The Entry Events involve trying to reach the community through various social programs. This event is based on theological principles seen in the New Testament. For example, the mission of Jesus spoken of in Luke 4:18 seems to support this event. In this passage, Jesus speaks about preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, and ministering to the blind. An analysis of this passage shows the wholistic approach of Jesus' ministry. Ministering to the emotional, social, and physical needs of people opened the door for spiritual ministry.
Having targeted an audience, it is time for the evangelistic team to organize nd introduce felt-needs seminars and programs. This event should be introduced t least six months prior to the start of the crusade. This perhaps is the best approach to arrest the attention of people in a community, especially those who are secular in their thinking.
The Christian church today is meeting felt-needs in various parts of the world community. Various agencies like "The Salvation Army," "World Vision," and "ADRA Adventist Development and Relief Agency," are reaching out in times of crisis and disaster. Many hospitals and clinics are also established in some parts of the world. This is good, but not enough. More congregations need to be more involved in felt-needs ministry, but this must not be done out of coercion or by manipulating people into joining a church. Through acts of kindness, many will be drawn to a church. Ministering to physical and social needs and the presentation of the gospel must be kept together.
Some years ago, I was sent into a town of approximately 200,000 inhabitants to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings. There was a church in that town with a book membership of 60 and with an actual attendance of about 35. The church stagnated and seemed to have been dying. There were virtually no young families in that church. There was little or no evangelistic program conducted for a number of years.
As I analyzed the profile of the church, it appeared as if I was asked to do the impossible. Added to my dilemma was the fact that I am a Black preacher being asked to evangelize a community that was ninety-nine percent White. I was apprehensive about that assignment. After much prayer, I decided to accept the challenge to conduct four weeks of evangelistic meetings.
I met with the pastor and the church board to plan our strategy for the meetings. Firstly, we thought about the pre-campaign work and those things that could be done to create an awareness and that would cultivate interests for the upcoming series. One of the avenues the church decided to take was to provide food baskets to some needy families in the community. Provision was made and thirty families were supplied with food. Not only was food given, but relationships were developed. It was the opinion of some members that this was one of the most positive things the church had ever done in that community. The spin off from this public relations activity was tremendous. It was instrumental in motivating a number of people to attend the crusade that was held later. The Spirit of Cod moved mightily in those meetings and the church experienced a 35% membership growth in which some of those baptized were people contacted through the food basket program.
During the entry events, seminars geared to reach a wide cross-section of people should be organized and conducted. The practical nature of these seminars and programs may help to break down prejudice and encourage more openness among those who comprise the audience. This will eventually allow people more freedom to attend religious services.
It must be understood that the suggested seminars are only recommendations. Every evangelistic team must be free to employ the programs that are best suited to the needs of the community. There might even be the need to employ other programs that are not mentioned in the strategy, but will accomplish the same goal. The following are some of the programs and seminars that would gain the attention of some individuals in today's secular society.
Weight control seminar
Weight is an area of interest among many people as some are becoming more and more conscious about taking care of their bodies. People are spending large amounts of money to go to weightwatchers clinics, to buy expensive machines, and aerobics tapes. Some of these individuals would be delighted to attend seminars that could offer them assistance in weight control.
Cooking and nutrition seminar
People are becoming more concerned about the food they are putting into their bodies. Today, more than ever before, a great number of people are changing their eating habits in order to preserve their health. As a result, vegetarian cooking schools and seminars are of great interest to people who have a desire to know how to eat healthy and prepare simple yet nutritious meals without animal flesh. This certainly opens the door to the receptivity of the gospel.
Through the delivery of nutritious home-baked bread to homes in his community, one man was able to attract an entire family to Christ.
"What does your church teach in regards to healthful living?" The customer asked the delivery man as he made his delivery.
He responded, "My church teaches that the foods we eat are important to our health so that we must be careful about those things we put into our bodies."
"I really would like to know more about your church," she said with excitement in her voice. "You see," she continued, "coming from a Jewish background, I believe in being selective in the things I eat."
"Well," said the delivery man, "if you want to know more about the teachings of my church, I would be happy to arrange for you to receive a Bible study."
"Could you please?" the customer responded
"I will," said the delivery man.
In short, Bible studies were conducted with the customer and three other members of her family. Approximately six months later, a crusade was held in that community at which time all four members of that family committed their lives to Christ and became members of the church.
Stop smoking program
Stop smoking programs are popular in North America and usually attract quite a large number of people, especially the unchurched. The ban on smoking in some public places and the restriction on cigarette advertisements make us aware of the danger of tobacco to our health. This reality expresses the need for education on how to quit smoking.
Churches that have been active in stop smoking programs found out that, over the years, this program has been a very good entering wedge that opens the door to communicate the gospel. Many have been led to know Jesus as their own personal Savior because of the positive impact of this program on their minds
Stress control seminar
Stress control seminars are definitely needed today when science reveals that a large number of illnesses are caused by stress. Seminars of this nature can be very relevant in helping people cope with the pressures of life in a high stress society. It has been observed that people within the middle class to upper class, with high-profile, high-risk jobs, are very responsive to these seminars.
It is advisable that in these seminars religious discussions should be avoided. The objective of these seminars is not to Christianize anyone, but to acquaint them with the church and to develop friendships. Again, this is an entering wedge to open the door for the preaching of the gospel.
