I have wrestled with the practice of having a church event which consists of a week or half-week of nightly services, the objective of which is evangelizing unbelievers and “reviving” Christians. The churches I have ministered in over the years have held these events consistently, at least once a year. This post is not intended to be an analysis of the biblical or philosophical bases (or lack thereof) of this practice, so I won’t go into that. But, I say again, I have wrestled with the idea, specifically with whether or not it is truly beneficial to the church.
REASONS FOR MY STRUGGLE
There are two very pragmatic reasons for my struggle with this practice in recent years.
- One is low attendance. In our experience the attendance at weeknight services, especially Monday and Tuesday evenings, is very low.
- The other reason is a lack of evangelistic fruitfulness. If one of the primary purposes of these special services is to reach the lost with the Gospel, then the effort is an abysmal failure. Hardly any unbelievers attend, and very occasionally one or two make professions of faith in Christ. Even with attempts to disciple those few, hardly any take the steps of baptism and connecting with church life.
Low attendance and lack of immediate, observable fruitfulness are hard realities.
This week we have such an event, with an exceptional speaker and team. By the way, the outside itinerant speakers, AKA “evangelists,” that I have speak at our church are limited to a select few that I know well, who preach expositorily, and whose understanding of how people are saved and how they grow spiritually fits that of our church.
We determined to tag the Sunday-Wednesday services and sessions this time around as a Gospel Conference and to carry out the event with more of a conference approach than a series of church services.
- The front of the informational brochure says, The Gospel for Real Life, A Gospel-Centered Conference Featuring Bible Preaching, Teaching, and Music. The key issues being addressed in our Gospel Conference are, What is the Gospel? and, What difference does the Gospel make in my life?
- Some of the sessions have included clear, thorough explanations of the Gospel from Scripture that are intended to give an unbeliever an understanding of the Gospel and an opportunity to respond to it.
- Others have been directed at the implications of the Gospel for believers, with themes including The Gospel and My Purpose and The Gospel and My Purity.
- There have been clear, concise Gospel messages presented in targeted group settings, including a dinner for senior adults, the guys from the community that play basketball in our gym every Tuesday night, and a Gospel-focused session for teens.
- There has also been one daytime session in which our speaker equipped the teachers in our preschool for having Gospel conversations with parents who follow a particular false belief system.
It might not seem much different from a “revival meeting” or “evangelistic services,” but I have appreciated the difference in emphasis.
WHAT MAKES THIS DIFFERENT?
- Without going into a lot of detail, I will just say that the idea of “revival” carries with it some theological confusion and cultural association that I don’t want to identify with. And if you invite unbelievers to “evangelistic services” they know they’re the targets for the “evangelist,” and what neighbor wants to show up for that? And why should church people go to the effort to attend a Tuesday night evangelistic service if they’re already saved, unless they’re bringing someone to be “evangelisted” :)? And who wants to risk losing a friendship or straining a work relationship doing that?
- In our Gospel Conference, we’re exploring the truths of the Gospel and explaining how it makes a difference in everyone’s life, whether believer or unbeliever. We are all here as learners of Gospel truth. And there are no manipulative techniques, no “do it now or else” pressure to walk an aisle. We are all invited to respond privately, and anyone wanting further explanation or assistance in responding to the Gospel is encouraged to talk with a pastor or counselor when the session ends or anytime in the near future.
- The tone of the Sunday morning service is pretty much like our usual worship and preaching/teaching, but the Sunday evening and weeknight sessions are less formal, with more of a conference feel. And the way the team and up-front people are dressed would make the average neighbor or coworker who shows up feel comfortable, not like he or she is underdressed for the occasion.
- The speaker’s team is providing music, but again, there’s a difference. They are not just performing well-rehearsed musical selections. They sing and play with energy and skill, but in many of the songs, they are leading all of us to join them in singing a stanza or more, and each song gives attention to some aspect of the Gospel. It is definitely not an audience watching a group perform. We are singing Gospel truth and meditating on it through the music that is shared.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WEEK SO FAR
Is anything really different? Is it just terminology? Do these things matter? Will more people attend? Will there be more fruit? Well, this is the first time we’ve done it, and it’s only Tuesday, so I don’t have the answers to those questions. We’ll see. I definitely feel more confident encouraging our people to participate and to invite their unbelieving friends. Maybe our church people will be encouraged by the difference in emphasis this time around and be more likely to participate and bring others next time we have a Gospel Conference. I think the average Christian could comfortably invite an unbelieving friend to a conference where someone will explain the Gospel and the difference it makes in your life.
All of this leads to the resolution of my struggle with the concept and practice of this kind of event. I’m pretty sure we’ll do another Gospel Conference. My mind is already spinning out ideas for making it even more beneficial to our people and hopefully more effective in explaining the Gospel to unbelievers and inviting them to respond. If our church people will see the value and have more passion for investigating the multifaceted truth and mining the precious treasures of the Gospel for 1, 2, 3, 4 days in a row and experience significant growth in grace from sustained concentration on these things, maybe they will put Gospel Conference on their personal calendars for those Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. And if they realize they won’t be embarrassed by what their non-Christian friend might see or hear that would hurt their relationship or hinder future Gospel opportunities, they might extend an invitation to attend a Gospel Conference session where their friend will hear about what the Gospel is and what difference it makes in his or her life.
. . . Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:18