I have just returned from Reading, UK, for a training session on street evangelism. There were 16 leaders from Southampton who made the journey with me. Over the past 4 week the churches in Reading has seen over 1600 make a response to Christ.
Yinka Oyekan is wisely stewarding this remarkable move and he is as amazed and bemused everyone else. Every day there are stories of people responding to Christ. This is now creating a new culture in the church to a point where stories of salvation of family members, work colleagues and neighbours are happening daily.
The team doing the training have a very prescriptive model. They have a ‘script’ which leads people through a series of questions to a prayer of commitment to Christ. It feels corny and formulaic but it seems to work! We have spent years praying for blessing, doing healing on the streets but without this sort of response. Good evangelists have an ability to challenge people and provoke them to decision.
Maybe we have for too long been too complacent about people’s destinies? Maybe we have lost the sense of urgency? Maybe we have lost the sense of importance of Christ’s Lordship over people’s lives? The ‘script’ lacks some theological depth but I committed my life to Christ without an in depth understanding of the full implications of the atonement or the nature of the resurrection. Simon Orton leader of Kings Church in Southampton came to Christ at university praying a very similar prayer through the ministry of Evangelism Explosion.
Going out with the team was scary. It’s not what we do (anymore). Striking up conversations was difficult. Its not what we do (anymore). But here’s the surprise. People were open to talking. People were open to being prayed for. People were happy to pray a prayer of commitment to Christ. Not everybody. But when we all got back together 74 had done! One of our guys Adam Clewer prayed for 17 people to make response to Christ.
Did I enjoy it? Not really. I was terrified.
Did I agree with the methodology? Not really. But we’ve been so bad at evangelism for so long we have to be humble enough to accept that Gd doesn’t always work in ways that we find comfortable or acceptable.
What about follow up? Discipleship? This occupies Yinka’s thoughts more than anything else. There are no easy answers to this. But it appears that God is at work, people are open, responsive and (maybe) the atmosphere is being changed. The exciting shift in seeing church members leading friends, family members and work colleagues to Christ is remarkable. The culture of the church is changing. Last Sunday Yinka invited everyone in the congregation who had led someone to Christ that week to stand. Half of the 200 members in the church stood. I had to ask what would the response in our church?
So it seems to me that something is happening. God is stirring the church to focus beyond themselves. People are playing their part with a willingness to speak up. It’s uncomfortable, challenging, ‘old school’ (we did this stuff 30 years ago), un-cool, frustrating (organisations have spent millions on apps and other technologies to share the Christian faith) but refreshing in its simplicity and the lack of ‘names’ seeing the fruit. This is about everyone, everywhere, everyday.
I heard a story today of a mother whose daughter had come to faith. She had walked away from God a number of years ago but last week was led through the ‘script’ by her brother and re-egnaged in church. This week she was out on the streets sharing her newly discovered faith. Her mother has been so encouraged by the story that she came today to be trained.
From next week (July 1st), the church in Reading are going to run a weekly gathering on Friday evenings – to celebrate, pray and share stories -with training and streetwork on Saturdays.
Then Yinka Oyekan and the team are looking at how they can give away what God is doing by bringing teams to other towns and cities across the UK.
Last month the Archbishops of Canterbury and York called a week of prayer leading up to the Pentecost week. The focus of the prayer was that we as the church would be filled with Christ’s love and power and have a new confidence to share our faith. 5000 churches set up prayer rooms and prayed.
Maybe the Lord is answering our prayers!