Family life seminar
Today, when many families are falling apart, family life seminars have become a relevant emphasis. Many people want to preserve their families, and are willing to attend seminars and workshops that address issues regarding the family. The family is one of the most fertile grounds for evangelism. Therefore, time spent building relationships with families through seminars will pay great dividends.
Dinner talk outreach ministry has been used by some congregations to help break down the wall between community folks and the church. This is an intentional hospitality ministry where the church provides a dinner and invites a certain number of community people. On this occasion, a professional can be invited to speak on a particular issue that is of interest to the community. Some churches have been successful in developing friendships with secular, unchurched people through this ministry.
The Ottawa Seventh-day Adventist church was engaged in this activity for approximately three consecutive years and found it to be very helpful as a bridge between the church and the community. Pastor Eddy Johnson, who led out in this activity, described the experience by saying that each of these get-togethers was conducted in a banquet style and in each meeting a subject of common interest to the community was discussed. During the three years of this activity, 40 to 100 non-members attended on and off. Ten months into this program, religious questions were entertained. A Bible class was organized with 30 non-members and ten of those individuals were baptized. The pastor expressed joy for the result but was disappointed that many church members did not know how to make friends with the non-members who attended.
Free gift Bible and study guide
In every community, there are people who do not go to church but will avail themselves of the opportunity to study the Bible at home. The gift Bible and study guide are designed to reach these people.
In order to obtain interest for Bible studies, each church group will choose a way that is most suited for the targeted community. Some groups just go out and knock on doors with good success, while others mail a specially designed card. Those interested will make a request by returning a portion of that card, giving the information that is necessary to receive the gift Bible and study guide.
Past experience shows that one may not receive an overwhelming number of requests for Bible studies, but most certainly some will be received. Individuals who do not own Bibles are encouraged to acquire one for themselves and to commit themselves to studying the Word.
Four months prior to the start of a crusade which was conducted in Hamilton, Ontario, six thousand fliers offering Bibles and study guides were distributed in the community by thirty students of the local church school. The result was that fifteen Bible studies were requested. This was instrumental in drawing some of these people to the crusade.
A church that has a strong ministry through community services will make a good impact on that community. Most people will be willing to listen to a church that not only preaches salvation by grace, but is actively identified with the social needs and concerns of humanity.
The model for community involvement can be clearly seen in the ministry of Jesus. It seems to me that a church that is immersed in community activities will hardly have difficulty in attracting people to hear the gospel. "The urban church that mobilizes a significant number of its members in communityoriented, service-type outreach can expect a good growth rate. Congregations that respond in meaningful and authentically Christian ways to those needs will attract new members."
In order to be effective, a church should seek to know the needs of its community and organize its ministry to suit these needs. In some North American cities, for example, New York, Calgary and Toronto, some Seventh-day Adventist churches have positively impacted individuals living in these urban centers through the operation of van ministries.
In 1975, this ministry started in New York with one van equipped for blood pressure testing. Soon after there were four such vehicles providing this service. Since 1975, more than one million individuals have been touched by this ministry.
In Calgary, Alberta, the Pineridge Seventh-day Adventist Church has started a ministry of "meals on wheels." A van has been secured for the purpose of distributing cooked meals to those who are in need. The need is so great that other churches have joined to help in this ministry. Every Sunday, one of three churches is responsible for providing meals to feed 150 to 200 persons. The van containing the meals is usually parked somewhere in the downtown area from which distribution takes place.
Community service programs of this nature are undoubtedly relevant for today in helping to reach many people in urban areas with the gospel. This is in essence evangelism in working clothes. As those engaged in this outreach ministry strive to combine preaching and teaching of the word, some are indeed giving a listening ear that otherwise would not.
Vacation Bible School
Vacation Bible School has great potential for building relationships with the unchurched people within the church community. It is observed that many people are willing to send their children to Vacation Bible School. This is a very important opportunity the church has for ministry. If the children are happy and the parents are impressed with what they were taught, the door will be opened for them to attend other church functions. There are times when some of these children will be accompanied to church functions by their parents.
Sometime ago, two Vacation Bible School programs were conducted by Seventh-day Adventists in Iraq. One was conducted in Baghdad, but only 130 enrolled because of limited facilities. At the closing activities, all parents were invited and more than 300 attended the program. After the meeting, many expressed their appreciation to the staff and church members for conducting the program.
The second Vacation Bible School program was conducted in an area where the Adventist minister lives. Fifty children attended the VBS program which was conducted by the local pastor along with his wife and volunteers from the Baghdad church. Following the VBS program, the pastor visited the families of the children who attended. As a result, 1 7 parents attended church in one week. The pastor organized a systematic visitation program to follow-up the interests that the VBS program developed. Through this program, workers in Iraq and other Arab countries are making progress in reaching people who might not have been reached.
In many churches, when the Vacation Bible School is finished, nothing else is done to encourage a continued friendship and relationship among the children, their parents, and the church.
Care should be taken to allow those children and their parents to feel a part of the church family. Invite them to other activities of the church; by so doing, a strong relationship will be developed. Properly planned and executed, this can be an outstanding evangelistic tool within the community.
Dr. Earl P. W. Cameron, evangelist and pastor, writes from Mississauga, Canada.