Rev. Kortering is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: October 1, 2006, p. 15.
With this article, we bring to a close our consideration of the work of evangelism in the established church. As we noted before, most of this work is done by a local church extension committee. This committee is instructed to come up with projects and ideas for extending the gospel beyond the confines of the local congregation. The focal point of congregational involvement is the worship services. The pastor, elders, and deacons, along with all the members, lift up their testimony of praise to Jehovah in the midst of the neighborhood. This act alone is most significant as a form of witness or evangelism to the world. Usually we put a signboard on the lawn in front of the church to announce our worship services, and add, “Visitors Welcome.” Yet, we all know that seldom, if ever, does a non-member come to worship with us because of that signboard. We are sincere in our invitation, but it is quite ineffective in moving people to come inside. Some churches make it more “attention getting” by using the electronic format with catchy sayings. One wonders whether such gimmicks are not more distractions than actually aids in evangelism.
Non-members must be invited to come and worship. This being true, our church extension committees are given the mandate to come up with programs that go beyond our worship services to acquaint people with our ministry as a church and to invite them to participate with us in the good news of the gospel.
In this series of articles we have tried to demonstrate that all these efforts by the church extension committee must involve personal evangelism by our membership if they are to attain the goal. The key to any effective outreach effort must include our members consciously and actively reaching out to neighbors and acquainting them with our efforts and inviting them to participate.
In this closing article I want to demonstrate this more specifically.
When we assess various possibilities of outreach projects, we quickly realize that some efforts must be rejected because of their secular emphasis. I have in mind the efforts of a church to be a community church and establish some sort of contact with neighbors by hosting an antique auto show in the parking lot. This might draw a crowd of auto enthusiasts, but more than likely if any effort is put forth to add a religious flavor, it would be offensive because people would then readily know that the auto show was a ruse for religious promotion.
There may be times when a society of the church or school may sponsor a public event such as a soup supper, a pancake breakfast, or such like in which the extended families and people of the community are invited. This is usually done for goodwill, especially in small communities. Even then, with some planning such as adding the singing of a vocal group of the church or a brief message by the pastor, it is possible to use such opportunities for evangelism.
I know instances where a neighborhood meal was promoted in connection with some event that easily has religious overtones. Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Mother’s Day, or something of that sort can provide an opportunity to invite the neighbors to visit the church for some eating and fellowship that includes religious music and a message. Social and spiritual can coincide rather easily in such instances.
It ought to be obvious that if we avoid secular events completely and focus on those that include an opportunity to have spiritual fellowship with the neighbors of the church, such events can contribute to significant outreach. Personal evangelism comes to the foreground in two ways. First, the members must invite the people to come to the event; this is the most effective way to have people come. Second, the members must interact with these neighbors once they show up and demonstrate a loving and caring interest in their lives and well-being. These events blossom when the members exercise their calling to share the gospel by personal evangelism.
Let me now list some possible events and activities that church extension committees could consider. The purpose of this list is to demonstrate that all of the activities prosper when the members engage in personal evangelism in connection with the event.
We hold public meetings, whether our worship services, public lectures, Bible Studies, or Vacation Bible School. Obviously, we do not equate public worship with the other ways of teaching. Our emphasis here is simply that they are public and we desire others to come and attend. The worship service is the intimate fellowship between Christ and His church, to be sure. The preaching is Christ speaking to His beloved to whom the church responds in affectionate words of praise. Even then, we desire visitors—we desire Christ to add to this church such as should be saved. Hence we seek the presence of visitors and inquirers at our worship service.
From this point of view, the same is true with public lectures, when a specific topic is considered for the benefit of the listeners. You may have discussed a topic over coffee with your neighbor, and now your pastor is going to give a lecture on the same subject. You will be excited to invite this neighbor to come and listen. Be sure you offer to pick him up or meet him at the door and sit with him, as this helps greatly to overcome the barrier of unfamiliar surroundings.
By Bible Studies we refer to those sponsored by the local congregation and held in the church building, to which visitors are always welcome. In addition, we also can have specially conducted Bible Studies in other areas of the community. These can be advertised and promoted in the community. The purpose of such studies is to have non-members come to learn the Christian perspective, or more specifically the Reformed faith.
The same is true for Vacation Bible School. It is directed to neighborhood children. Care must be taken that the effort to organize a VBS is not simply a baby-sitting service for neighborhood moms or a fun-time for kids with little or no religious meaning. When planned correctly, VBS can be effective to reach children with the gospel. It is a time when covenant moms can share their skills of teaching (their prophetic office) with children of the neighborhood as well as their own. It ought to be clear that the success of VBS is contingent on the membership acquainting people with the meetings and inviting them to come. These may be neighbors, colleagues at work, fellow students at school, extended family, or such like. The point is that we have been talking to these people about our faith regularly, we have shared with them many concerns, which include the value of children. They know the burden of our heart, and now there will be an opportunity for them to send their children to a VBS where such truths are taught and cherished.
