So you want to reach the lost with the gospel? Fantastic! Evangelistic courses are an effective method of doing so—particularly in a post-Christian culture.
The following are small but crucial steps you can make to ensure you maximize the effectiveness of your evangelistic course.
Which course? There are several excellent options: Christianity Explored, Introducing God, Life Explored, LIFE, Explaining Christianity, and so on. Alternatively you could write your own course. The key questions to ask when selecting a course are around content, delivery and length.
Content: The content itself is obviously crucial. Do you believe the course explains the gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear, articulate, simple yet compelling fashion? Will the language utilized suit your specific demographic?
Delivery: Most courses offer two alternative methods: you can show a video or you can read the script of the video as a short talk, both followed by questions. My preference is—as long as you have an engaging and articulate preacher—for a talk given in person. You are then able to read the audience and add or remove culturally irrelevant illustrations or applications. It can also give you a little more authority in a question time.
Length: How long is the course? While many courses are longer than eight weeks (some including a weekend away), in my experience shorter is better. They are easier to run on a regular basis, easier for your congregation to invite their friends to, and anecdotally more people are willing to attend. In order to slowly and clearly explain the gospel you still need some time though: I recommend between four to six weeks.
Where?If at all possible, it is most effective to run the course where your church meets on Sunday. This makes follow-up invitations to course attendees to visit on a Sunday service more simple. It also helps de-mystify church buildings. Otherwise find a venue close to your Sunday location where people can sit in comfort, you can serve food and drink, and that meets your sound and media requirements. A busy café that remains open for business has too many distractions.
When? This will depend on your specific context. If you are a church, any mid-week evening time. If you serve dinner, start at 7pm; if coffee and dessert, 7:30pm. If you are a university or parachurch ministry it might be better to run the course during the day. Regardless, what is crucial is that you start and finish on time.
What will your time together look like? An informal chat, cuddled around a TV watching a presenter, with some questions afterwards? A full-scale production with live music and barista-made coffee? Consider these courses as deeply as we might once have detailed one-off evangelistic meetings and events. At those events we’d ensure things were done to a good standard to maximize the effectiveness of the night. Your evangelistic course is a key church event, which means that effort and energy should be put towards making the night as appealing as possible.
While there’s nothing wrong with having a few people sit around and discuss a video presentation, the truth is it can be intimidating for many, especially those who aren’t used to sharing their feelings and thoughts in a group. Planning the course as an event will help you think bigger than what you might have otherwise. This ethos feeds into all the other details.
Often churches run evangelistic courses with only the presenter and maybe an offsider to look after additional logistics. However, when it comes to evangelistic courses, the more people involved the merrier.
Roles your team should fill:
You should spend at least one (if possible, more) evening in training before the course starts. The training should include details about how the course will proceed and evangelistic training, and take place prior to every course that you run.
By this point, you might be seeing why courses are not just excellent opportunities to explain the gospel to some guests. Utilized correctly, they can be incredibly effective evangelistic training for your hosts. They will be learn how to articulate the gospel, they will hear it explained clearly, and then they will immediately have the chance to do what they’ve been taught.
How will you advertise your event? Most guests will attend through either personal invitation from a Christian or by hearing it advertised on a Sunday they happen to be at church—so galvanize your congregation and equip them to invite people they know. You will need to start advertising during the Sunday service no later than five weeks out from the event. Provide postcards with the date and times of the course and place them on seats for two consecutive weeks. The announcement doesn’t need to be long or emotional, perhaps something like:
If you’re a visitor or a guest here today—or perhaps you’ve been coming for a while but you’re not sure about Jesus or your relationship with God—we’d love to invite you to our upcoming Explaining Christianity course. It starts on Tuesday the 19thof October, and runs for four Tuesdays. Come along, have some coffee and dessert, and ask any questions you want—or just come and listen. If you’d like to find out more, ask me after the service, or go to the info desk.
Tip: don’t tell people to “speak to pastor X” or “chat to Rev W”, because if they’re guests they don’t know who that is!
Your preacher should also look for opportunities to encourage people to attend in his sermons, perhaps after an explanation of the gospel.
Of course, there are other means of advertising that can and should be employed: your website should have updated and clear information, and your social media presence should also promulgate the course. However, make no mistake, it’s the people sitting in front of you every Sunday who will bring the most guests along, so every opportunity to individually or corporately encourage them to bring people should be taken.
Inviting Christians to your evangelistic course seems counter-intuitive. After all, they’re converted! And surely this might make the genuine guests feel intimidated? But in my experience there are three huge positives to getting as many Christians from church to attend, not as hosts but as observers:
If you do have Christian guests attending, gently inform them that they are not to ask questions in the Q&A time, nor are they to continue the answer the speaker has given. This is not the time or the place.1
Atmosphere matters. Ask anyone who works in entertainment or hospitality: getting the right ‘feel’ as people arrive is crucial.
