DEVELOPING EVANGELISTIC PROGRAMS
The week long service had been carefully planned for months. The speaker was an itinerant evangelist who had was scheduled to speak nightly for the whole week. To prepare for the services the people were asked to invite at least one other neighbor. In the local weekly newspaper there had been the announcement of the services. Posters were placed in the grocery store, the Post Office and the cafe. In preparation for the event, the church was asked to spend a week in prayer, with a special day of prayer planned the Sunday before the services were to begin. Although the plans were faithfully made, the services were disappointing. Instead of having the unchurched attend, the services were attended only by the 'faithful few' of the church. The pastor was embarrassed by the low turn out and the people were discouraged because all their efforts seem ineffectual. While the task of the individual Christian is to be a witness in the community, the responsibility of the church is to develop programs and ministries that are evangelistic in purpose. However, because the Rural church has a limited number of people to perform even the most necessary ministries within the church, evangelistic programs are often neglected. Because Rural churches struggle with maintaining present ministries, people are unenthusiastic about new programs, even ones as critical as evangelism. For evangelism to occur within the Rural church, it needs to be intentional. Evangelism does not naturally happen, even within the ministry of the church.
DEVELOPING EVANGELISTIC STRATEGIES
Strategy #1: Integrate evangelism into existing programs. Developing the priority of evangelism begins, not with new programs, but with the integration of evangelism into every program already existing within the church. By incorporating evangelism into present ministries, people are able to be involved in evangelism without the added burden of trying to run new programs. Encourage Sunday School teachers to invite and visit children who could attend, but are not presently doing so.
Strategy #2: Develop a prayer base. Prayer is the basis for evangelism. Without prayer, the church will not have the divine empowerment or divine motivation to be involved in evangelism. The early church was effective in reaching their world because they first prayed for their world and for the boldness to proclaim Christ fearlessly (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 6:19,20).
Strategy #3: Develop programs for different stages of responsiveness. People are at different levels of responsiveness. Having programs and ministries only for those who are ready to receive the gospel of Christ is only part of the evangelistic process. Not all evangelistic events should have the direct appeal to accept Christ. For the antagonists, such an appeal would only further turn the individual off. For the ignorant, such an appeal would be confusing. Before the harvesting the fruit needs to be ripe. Harvesting unripened fruit only results in spoiled fruit. In evangelistic programs, the church needs to plan to help people in the process of ripening, not just in the process of harvesting.
Strategy #4: Develop multi-faceted ministries. Since every individual within the community is different in terms of personality, background, experiences, spiritual sensitivity, etc., evangelism requires different methods for different people. The Rural communities are no longer as homogeneous as they use to be. To be effective, the church needs to understand the differences and tailor ministries to different groups. The church in the book of Acts, tailored the evangelistic efforts and message to the people they were reaching. The method used to reach the Jews was different from the method used to reach the Gentiles (for example see Acts 2 and Acts 17).
Strategy #5: Focus upon community. Often the Rural church exists in areas where there is a strong emphasis upon community. Rural communities pride themselves in their demonstration of mutual concern and care for one another. Farmers assist other farmers in harvest; people give generously to those going through a crisis; business are supported faithfully because they are "locals" even though the prices are not competitive. That which strengthens this sense of community is welcomed; that which threatens it is fiercely opposed. For the church to be effective in outreach, it needs to become part of the community, and be a center for fostering a spirit of community within the region. Being a good neighbor is the springboard for evangelistic efforts (John 13:35). Having a bake sale for a family going through a medical or financial crisis not only is a testimony to that family, but to the whole community.
Strategy #6: Programs must be social and relational. The strength of the Rural church is its relationships. It is this that not only binds the church together, but is that which attracts others as well. In many Rural communities, the church is both a religious and a social center. Social and fellowship events can not only be opportunities for developing the church community, but can also be evangelistic events. By having evangelistic events focused upon social interaction rather than "evangelistic preaching" the gospel can be presented in a clear manner yet in a way that does not violate the value of privacy within the Rural community.
Strategy #7: Focus upon people rather than programs. Doran McCarty correctly points out that, "Rural-church approaches to evangelism need to be people centered. This is the pattern and strength of the Rural church. Super churches attract people through their winsome pulpiteer and their glamorous programs. The Rural church attracts through the contacts people have with its members." (Doran McCarthy, Leading the Rural Church, p 142).
