Non-Threatening Evangelism Through Bridge Events
By Jeff Mullin and Mike Meeks
In general, to the unbelieving community your church does not exist. You simply don’t register with people who don’t care about church.
Don’t take it personally, our churches don’t register in our communities either. But that is the purpose behind bridge events.
We want to create and promote an event that will move us from invisible to visible in the unbelieving community. A bridge event is a bridge for people who never attend church to make a connection with you.
Most are pre-evangelistic, and that means you don’t share the gospel in a traditional way. Rather, you want to intersect with some felt need within the community and, thereby, enable your church to serve the unchurched in a non-threatening way.
Here’s an example: Our church sponsored a leadership conference geared toward community and business leaders. We did not break out into preaching half-way through the conference. Pulling that kind of bait and switch would burn bridges, not build them.
Instead we partnered with John Maxwell’s leadership simulcast, presenting material which would help someone like the manager of the local Wal-Mart become a more effective manager.
Through it all we talked about how this event was sponsored by our church. Those who attended the event came to equate excellence and caring with our church, thereby opening doors for evangelism down the road.
Other events might be geared toward fun. Each year we sponsor an Easter egg hunt for over ten thousand children. We give away candy and prizes and lots of free stuff. Our worship band plays, and we sell their CD. Our goal is all out fun, and making a connection with every family who participates.
Start With Permeating Prayer
Bridge events are not one time shots to try to reach as many people as possible in one big swoop. They must be part of an overall strategy to make your church both visible and relevant to the community as a whole.
Even something as simple as a mailer is a long-term commitment. Don’t even bother with a mailer unless you plan to do four to six over an eighteen month period. Remember, the cumulative effect of multiple mailers and events puts you on peoples radar screen.
You don’t want to enter into this kind of commitment and incur this kind of cost without permeating prayer. Ideas for specific bridge events flow out of time spent in prayer. Before we send out a mailer we do a prayer walk through our target area.
Without prayer you depend on the event or marketing to make an impact. Starting with prayer keeps your focus upon the power of the Holy Spirit, for He alone can open people’s eyes to their need for a Savior.
Two Key Questions to Ask
The next step in the very initial planning stage is to ask yourself two questions: Who do you want to reach, and what do you dare to do?
The first question demands you keep your demographics up-to-date. You wouldn’t plan an egg hunt for an area that is 75% empty-nesters. Nor would you promote a series on parenting adult children when you are surrounded by houses with swing sets in the backyards.
Know who is around you; know who you want to reach.
The next question is about using your imagination and the unique people God has placed in your church. What you dare to do is unique to you; God will give you people in your church with ideas that will become your bridge events unlike any other church.
Sometimes things just come your way. One afternoon one of the men in our church who works for an animation company asked if we would like to host a premiere of the newest Veggie Tale video. Are you willing to take risks, to just go for something when God gives people within your church ideas?
Listen to your people and work together with them.
People, Vision Casting, and Ownership
Once you decide what you kind of bridge event you want to do, the real work begins.
The first step is building a team. We start twelve months in advance as we’re developing an event. This allows people to get involved in the idea stage. We gather everyone together who wants to help with the event and turn them loose, sharing ideas of how to make something like an egg hunt an effective bridge to the community.
As this team develops the idea, they own it. Not only that, when you put this out in front of people far enough in advance, they also help fund the event.
Building an effective team contributes to what we call the Velcro factor: If we don’t have a group of people who own the event, there is no one the newcomers can stick to.
The higher the level of ownership, the more they will work to make the event a success. That twelve month sequence is important because the process allows them to catch the vision, own it, and then you have a lot of people for others to stick to as they come to the event. Never underestimate the importance of ownership.
As you plan your event, you need to also factor in contingencies which can make the event a success or failure. For instance, how will the weather affect you?
Egg hunts in the Midwest in March usually compete with snow and temperatures in the 30’s. You need to take that into consideration.
How many people do you expect to attend? If you hope to reach two or three thousand people with an event, but your facilities only hold five hundred, you need to go back to the drawing board.
What will happen if your key leader suddenly comes down with the flu? Always plan for the unexpected. Planning for all possible contingencies will affect the facilities you use, the time of year of the event, the number of volunteers necessary, and many other factors.
Remember, you want to convey excellence to your community. You also want to provide an event to which your church members will be eager to invite their unbelieving friends.
You also need continuity between the event and your church. If you create a bridge event that is fun and exciting and people from your church show up but they are not fun and exciting or joy filled, you have problems.
Your event needs to reflect the personality of your church. If you want people to have a great time at your bridge event, then you need to have a great time in your church services. If you plan and promote a high energy, fun-filled event, people who visit your church as a result will expect to find the same.
Anything less is another bait and switch, promising people one thing and delivering something entirely different.
Using Community Events as Bridges
If you use your imagination, you’ll find some bridge events already in front of you. Look where people already are and ask how you can be a part of what they’re already doing.
Fairs are big in the Midwest, so every year we take our band and choir to the state fair. We
get as hot and as loud as we can in one of the pavilions. Other church members in the crowd pass out tapes and CD’s and invite people to our church.
Our city also sponsors a Jazz Festival every July. We send a team from the church who plays jazz, and there they build relationships with other musicians.
Another big community event is an arts festival. Again, we bring out our choir, worship team, and band. People will walk by and ask, “I wonder what these people are all about.”
We contact the people who run these events well in advance so we can become a part of them. During the events we also hand out flyers to let people know who we are. We do not preach or pitch people on the church or on Christ.
It’s not that we hide who we are, but we aren’t there to do a bait and switch – saying were here to do jazz but then doing something else. Sometimes the flyers talk about an upcoming Sunday morning series, but the primary reason we become involved in these events is to move from the invisible to the visible, allowing members of our church to connect with people in the community.
After an event we sit down an make an honest evaluation. We look at the net gain in our attendance numbers 30, 60, and 90 days after an event.
We ask, “Did our church grow as a result of this event? Was there a net gain in our attendance?”
In addition, we look at the larger picture of what we hope to accomplish, and how the event worked toward our overall church goals.
Remember, bridge events do not in and of themselves move people from the community into your front door. However, they do help put your church on unbelievers’ radar screen and open doors for your members to share Christ with others. Without them, you remain invisible and invisible churches seldom impact communities.
“Non-Threatening Evangelism Through Bridge Events” By Jeff Mullin and Mike Meeks.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”