Evangelism in Jersey

As part of my mission trip to the Isle of Jersey we did some schools work, and a Confident Christianity conference.However the church in St Helier wanted a complete set of Solas events and so set they up an outreach event too. That was really encouraging because when we travel to a town, village (or island!) to do Confident Christianity, we love having the opportunity to do some evangelism there too. In fact, increasingly when churches invite us to do training events we ask them to include some direct evangelism in the programme while we are with them, too.

The church in Jersey was very up for this challenge so they found a good neutral venue and booked it. The used a nice hotel not far from the church building which had a lovely medium-sized function room in it and hosted an early evening event there. Late evening functions usually involve a dinner, but starting at 6:00PM meant that they only had to provide lighter refreshments for the 50-60 people who came and filled the venue.

There were probably more Christians than non-Christian guests there for this one. There were some questions in the Q&A which were clearly from seekers though, which meant that it was worthwhile in terms of the purpose of the event. These type of things work best when the audience is at least 50% non-Christian, and the church there are already talking about how they can repeat the event but also diversify the audience a bit more next time too.

I spoke on my favourite non-cheerful topic, “Pain, Pandemics and Putin: Where Is Hope to be Found?”. The point of that talk is to do a big “compare and contrast” exercise. Given the rubbish going on in the world, is there any hope? On atheism, ultimately we’re all doomed – it is a very depressing world-view. Interestingly of course you can’t actually judge Putin credibly either. So you have a double problem, (a)– we’re all doomed and (b)- you have no basis for morality, because you’ve reduced it all to personal preferences. Christianity offers an answer to both those things, it both grounds morality and offers hope. But you have to be careful with those things – because it does not mean that our message is “become a Christian and all your problems will immediately be solved”, rather that in this world with all its many problems – hope can be found. Real hope is grounded in Jesus Christ, which 1 Peter describes as, “this sure and certain hope”.

The Q&A time was interesting too. One particularly important question took our evening into considering the uniqueness of Jesus. Obviously the questioner had agreed with what I shared about the inadequacies of the atheist worldview but wondered if all religions could solve the problem equally well. That allowed me to talk about why I think Jesus is uniquely the saviour.

The organisers seemed to be really pleased with the way the evening had gone and were already talking about “the next time we do one of these” on the night! What encouraged me is that it shows that the format works. If you go into those ‘neutral spaces’ people will come and engage. We sometimes ask Christians to imagine how uncomfortable you might feel going into a mosque to observe Friday prayers – and then realise that that is how a lot of non-Christian people can feel walking into a church. But that doesn’t mean that they are not interested in Jesus, the gospel, or the big questions of life, or that they wouldn’t happily step into a café, hotel or curry house to listen to a talk and ask questions.

Q&A is an important part of these evangelistic events too – we always encourage churches to include it in their outreach. Firstly a lot of people think that Christians involved in evangelism would rather bash them with a Bible than have a respectful conversation, which involves listening as well as speaking. So it’s important to allow people to change the subject from your talk and ask any question they want, or to push-back and disagree with an element of the talk if they want to as well. It puts people at their ease to know that their questions and views are welcome. Secondly, a talk like “Pain, Pandemics and Putin” really only opens up the whole issue of God and suffering – and Q&A invites people to respond to the way that they have been affected by pain and suffering, in ways that can’t be addressed in a short talk. Then it is really important to show people that we take their questions seriously and then to model ways of answering them which demonstrate compassion and show Christ by the way in which we answer, as much as in the content of the answers. Asking people’s names as they raise questions, never getting frustrated with awkward lines of questioning – are all important in this regard.

Starting to introduce Q&A into your outreach ministry can be very difficult if it is not something that you’ve been used to doing. It can be incredibly daunting at first, in fact. I’m a big believer that anyone can do it with a bit of practice, and if you are a pastor or leader why not take the radical step of introducing this within church, before you take it out as an evangelistic tool. One way to do that is to take questions at the end of a sermon, perhaps once a month. Allow people to text their questions in so that they have the anonymity to ask questions they might not freely do from the floor. Then do the same with the young people’s group, before trying a “sceptics night” when you invite people in to ask their questions. It’s amazing how quickly you can pick Q&A answering up. Of course, you need to know that one person can’t know all the answers so it’s OK to say when you don’t know or to say that you need to go away and do some research about something and get back to them.

So we were really grateful to the church In Jersey for setting all this up for their community and inviting us to participate in their gospel ministry.