We can make great use of audio and video recordings of our public meetings when extended promotion is given by our members who talk about Sunday’s sermons and public lectures and then offer copies to neighbors or fellow workers. We can hold seminars or workshops on subjects such as child-rearing, marriage, evangelism. Much work goes into preparing these messages, and with a little effort the recordings of these messages can be very useful for promoting the truth as it relates to these areas of doctrine and life. Here too, the efforts of a church extension committee are limited to advertising in some appropriate manner. It is far more effective if everyone who has attended or who has enjoyed the tapes of such meetings puts forth effort to talk about them with others and distribute them far and wide. We wonder how we can have opportunity to witness? Here is just such an opportunity. This is the key role of personal evangelism.
We face the same problem with our literature. A good place to start is to sit down with our people and ask them what sort of subjects and questions they encounter when they talk spiritually with their neighbors. Notice, I did not say what kind of subject dowe want to talk about with our neighbor. I ask, rather, what sort of subject do they, the neighbors, want to talk about. We will discover that concerning most of those subjects we do not have an appropriate pamphlet or tract that we can give to them. This exercise will help us focus on the needs and interests of our neighbors so that we can converse with them. It will also help prompt us to write pamphlets and tracts that address these subjects. You notice that if we do this sort of thing, once again the key force is not the production of the pamphlet, but the need for and distribution of this material. That involves personal evangelism.
There are many other activities that evangelism committees can consider. Let me list a few as we have done before.
In our efforts for mass distribution of material, we must exercise care that we do it legally. We must keep in mind that we live in a world where many people are offended by efforts for outreach, and it may even be prohibited by law. This may relate to street evangelism, which is forbidden in some areas, or it may be illegal to go from house to house, which is called solicitation, and public signs are posted warning against such activity. We must exercise care not to violate such laws, even though we may have the best of intentions to evangelize.
There are, however, many places and ways in which public distribution of materials is permitted. This may be anything from having a booth at the county fair, to going from door to door in neighborhoods. It can include hospital visitation, prison ministry, spending time with old folks in a rest home. In many of these instances there are certain restrictions listed, or at least there is a certain behavior that becomes a Christian, and we ought to learn good manners and sensitivities in those areas where we are allowed to evangelize. But the point I want to make here is that all these efforts involve personal evangelism in which the individual Christian is empowered by the Holy Spirit, who enables him to fulfill his prophetic office as given by Christ.
Some of our evangelism committees spend a lot of time and effort in newspaper evangelism. This is hard work for the writer of such articles. It takes a certain skill to set forth the truth of God’s Word as it relates to a specific topic and to say it in a way that today’s world can understand. One of the biggest obstacles we have to evangelism is the language we use. We have beautiful theological words that precisely identify truth. They are of utmost importance to us who are within the household of faith. It enables us to preach and communicate effectively together. Yet, we must be aware that when we evangelize those who are not familiar with the Bible and the historic truths, we have to use language that is understandable to the general public. This is why it is so difficult. Now, after all this work is expended in producing such a public testimony of truth, unless all of us consider it our duty to promote such writing, it will pass virtually unnoticed. What a splendid idea to cut out the writing and take it along to work and point it out to those who are around you. Did they notice this writing in the paper? What do they think of it? Do they agree and, if not, why not? Then personal evangelism contributes to the effectiveness of the efforts of the evangelism committee.
I want to close with one area of outreach that is most up-to-date and also very effective. That is the world-wide-web of the Internet. Our denomination has put out a very thorough web page through the efforts of Rev. VanBaren. Many of our individual churches are doing the same. I am sure that, as time goes on, we will learn many new ways to be more effective. As technology works its way down to the common folk, we will all learn how to make greater use of the posted sermons, messages, and information that abounds. Once again, what are you doing as a reader to promote the web? Yes, one thing about the Internet is that anyone can run a search program and discover any of our literature on the net. A personal touch, however, is the real key for promoting the gospel of the Reformed faith. Our denominational web page address (www.prca.org) is so easy that anyone can remember it and can refer people to it. So often you may not have a pamphlet handy, or you know there is a recording of a certain speech or sermon, and you wish you had it with you to give to the person to whom you are speaking. Just remember, almost all this material is available to anyone who has access to the web—and that is almost everyone. All you need to do is refer them to the denominational web page. Make use of it in your personal evangelism. It is a powerful tool that God has provided for us.
I trust that as I bring this series of articles to a close, it may motivate you, the reader, to take seriously your own role in personal evangelism and to come to appreciate that you too can make a contribution to the good work that your church extension committee is putting forth. As we promote their efforts, we will have plenty of opportunity to explain the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
We close with a reminder that personal evangelism is God’s work through us. We must be obedient to Him and pray that His Holy Spirit will use us to promote the gospel to His glory.