The NCLS has plotted the Australian Baptist movement over many years. Over the last decade the survey has highlighted the increased involvement of local churches in their local communities as they have purposed to be more missional. However over the same period the survey has also highlighted that our engagement in sharing the good news of Jesus has decreased. (more…)
Turn To The Person Next To You Affliction
The Apostle Paul said the things he didn’t want to do he did and the things he did want to do he didn’t. Pastors are like that when it comes to the habit of inviting people to ‘turn to the person next to them’. Believe me, I get the whole theory of interaction, but I also get that its best done genuinely, rather than when forced to by someone who possesses the power of the microphone. Once the edict is given you face either the prospect of engaging in a somewhat artificial engagement (which you have no hope of finishing due to time limitations) or looking like the odd one out, or a grump (that’s me..).
Whenever a pastor says that cringe worthy phrase it’s a dead giveaway that their assumption is that the entire congregation are Christians. Otherwise more sensitivity would be shown. If there are people there who aren’t Christians the invitation can be problematic. The next level of ‘turn to the person next to you’ is the one with an added “and pray for them…”
An evangelistic church expects there to be people present who have a range of faith positions from card carrying through to just looking. Subsequently there is a greater mindfulness of how such invitations affect these visitors. We need to view the experience of our worship services from the perspective of the visitor with no faith commitment (and a great degree of nervousness). Expecting newcomers to engage in a level of intimacy they rarely do with a complete stranger sitting next to them is insensitive.
- Secret Buildings
Have you found yourself at a church you’ve never been to before, not sure of where the entrance is, or where you go after finding the entrance? You’ve found yourself at a church for insiders. Insider churches don’t need clear signage because everyone knows the location of everything. Nothing needs to be explained. Signs are a waste of money if everybody knows where everything is.
On the contrary, churches that have invested in clear signage expect to have visitors, and wishes to help them access the building with clear direction.
Signage on the outside of church likewise can tell you something about how much the church values letting outsiders know where it is, what it is, and how to get into it.
You never have to wonder where McDonalds restaurants are; every franchisee will be able to tell you how much they paid for the gigantic sign outside. Marketers say that the Golden Arches are more recognised than the cross. That’s hard to verify but get the picture: McDonalds are in the business of selling burgers and fries and churches exist to hold out to the world the hope of the Gospel. Whilst the presence of a church is felt more significantly through its people signage is important. An evangelistic church makes it easy for people to notice it and access it. An evangelistic church does not assume that everybody attending it is a member, but rather that a fair percentage will be new to the place.
- Bubble world
If your church provides enough events to bring its membership back into the building or in other gatherings on virtually every night and day of the week it may well be a church that exists in the bubble.
A church that takes its missional imperative seriously is sensitive about the amount of time it demands of its members, knowing full well that by drawing people in to wall to wall events, meetings, etc there will precious little time left to be engaged in the community with people outside the walls of the church.
The machine of church is often the primary focus of the heat, light and energy that goes into the place, rather than a broken and lost world. This is quite understandable: life inside the bubble is a wonderful experience for many. People find support and sustenance inside the bubble. As one parishioner bemoaned of me: “Pastor I come here because it’s a place of refuge from the world and now you want to send me back out!”.
It’s all too easy for a church to add layer upon layer of activity that requires ever increasing commitment in terms of attendance. That feeling of business conveys a sense of purpose.
An evangelistic church looks carefully at its calendar and gives consideration to whether or not it is hindering the evangelistic potential of its people.
So how does your church stack up? Are you a ‘turn to the person next to you’ kind of church?
Drive into your church car park as if you have come for the first time and try and experience it afresh. It is clear where you go?
Out of seven days a week how many times are you called back inside the bubble?
Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager.
Did you catch the look of incredulous surprise on the face of the guy sitting on the park bench in our recent Easter video? He suddenly realizes that God has chosen to use him to reach others for Jesus.
Why is he so surprised?
What has happened to our understanding of mission that realising that all Jesus followers are “sent” by God is a new revelation?cYes we have too often outsourced mission and outreach as the video suggests and have diluted down the call to mission to just a select few.
This stands in such sharp contradiction to our Baptist story in Australia and overseas. A story of creative witness in many diverse contexts that is such a rich one. We trace our inspiration to being sent out to bear witness with creativity back to way of Jesus, the early church and the creativity of our God as demonstrated in the Scriptures.
Being sent is at the core of God’s mission, highlighted in the sending of His own Son and so clearly understood by the early church. Of the multiple examples let just highlight one.
Luke in his inspired account of the sending out paradigm of the early church in Acts 11:19f provides an understated narrative of a local church in action at Antioch.
As Luke records it, some unnamed people, ”men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.” Understanding that their commitment to Jesus meant they had to go out, they were instrumental in the establishing the first non-Jewish local faith community.
This ‘sending out’ paradigm is so imbedded in the ethos of this local faith community, that it comes as no surprise that they participate so energetically in another significant “sending out” moment in the mission of God.
As Luke records in Act 13, this same community of believers – inspired by the prompting of the Holy Spirit affirmed Barnabas and Saul in their call to be sent out – “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
And this initiated another stage in the movement that was to see the transformative message of Jesus impacting “all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
The Church when it is authentically the Church is always a sending community. Sadly however the guy in the park bench characterises the lack of awareness of many believers of God’s purpose to use them to share the message of Jesus.
