Solas has found that the following steps work well in helping you plan and deliver a successful outreach event in a “third — places like coffee shops, community halls, pubs or similar neutral venues.

Identify a Venue

An ideal venue for an evangelistic event is one which is well-known to local people, easily accessible and able to provide a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere for everyone. Think about coffee houses, curry restaurants, community halls, libraries, book shops, pubs — anywhere people gather locally for coffee, food, book clubs, parties or general socialising. Obviously, budget is a consideration and a restaurant is going to cost more than a café. Both independent cafés and chains like Costa have been used successfully by churches we’ve worked with.

From our experience, the best venues we’ve spoken in have had good food and drink (hospitality really breaks the ice and it’s easy to invite friends for a meal, or for coffee and cake etc), a friendly atmosphere, and ideally been a venue that’s known locally — this way you’re inviting your friends into a space they already know.

Approach the Venue

This can be quite daunting when trying it for the first time, after all a lot of people are suspicious of anything to do with the church and Christians worry that they might get turned away! But experience shows that most venues are delighted to welcome any group who is willing to pay for their services for an evening or afternoon. If a local group like a church brings people into their establishment, it guarantees them a profitable day because the community group are effectively drumming up trade for the venue.

If someone from your congregation works in (or even better, owns) a business like this, ask them about it!

Two churches we worked with in Scotland used hotel function rooms for their outreach events. They stressed the importance of developing a good relationship with venue management by holding a couple of private functions there first and becoming known as good local customers, before asking for the opportunity to hire the venue for an evangelistic event. Offering trade, and building trust opened the doors for evangelism to follow. At Highland International Church, they simply emailed the venue, explaining the event and received a positive response — it was that easy! In Kinross they thought that Loch Leven’s Larder would be ideal as a venue because it has a large outdoor seating area and they had done events there a few years ago. The church asked owner of Loch Leven’s Larder about hiring the outside decking area section of the restaurant for a Christmas Carols event.  She was happy to allow them to do this and provided teas, coffees and traybakes to those who attended!

Don’t forget that the staff at the venue also get to hear the gospel! At one event Andy Bannister did for a church at a curry house, the restaurant owner and entire staff stood at the back and listened — and then Andy had a really long conversation about Jesus with the owner afterwards.

Decide the Aim

This might seem obvious: the aim is to “preach the gospel”. Excellent, but it can be helpful to define your goals more precisely than that!

Jesus spoke very differently to different audiences. He addressed the woman at the well in rather a different tone than he did the Pharisees! Begin by identifying your intended audience.

Broadly there are two main options here: evangelism or pre-evangelism. In evangelism your aim is to call people to trust in Christ for salvation there and then. That often pre-supposes that the audience have some knowledge of who he is and are ready for the call to commit themselves to him. In pre-evangelism the idea is to explain to people (who may never have heard much accurate information about Jesus before) why they should consider his claims at all. Pre-evangelism events can be especially helpful in launching evangelistic courses such as Christianity Explored, Alpha or Uncover Luke.

Book a Speaker and Choose a Topic

Many pastors or church elders love speaking at events like these; others prefer to bring in a visiting speaker who is more experienced in evangelism. It’s really important to find a speaker who is relaxed with and enjoys engaging with non-Christian audiences. At Solas, we love supplying speakers for these kind of events and travel all over the country facilitating them for churches.

When you’re ready — fill out our “request a speaker” form and we will get back in touch.

Work with your speaker on the topic and pick a subject relevant to your audience — and something the speaker is comfortable with too. Andy Bannister has recently used topics like “The Pursuit of Happiness” and “Plagues, Pandemics and Putin: Where is God in a hurting world?” and found significant interest from non-Christian audiences.

Click here for a list of potential talk titles
  • Are We Matter or Do We Matter? Why What You Believe About God Changes Everything Else
  • Given all the options, Why Jesus?
  • Jesus and the Failures of the Church
  • Is Christianity Bad for the Environment?
  • Good God / Bad World? Why Does a Loving God Permit Suffering?
  • Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
  • Plagues, Pandemics, and Putin: Is There Hope for a Broken World?
  • Technology and Humanity: What the Digital World is Doing to Our Soul
  • Can Science Explain Everything?
  • Is there Hope for the Future?
  • Does Religion Poison Everything?
  • Is Christianity a Delusion?
  • Has Science Buried God?
  • Can Life Have Meaning Without God
  • Why Trust the Bible?
  • Dead Man Walking: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
  • Are We Free and Does It Matter?
  • Why I Am Not An Atheist
  • Ideas Have Consequences: Why Your Choice of Worldview Matters
  • Christianity: Irrelevant, Out of Date and Intolerant?
  • Are You More Than Your Resume?
  • What Does the Good Society Look Like and How Do We Get There?
  • True For You, Not True For Me?
  • More Than Words Required: God and the Problem of Evil
  • Is Anything Worth Believing?
  • The Question of God: Where Does the Evidence Point?
  • Jesus in Islam: Point of Islam or Point of Difference?

We also recommend you always allow time for Q&A in an outreach event. There is something very powerful in being open and allowing guests to ask any question they like about the topic (or about Christianity in general). So we love to invite questions — whether from sceptics, doubters, or seekers. And remember: even if the questioner is apparently hostile, the fact they have come to your event and are asking a question is a positive step.

