Crowborough is a smallish town (20,000) from which a significant number commute to work.
We have a mission (which we call a Festival of Faith) every two years and have used different methods of preparation.
In 2006 we made a workbook for home groups to use with the audio recordings of John Chapman’s School of Evangelism. In 2008 we ran a sermon series on Helping Others Find Christ:
God opens doors (Colossians 4 v 3; 1 Corinthians 16 v 9; Acts 14 v 27)
- Fear and Love (2 Corinthians 5 v 11-21)
- Sharing our experience (Acts 26 v 1-29)
- Speaking about Jesus (1 Corinthians 2 v 1-5)
- Praying for power (Acts 4 v 23-33)
- In it for the long haul (Acts 19 v 8-10)
Planning our last ‘Festival’ was in the hands of a committee that meets regularly for more than six months leading up to the events. Each member was given a copy of a detailed briefing paper by Andrew Cornes (our Vicar/Senior Minister).
We wanted to have our main speaker preach evangelistically in our church six months before the mission, but he was in Australia. So we showed a DVD of an evangelistic sermon of his. Some people brought guests to see the DVD (which we showed morning and evening) and it helped to build confidence that it would be worth getting our friends to hear him in the Festival.
Printed and verbal notices were given regularly to encourage us to pray and prepare. Regular slots in our monthly prayer meeting were supplemented by a ‘half-night’ of prayer ten days before the festival and daily prayer meetings through the month of November.
I wanted small evangelistic supper parties to play a big part in the Festival as well as the big speaker meetings, especially in the week before the main events. There was a lack of enthusiasm for this and so in preparation, in the months beforehand, I tried to sell the vision amongst three key leadership groups: the Festival Committee, the Church Council and the Staff Team. They did not all get behind the idea and so neither did many of the church family, although some of these events happened and proved worthwhile.
Junior Church held a Come and See Junior Church morning to coincide with the adult service in the Festival. The children were encouraged in advance to think, pray and invite, and were given special invitation cards to give to their friends, and so whole families were invited together. ‘Pester power’ then worked positively in some families and adults found it easier to invite the parents of their children’s friends.
The mission programme
Most events involved food and some other attraction together with a gospel talk. Most were ticketed events and most sold out.
We used a visiting speaker who spoke at most of the main events, and visiting speakers from within our region for one or two other main events. However, we did not have a visiting team to supplement the main speaker.
The Festival finished on November 16th. Our next Christianity Explored course started on January 13th. Introductory events for them (a lunch and a cheese and wine evening), hosted by participants from the current Christianity Explored course started in December.
At most of our Festival events, the speaker invited people to pray a prayer of commitment and then asked us all to fill in a comment card with a choice of three boxes: Prayed / More / Enjoyed. This is the same method described in John Chapman’s book Setting Hearts on Fire, chapter 11 (p147ff). For everyone who ticked ‘Prayed’ or ‘More’, a member of staff phoned them within a week to see how we can help and discuss the next step – for many, this is an invitation to Christianity Explored.
For some it has been the point at which they were helped to begin the Christian life. For many church members, they stepped out and invited friends, prayed for them and talked about Jesus with them in new ways that have led to growth in boldness and clarity. It has given a fresh injection of life into our church family and a reminder of what is most important.
We need to work at encouraging those who have done their best and invited people, but have experienced rejection. It is helpful for us to recognise that when this happens it is sometimes just par for the course and does not mean we are failures. Our speaker was very good at praying, especially for these people.
We need to look again at the supper party principle. Probably when one has a visiting team there is more incentive for people to hold a home dialogue event. Part of the problem is fear of failure. We should have done more to hold some of these dialogue events well in advance of the Festival and have people talk about their positive experiences with others. The supper party (even unrelated to evangelism) is perhaps less a feature of people’s normal lives than it may have been in the past. “A poll of 2,550 people by Harper Collins revealed that the formal dinner party is dead. One in 10 people would rather go to the dentist…” The Telegraph, September 15th 2008.
But the lesson of this survey is probably that people are shunning formality rather than the whole idea of eating with friends. For example, two ladies in our church held a cookery demonstration at home for their colleagues as part of this festival, and combined it with the discussion of various ‘hot potato’ questions.
The church family was very good at inviting friends to events where there was some attraction in addition to the talk. It was understood that there would be a talk, and indeed this was part of the reason many came, but our members found it relatively easy to say, ‘Would you like to join our team for the quiz night? It’s part of the festival and a chance to hear Chappo (John Chapman) as well as a fish and chip supper.’ We were less good at inviting folks to the church services, although for many these were the best opportunities to hear the gospel. However, in many cases people had been invited but were more reluctant to come. Given that the events sold out, we should have included at least one midweek event with less food and therefore larger capacity and more focus on the talk itself. This would have meant that people who wanted to hear more after going to one event could come again at the last minute.