Strategy #8: Minister to needs. If community is the central value to the social structure, practicality is the value marking its work ethic. What determines the value of anything, or anyone within the Rural community is their contribution to the productivity, health and well being of the community. If the community does not see the church contributing to these values, they will question the value of the church. Consequently, the church should not only think of how it can contribute to the spiritual and physical well being of people within the congregation, it needs to consider how it can contribute to the physical and spiritual well being of people within the community. The Christian life must be demonstrated practically, not just argued and preached theoretically and theologically. Proclaiming Christ to the lame involves both the gospel proclamation as well as helping the lame walk (Acts 3:6-7).
Strategy #9: Quality programming. There is no substitute for quality in the ministry of the Rural church. Scripture commends the church to perform all its duties in such a way that it reflects one's worship of God (Ephesians 6:7; Colossians 3:17). Ministries conducted haphazardly and slovenly reflect poorly both upon the church and the Christ the church is proclaiming. People today expect quality in every aspect of life, from their shoes to their entertainment. Anything that does not reach their standard of quality is considered insignificant. Therefore, in planning evangelistic events, the church needs to make sure that the program has a high standard of performance. Quality does not mean being the best, but doing the best with the available resources and abilities.
Strategy #10: Focus upon faithfulness rather than results. Evangelism in the Rural town community is difficult, requiring diligent labor to attain fruitfulness. If those involved in the Rural church focus only upon results, they will soon become discouraged and unmotivated to witness. Since producing fruit is the responsibility of God, then the focus of the church should be upon faithfulness in proclaiming the gospel to the lost (see Isaiah 6:9-13).
PLANNING EVANGELIST EVENTS
1. Determine the target group. Since evangelism in the church requires careful preparation and intentional effort, the first step is to determine who it is the church is desiring to reach. The methods used to reach people will be determined by the cultural, sociological, spiritual and religious backgrounds of the individual. Before planning an evangelistic event, the church needs to have a clear picture of who they are wanting to reach.
2. Determine the purpose for the event. Is the event pre-evangelistic, that is, is the primary purpose to build relationships? Is the purpose of the event to bring them to a point of decision? Since people are at different levels in their spiritual sensitivity and responsiveness, the church should plan 'evangelistic events' that are designed for different purposes.
3. Decide upon the event. Once the target group and purpose is identified, the next step is to decide upon an event that is appropriate to the target group and provides a context for accomplishing the purpose which the event is to achieve. Events that are not matched with the target group and purpose will be ineffective. If the target group is elderly women, having rap music as the entertainment followed by a discussion on fly fishing might not obtain much of a response.
4. Determine the location. Not all events can nor should be held in the church building. Some events might be more effective held in the local school or park. Unchurch people are less likely to feel comfortable in a church, therefore neutral sights can be more favorable for inviting them. They are more likely to attend an event in a park or someone's home than they will in the church.
5. Outline the event. Preparation is the soil for quality. Having a clear picture of how the event will be conducted will assure a quality event where people are not in confusion. Careful planning includes organizing the event, assigning responsibilities, and developing a clear time schedule for the event. In developing the program it is important that the planners keep the unchurched in mind and plan activities that are geared for the unchurched not the churched.
6. Publicize the event. The publicity that the event is given will be determined by the location, purpose and target group. Publicizing the event may include personal invitation by congregational members, having posters placed in visible locations, articles appearing in the local paper, running advertisement on radio and television stations, as well as other creative ideas developed by the congregation.
7. Follow-up the event. Evangelism is not merely presenting the gospel; it is the process by which the church assists people, who are outside the kingdom of God, in becoming genuine life-long disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19,20). Careful consideration should be given to how the church will follow-up those who attend the event. Every event should have some type of follow-up, although the nature of the follow-up will be different, depending upon the purpose of the event. Following up those who attend pre-evangelistic events may include personal visitation for the purpose of developing relationships with members within the congregation. For any who make a personal decision for Christ, there should always be follow-up in the form of discipleship.
8. Evaluate the Event. After every event, those who planned the event should evaluate it. Did the event accomplish its purpose? Were unreached people present? What was most effective about the activity? How could the event have been more effective? Was there adequate follow- up? Were people moved forward in their understanding of the gospel of Christ? Post evaluations are crucial for developing further ventures and should be a part of all evangelistic efforts. Program evangelism should always be the result of intentional, careful planning that works in conjunction with personal evangelism. It should never be a case of either/or but of both/and. Program evangelism is used in partnership with the evangelistic efforts of individuals so that the church is assisting people in bringing to fruition their work at personal evangelism.