But again, handling Q&A with non-Christian people with grace, truth, winsomeness and wisdom is not everyone’s gifting or calling. So finding the right speaker for this is important. If Solas can’t supply someone for your event, we can probably recommend an alternative speaker, so please do get in touch. And remember, if you’d like help or resources on answering tough questions, check out the Short Answers video series on the Solas website.

Advertise the Event

We highly recommend advertising your event through social media, posters (especially at the venue), flyers or through local media. But almost all the guests who come from outside the church will do so as the result of a personal invitation. Two churches we know had the bright idea of offering tickets in pairs, and only selling one to a Christian if they had a non-Christian coming with them. Wonderfully, using that model, both events sold out!

(By the way, selling tickets, rather than making them free, adds value to the event. Price them low enough that church folks can buy a ticket for a friend. The ticket price might include a coffee and a piece of cake, for example).

Remember that it is important to let people know that there will be a speaker when you invite them, so that no one feels lured to the event under false pretences. However you do it, get the invitations out far and wide, because sometimes the most surprising people are willing to come, have a good meal, listen to a relevant talk and ask some questions.

Involve the Congregation

First and foremost, your church must be praying for the event. You can do the best job at organising a wonderful event, but without prayer it is likely to be fruitless. Consider a dedicated prayer meeting before (and after) the event to pray for everyone who attends.

As mentioned before, you will need others from your church helping find the venue and making a concerted effort to invite their friends.

One church we worked with on an event like this stressed that the speaker was only one part of the overall witness in their hotel-based event. Not only did they see offering good hospitality as important, but mentioned that the informal conversation around the meal tables was also significant, with church members informally sharing their Christian testimony with the guests they were seated with. Get your members primed to do just that!

On the Night

Plan the event to allow time for socialising, eating, the main talk and a Q&A session. Your timetable may be more or less relaxed depending on the venue.

Click here to show some sample running orders
Sample Schedule for a Cafe Event:
07:00Doors open: coffee + cake + people mixing and chatting
07:30Talk (usually 20-25 mins)
07:55Discussion on tables (if appropriate)
08:30More coffee + cake + chatting on tables
Sample Schedule for a Dinner Event
07:00Doors open —> pre dinner chatting etc
07:30Dinner served
08:30After-dinner talk by Speaker
08:55Discussion on tables (this helps break the ice for the Q&A)
09:30Event ends (people often hang around for longer and chat/coffee etc.)

You’ll also want to work with the speaker and the venue on a few practical things. Make sure the room is set up so there’s space for the speaker and easy access to the tables and chairs. Think about whether you will need a small PA system so the speaker and emcee can be clearly heard. As well, check with your speaker on whether they want to use a slide presentation or any other media that might require a screen and/or computer to be set up.

Follow-Up Plans

Always have something to invite people on to afterwards, e.g. an Alpha or Christianity Explored course. In that way the speaker does not have to cover everything but to move people one step closer to Jesus and say enough to want them to explore the faith more.

In other words, make sure that you don’t drop the ball but have some way of following up. Don’t ever get to the end of the evening and find yourself saying, “Thanks for coming, and I hope found that interesting. Goodnight”. Rather, you want to conclude your evening by saying, “Thanks for coming tonight, I hope that you are interested in finding out more about Jesus. As you leave you’ll be handed an invitation to a short course we run at the coffee shop down the road on Monday evenings. We watch a short video together over coffee and cake and discuss life’s big questions together. We’d love you to join us, and we’re starting a new course this week” — or something similar.

Critically, think through what to offer guests as they leave. Also, make sure that the speaker is fully briefed on what the follow-up is, so that he or she can lead towards it in their remarks.

Thank the Venue

It may sound really obvious but thanking the staff and helping to tidy up can really help to further the ongoing relationship you develop with the venue which can lead to follow-up events. If you were considerate and gracious guests at a summer event, they are far more likely to welcome you back for a carol service. A thank-you card to the venue is always a nice touch, as is the practice of remembering to thank them publicly at the end of the evening.

Just Do It!

“Our experience has been really positive and I would very much encourage you to explore holding a community-based event – possibly in conjunction with one or other churches who have a similar vision to share the good news of Jesus Christ in your area.  It’s an excellent means for people to hear the gospel message who might not normally go into a church building and feel relaxed in an environment where they have the option of leaving whenever they want to or can stay to hear more.  Providing tea/ coffee/ food is always welcome, and helps to break down barriers enabling people to interact and feel relaxed.  You might also be surprised at the willingness of local venue owners to hold an event of this kind – and is a good way to support a local venue by treating attendees to some refreshments as they arrive.  Promoting the event in the local community in good time – through posters, social media and among other local churches – will also help to communicate information widely about the community-based event taking place.“ ~ Richard Gibb, Loch Leven Church

The “come to church and hear the gospel” method of mission certainly has its place — but it is far more effective in a largely Christian culture than in post-Christian secular Britain today. We are in a situation far more like the early church, who responded by taking the gospel out into their hostile culture. Café-style evangelism can be a very helpful way of doing that today. At Solas we have done many of these events over many years, have seen some wonderful conversions as well as one or two heroic failures. We’d love to work with you to help you run an event like this to reach your community.