over the head with the Bible. We are looking for the people that God’s Spirit is already speaking to. When God’s Spirit is speaking into someone’s life, evangelism becomes easy.
I’ve been an outreach worker for 10 years but the last six months has totally changed my mind about what the people are like! They are interested in the things of God.
It is better for an evangelist to have hell more frequently on his heart than on his lips!
One woman came to the door and said, “You are an answer to my prayer.” She was a Christian who was visiting her father. She had been praying for her father that morning and asked us to talk to him. He had a real fear of dying and he walked straight into the kingdom of God.
We have actually discovered that people are very welcoming. It is amazing how many people invite strangers into their home. One woman said, “I have no interest in faith at all. I’m an atheist. But come on in anyway.”
A girl invited us into the house. Her husband was lying on the sofa snoring. We were talking to his wife and praying with her and she gave her life to the Lord while he was still sleeping!
At times, we have convinced ourselves that people are hostile to the Gospel and to Jesus. More often they are hostile to the ways we have gone about sharing the Gospel… not towards Jesus Himself!
I’m amazed by how the presence of God impacts people. We spoke with one young fella. I asked, "Can I pray with you? We’ll keep our eyes open." I put my hand on his shoulder. I prayed, “God come and reveal that you are real.” Then I asked, "Did you sense anything?" He said, "No." But then he said, “I did actually. Something went right down through my body.”
One Saturday afternoon I was just walking about and this girl came out of her house. She stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” She had given her life to the Lord years ago but had drifted away. She said, "I’m not sure God is real anymore." So I asked, "Can I just pray for you?"
Then she burst into tears. I thought, “What do I do?” God just came and touched her life. Immediately, she knew that God was real. I told her, "You mght have wandered away from God but he has always been close to you." She stood crying her eyes out. The presence of God just impacted this lady’s life.
The prophetic is fun but it is realy, really risky. We try to use the prophetic in a gentle way on the street. We knocked on one guy’s door and he was in his 70s. He was hostile but not shouting. He said, “God is not real.” He really knew the Bible from back to front. I said, "I can’t answer your questions but God is real.” He said, “You’ve been conned.” He would not let me pray with him. The girl who was with me just grabbed his hand and said, “God has told me to apologise for what the church did to you when you were a child. God loves you.” He was totally shocked. Whatever it was, it was true. He closed the door. The next thing, the door opened again and he invited us in. Don’t dismiss the power of the prophetic but do it with gentleness.
There was one guy we prayed with on the doorsteps. He was quite emotional. One of the team told him, “You are doing a good job as a father.” Then he told us he had been bringing up his child on his own and wasn't sure if he was doing a good job!
There are times when there is a bit of rejection but we’ve had very little. The key is to carry the presence of God. Let God do the work and not you. When He does the work evangelism and mission is really simple.
John Dickinson from Carnmoney Presbyterian Church shared how his congregation as approached mission and evangelism.
We run debt counselling, clothing ministry, food bank and providing for needs that have a missional basis. What I tend to find is that mission is the buzz word. I rarely hear that people are coming to faith. While lots of things are mission, mission brings people into contact with Jesus Christ.
For us doing evangelism as part of the mission we do was a strategic decision. We are about worship, community and witness. We decided to do evangelism continually and not just from time to time. We decided not to have “weeks of mission” - we wanted to do it all the time. The tool for us was Alpha.
We did Alpha every autumn, follow up in the spring and then a new believers course after that. Loads of people came to faith. We always ran Alpha courses in a bar, hotel, golf club or leisure centre. People in the church complained and said, “Don’t you have more important things to do than running alpha courses?” I had to explain why evangelism is important. I’m a minister so it is hard to have a normal conversation with people about religious topics. If I go to someone’s door, I’m a minister and the shutters come up. In an Alpha small group it was different. It is an incredible opportunity to be a normal human being.
It worked and it didn’t work. People came to faith and then they came to church. Then we had to change things but they had a set of expectations that weren’t always fulfilled in church. It challenged me to think about the whole response thing in church. We needed to provide people with the opportunity to respond. Just like George didn’t like door to door, I didn’t like doing appeals. So we decided doing stuff which provided people with the opportunity to engage with worship and to make a response in church.
If you give people the opportunity to respond, incredibly people do. All sorts of people you don’t expect. The big challenge was Sunday morning. Eventually I needed to get to the point of being willing to say to people, “If God has been speaking to you, get up and come to the front of church.”
The first morning I noticed a young woman stand up who was new in church. She stood up and gave her life to the Lord. It taught me as well that not only in an Alpha small group but actually if you give people the opportunity to come to Christ in Sunday worship… they do!
Two things are key:
What sits behind an effective evangelism strategy is the heart and head of the leader or leaders.
Heart: You have to really want this. I’ve been in church all my life but wanting people to come to faith is something that church leaders don’t really do. There is no real heart from people to come to Christ. It might be there in the back of your head. For me what changed most was my heart. A sense of desperation that God would do something.
If the Gospel did not apply and make a difference in the lives of the people I was working with, there was no point in going on. It was only when I became desperate that God began to put me in touch with desperate people.
When God melted my heart and gave me a desperate hunger in my heart to see people come to faith, then He began to bring people to me. There is hardly a week that passes when I don’t have those kinds of conversations. My only explanation is that God has done something in me. You need to want this.
Head: For me one of the biggest issues is that your head has to anticipate that something is going to happen. One of the things I often find is that people want to start an Alpha course without knowing what they are going to do with people who come to faith. They have made no plans for integrating or supporting those who come to faith.
Think about what you need to do with your worship and what you need to provide for people who come to faith. If you don’t anticipate that people are going to come to faith, people don’t come to faith! You need to be sure that when you do something, God works through it.
What is wrong is not that we don’t have good ideas but the people who have the ideas, don’t expect any results. Behind anything you do is the heart and head things. The passionate desire to do it and the humble anticipation and the expectation that people will come to faith.