Doing it right
Advice on having a well-attended public outreach meeting
Published: 30 June 2016 (GMT+10)
CMI’s Event Planners occasionally receive requests from pastors and other church leaders to have a CMI speaker come and present creation apologetic material as an outreach to non-believers in their community, which is very commendable.
Having operated now for over 35 years and having expanded into 7 countries, CMI has participated in setting up many thousands of events. In doing so we have experimented with different strategies and have come to understand what we believe are ‘better practices’ in achieving the desired goal. As such, there are many misunderstandings or wrong expectations about what may actually work. This article is intended to share these ideas in the hopes of helping believers plan and execute a successful CMI public outreach meeting.
Please understand that CMI fully understands that our LORD is Sovereign over everything and that man’s plans are only as effective as God wills. However we also understand that men (including faith-funded ministries) have a responsibility to the LORD to use their God-given talents to the best of their ability to share the truth of Jesus Christ to a lost world. These thoughts below are given in the hope that the LORD will use them to change lives.
First things first
It is important to realize that outreach events are not what CMI is about primarily. Person-to-person evangelism is, unquestionably, still the most effective way to win souls. So, almost all of our presentations are geared towards a Christian audience because we believe our calling is to the building up of the LORD’s church, equipping believers with answers for their faith so they can do personal outreach more effectively. In this way the faith building information we produce gets distributed into the broader community and compounded exponentially. See the excellent article ‘STILL linking and feeding’ for more insight into CMI’s MO.
Over the years there have been non-believers give us conversion testimonies citing CMI resources like our Creation Answers Book, church presentations, our Creation magazine and our TV show Creation Magazine LIVE! as the reason. However, what we’ve seen in these cases (we acknowledge there have been rare exceptions) is that the vast majority of them already had some exposure to the church, the Bible or the Gospel message in some form beforehand.
Because of the overwhelming amount of biblical illiteracy and the growing anti-Christian sentiment within the Western nations, it is often very difficult to get non-believers to attend a church event presenting Christian beliefs. Having someone with a clearly contrasting viewpoint to the Christian faith being willing to listen to a presentation they assume will be diametrically opposed to their beliefs is not usually an appealing prospect to any but the most confrontational personalities. And some people may actually associate religious buildings with cult-like practices and/or simply feel uncomfortable in such settings.
Most will simply politely decline the invitation or perhaps feign interest until the time comes and then beg off, citing another more pressing engagement that has ‘come up’. This is demonstrated in the large number of disappointed people we often hear from that tell us ‘how many people they had invited that didn’t show up’ at such outreach meetings.
Getting your hands dirty
In most cases it is not realistic to hold a successful public outreach meeting without the ‘ground troops’ of the church community having already done a lot of evangelical ‘heavy lifting’ beforehand. It would be nice to think (like in years past when our nations were largely ‘Christianized’ and exposed to the Gospel) that we could simply invite our neighbour to a meeting and have them come. Today we must work harder than that I’m afraid.
I often tell the story about my oldest daughter serving at a soup kitchen as an example here in my home country of Canada. In response to her inquiring whether a young man had a Bible the fellow’s response was “What’s a Bible?”
The best way to get someone to a public meeting is to have engaged them in discussion about God, the Bible, science, the Gospel etc. to a fair degree beforehand. In this way you can actually determine who is actually interested in exploring the topic and those who aren’t. One way to determine real interest is whether they are willing to look at a resource such as a booklet or DVD to hopefully pique their interest before inviting them to a meeting. Someone willing to take the time to review even a pamphlet can reveal whether there is real interest or simply a polite conversation happening.
Using creation/design arguments/evolution etc. topics as a means to engage people in spiritual discussion is often an effective way to have them open up about such issues because of the obvious connection to belief in the Bible. In addition, such information can have an impact because creation information causes them to question everything they have been taught about evolution and how the world came to be.
After several conversations have ‘normalised’ the topic it is then much easier for someone to say (for example) “Hey, there is a fellow coming to town that is doing a lecture on origins/science and the Bible etc. next Friday, I’d like you to come with me so I can get your feedback on it”. Moreover, exposing believers to creation information is also highly motivational as it gives legs to their faith (Read about a church in a liberal denomination that caught fire after a creation event in their church).
Once a church community has been actively sharing creation information/the gospel for an extended period then the possibility of a successful meeting becomes much more likely. But having someone agree to take time out of their busy lives to attend requires some effort. The person must feel like there is real value for them to do so. Here are some details we feel will help get people to your event.
- Who? It is important that the person you are inviting feels that the speaker is worth listening to. You must edify the presenter to them in a sincere fashion. This is where having a Ph.D. present can help because their credentials themselves often signal ‘legitimacy’ to those you invite. However, even a general speaker can be promoted easily (“He’s been speaking on this for over 10 years. I’ve heard him speak on a DVD, he’s really informative!” etc.)