The room should be fully set up prior to hosts arriving. Hosts should arrive 30 minutes before the course begins, prepared to chat to guests as they arrive. Upbeat, light music should be playing in the background: for some reason it makes awkward situations more comfortable. Have someone located on the front door as a greeter, and also potentially at the door to the room you’re utilizing to hand out pens, booklets, nametags, etc. Whether you’re doing dinner or dessert will affect what happens next, but take up to half an hour to serve people, and to also ensure people are chatting and being welcomed. Keep an eye out for any guest left on their own.
When it’s time to start, dim the music. The MC should welcome participants and introduce the speaker.
Following the presentation and question/discussion time, light music should be put back on to make people comfortable to stick around chatting, and either the MC or the speaker should stay near the door as people leave, thanking them for coming and letting them know that they’re looking forward to seeing them next week.
If you opt for an in-person talk, make sure the speaker is as well-rehearsed as possible. These talks are as important as any that will be given in their life—and as such should be given with every ounce of communicative clarity and skill possible. This can be tricky if you’re using a script that has been written by someone else, however extra rehearsal should result in making the material your own.
Good, readable overhead slides are crucial. Many people are visual learners, so ensuring your slides are clear, relevant, and look good makes a difference.
There are several options for a Q&A or discussion time. You could split into tables, each with a host discussion leader reading through some pre-written questions, or perhaps come up with some group questions for open Q&A time. Alternatively you could go from the talk to an immediate open Q&A between the attendees and the speaker; discussion would then be informally conducted by the hosts and attendees following the finish of the group time.
My preference is the immediate Q&A followed by a hang out. Many people feel socially uncomfortable with small groups discussions, and so having a bigger Q&A with everyone involved allows people to sit back and just listen if that’s their preference. However, I’ve seen both work.
Following the course it is important to offer the participants an opportunity to respond to the gospel. Most courses have an opportunity to pray a prayer of repentance and faith at the completion of the time together.
How do you find out where the guests are at after the course? The best way I’ve seen this done is by using feedback forms, with very specific ‘diagnostic’ questions that help reveal where they stand with God. Assure the guests that these forms are confidential, and that they can reveal where they’re at honestly without fear of our judgement. These forms are very helpful in effectively following up our guests.
Regardless of the response of the guests, having a follow-up structure in place is imperative. Many guests would have heard enough to be interested but not committed yet, while some may indeed have come to the Lord.
The most effective mode of follow-up I’ve witnessed is the after-course Bible study group. This is a group specifically tailored and designed for new and non-Christians. This group will meet at the same location (if possible) the next week, at the same time, but utilizing a different format. It is helpful to bring the follow-up Bible study leaders to the front at the end of the course and briefly interview them. Even better is if these leaders have been hosts for the specific course, so people have got to know them.
At the end of the course, but before the feedback form, the speaker can say something like:
We’ve had such a great time we don’t want it to end! So we’re going to meet back here next week and start a Bible study. It’ll be different to what we’ve just done—less food, no tables—but still a relaxed environment to slowly study the Bible together. No matter where you’re at with God now, we’d love you to come. If you’re keen, circle the appropriate box on your feedback forms…
There are several options for the content used in these groups, and also how long they should meet for. In my experience, many people are converted in these groups as opposed to the course, and it takes much longer than we think to get used to reading the Bible. We need to protect and care for these people with utmost concern before we throw them in with more mature Christians—so I would suggest the groups last for 12 months.
The leaders of these groups must be committed and competent: they are acting in a traditional Bible study leader role, but also working as evangelists within the group. They will require continuous training, support and feedback. Depending on the number of courses you run throughout the year, you can have one new group per course, or perhaps one continuous Bible study that starts new material every term so new people can easily join.
Recruiting, training and equipping your hosts and other leaders is paramount to the success of your course. Provide a time to debrief with your leaders, with everyone having the opportunity to provide feedback, tell stories, and think through what they might have done differently. This will go a long way to keeping your team motivated for future courses. This can take place late after the last evening or, even better, the week after at a special longer time together.
Consistency is key for this evangelistic strategy to gain traction at your church. When starting, plan to have a minimum of two courses within your first year. Prioritize inviting members from church to attend as observers, and work hard on recruiting your team of hosts and helpers. From there, locking the course dates in 12 months in advance ensures that it remains a priority within your church structure and keeps the ‘rhythm’ of evangelism constantly bubbling away.
How many courses you run per year will depend on your own specific context. Some churches run four courses per year (one each term), and find that suits them well. Others run more, some run less. I would recommend running at least three within a 12-month period.
God has shown that he uses evangelistic courses to bring his people to himself in accordance with his grand will for humanity (Col 1:9-14). The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest news the world has ever heard; what a privilege to be used by God to share this news with the world!
Just remember: this is not about the amount of visitors and guests you get. No matter how many turn up, keep going! This is not about immediate change in culture—although, God willing, you will see immediate change in peoples eternities!—but long-term, durable, sustainable evangelistic effectiveness.