Incidentally, we are all more comfortable inviting someone to an event when we are confident about the content. It is often a good thing to have seen the speaker at least on video yourself before inviting someone else.
- What? People like to know ‘what they are in for’. Most of us have had those experiences where we thought we were being invited to a certain thing and discovered there were ulterior motives once we got there. This is deception and Christians are held to a higher standard. (For example let your guest know the presenter is a Christian so they aren’t surprised when they talk about the Bible/the Gospel etc.)
The content of the presentation itself should be clearly discussed beforehand between the CMI event planners and the church group so the speaker and then the audience can have a clear understanding about the parameters of the talk (i.e. Having a surprise ‘altar-call’ at the end of a presentation on design in nature etc. may not work well).
Also, having a Q&A time at the end (and letting guests know there will be one) is a good thing as invitees may feel more comfortable knowing it will be more of an ‘open forum’ rather than a one-way, ‘canned’ lecture etc.
- Where? Holding the meeting at a hotel meeting room or a community centre may attract more people as it will have more of an eclectic rather than a ‘church service’ feel for attendees. This requires a (usually small) monetary cost for the organizers of course but may well be worth it in terms of attendance. Of course once people are more comfortable you can segue into having guests come to a church event later on.
But again, it needs the believers in the church who’ve already heard a creation presentation to bring them along. Our US CEO, Gary Bates told me of an example of a large church in the US where they were going to hold a public creation conference. Gary was due to address the Sunday morning congregation a full one week before the conference began.
Prior to the Sunday morning sermon around 300 people had registered for the conference (it had been advertised for many months beforehand). After he helped ‘switch the lights on’ for the believers on a Sunday morning, over 1,300 registered for the event, with many believers bringing along visitors.
- When? This can vary from community to community but should obviously be a time when most aren’t working. It is wise to check the calendar for competing events in the area (graduations, holidays, community events, etc.) As trite as it may sound it is often unwise to plan an event on the evening the newest Hollywood blockbuster comes out for example. We need to be as ‘wise as serpents’.
- Why? Obviously the ultimate goal of any church event should be the sharing of the Gospel in the hope to see sinners come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus. A prayer group committed to the event should be established at the outset, and church members should be informed and encouraged about inviting people to the event continuously leading up to it.
Love for the lost
It should be obvious to anyone reading this by now that what a successful meeting takes is a lot of work and personal commitment to sharing the faith before ever planning an outreach meeting. It should also be obvious that for this type of meeting to be possible the church community must already be equipped before trying to engage non-believers.
This is why CMI’s mandate is to equip Christians firstly, not to engage the culture directly. The good news is that because of the proliferation of evolutionary teaching in our society the creation/evolution debate is generally an easy thing to engage people in conversation about. For those who are now creationists we can relate that it was often a friend, relative or spouse that shared creation material with us beforehand that led us to a meeting that impacted us greatly.
The bottom line
Over-all what we have found is that simply ‘having a meeting’ and hoping people will come has been largely ineffective and disappointing to the organisers. Believers that are not yet prepared to ‘till the soil’ likely require more equipping in apologetics before they attempt to hold outreach meetings.
We sincerely hope that these suggestions will help those that wish to hold such events and want everyone to know our Event Planners are committed to helping you in any way possible to help you with all of the details involved in planning an outreach.
For pastors and churches in general, the added benefit of all this is the opportunity to get your congregation involved once they’ve been exposed to the creation message themselves.
Here are a few frequent questions we get asked regarding this type of meeting and our answers/recommendations.
Can you recommend specific resources our people can use to engage people prior to inviting them?
Small booklets like Stones and Bones are inexpensive, professionally done and present effective rebuttals to common evolutionary teaching. Our DVD Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels is probably the most powerful tool we have to challenge evolutionary teaching and get people to reconsider what they’ve been taught. We also have a brand new tract called Evolution or Biblical Creation: Does it matter? which is a useful introduction to the subject.
Should we advertise this event on TV/radio?
We have tracked the numbers and have not found this to be an effective way to promote a meeting. Also it can be very costly.
Should we distribute flyers in the area?
We have not found this to be effective in getting people out and can be a negative to some who receive them, so may be counterproductive.
Should we put posters up in local Colleges and Universities?
We have found that the majority of times these will be torn down by atheists and anti-creationists so we feel it is time consuming and ineffective.
What is the most effective way to promote the meeting?
Within the church it is most definitely the Senior Pastor/Elder’s public promotion that will encourage participation among the congregation. We have bulletin inserts available that can be used by believers outside the church in their one-on-one conversations. These can be combined with the distribution of resources by individuals that we feel will be most effective.