I find myself asking the question, what would it take for my local church to help believers like him understand that as s/he goes out into their daily life activities at work, in the community – s/he is in fact being sent as an agent of transformation?
What would it take? Let me offer five suggestions that would be part of the list:
1. A commitment by the local church to make mission its core business as directed by the Holy Spirit.
2. A strategy by the local church to strengthen the local believers to believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. To fortify their confidence in the Gospel.
3. A strategy by the local church to equip the local believers to be more competent in sharing the Gospel.
4. A process as a gathered community to affirm local believers in their engagement as agents of transformation in their everyday worlds.
5. A celebration of the stories of transformation in the local community and beyond which have occurred because the local believers have “gone out” on mission.
For more on being ‘Revitalised in Witness’ please read the other posts in this series:
In 1959 Billy Graham visited Australia for four months, which included some time in NZ. This was the first and most significant of three Australian Billy Graham crusades (in 1968 & 1979). The ’59 Crusade was perhaps, at a national level, the closest Australia has come to what could be described as a revival. The numbers of people involved in preparation, attendance and response were astounding.
It would seem that the view of many in our churches today are sceptical of the effectiveness of this style of mass evangelism and large events now. They would say that we have “moved on” from that approach to evangelism. While this may be an acceptable view, it could be helpful to look closely at the ‘59 Crusades and consider why they made such an impact.
In the Australian culture of 1959, it was not usual for people to go and hear an American preacher. In fact the last US evangelist in Australia before Graham was Oral Roberts. He rolled up his huge tent and left Melbourne after the site was hit by stink bombs. US preachers did not have a great track record down under!
Billy Graham was invited to Australia after huge and successful crusades in Los Angeles (1949), London (1954) and New York (1957). He was becoming a household name with an international reputation. Following a meeting in Sydney of 600 protestant clergy and church leaders, led by Anglican Archbishop Mowell, an invitation was extended to Graham to come to Australia.
Preparation across the nation resulted in surprisingly large numbers of people getting involved. Counsellors were trained for the crusade meetings in huge numbers – Adelaide 4,500, Melbourne 5,000 and in Sydney between 8,000 & 9,000 were trained. There were also volunteers for the support roles and massive choirs. So great was the response to the call for choirs in Sydney that there were two separate choirs each with 1,000 people.
The churches also prepared their local areas by surveying homes to gauge the spiritual state of the nation. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that at least 300,000 of the 500,000 homes in Sydney at the time were visited and surveyed.
Prayer was mobilised in incredible numbers for these crusade meetings. There were local cottage prayer meetings as well as large gatherings, like the one in Sydney where 5,000 people attended. By April 1959 there were 40,000 prayer partners in prayer for the Crusades across Australia.
Once the crusade meetings started the statistics continued to be off the dial with massive crowd numbers and enquiry responses. There were 114 meetings in 106 days across Australia and New Zealand. Meetings were held in Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney.
To gain an understanding of the interest in these Crusade meetings the Melbourne story gives a clear picture. The meetings started at the moderately sized West Melbourne Stadium which held 7,500 people. When 10,000 turned out they realised the venue of hopelessly inadequate, so five days later they moved to the Sidney Meyer Music Bowl. On the first night at this new venue 25,000 people attended. This grew to 70,000 on the Sunday afternoon. Sadly due to the yearly Moomba festival the Crusade meetings had to be moved again, this time to the less than desirable Agricultural Showgrounds. Even with a very poor venue and unseasonable rain and cold weather the nine meetings had attendances varying between 18,000 & 25,000. The final event of the Melbourne Crusades turned out to be a history-making event. It was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a staggering 143,000 people attending. To this day, the record still stands as the biggest crowd ever to assemble at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The Melbourne story was repeated across the country. The final Sydney meeting was an event in two venues side by side, the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds. Between these two venues there was an estimated attendance of 150,000 people.
The overall attendance of all the meetings was 3 million. Many thousands more heard Graham preach on radio, television or in cinemas. They read about him on the front page of all the metropolitan newspapers. Landlines relayed over 3000 services to over 400 remote and regional communities throughout. Australia.
At the end of the Billy Graham Crusades, a conservative number of enquirers at all these meetings was 146,000 people. That is, the number of people who walked forward at Crusade meetings to make a response to the message of Jesus which Graham had preached. It is helpful to ask what happened to those enquirers and did these responses make a difference to our nation?
Those who made a response at the meetings were referred to local churches. Some churches had an enormous number of referrals.
- St Luke’s Anglican in Liverpool had 215 enquirers referred to them.
- Port Kembla Methodist, which only had about 100 members in 1959, received 50 new enquirers after the Crusade. (An overnight growth of 50%!) Forty seven of the 50 enquirers stayed as members of the church while the other three became members of other churches.
- The biggest numerical growth was in the heart of the city of Sydney. St Stephens Presbyterian Church on Macquarie Street had a staggering 600 new people referred to them in 1959. The church had to hire an extra minister to deal with the influx. Over 75% of these enquirers stayed as regular members of the church.
There was also significant influence in several other areas. While statistical coincidence doesn’t necessarily mean causality, there are some statistics that correlate with the timing of the 1959 Crusade. These may give us a glimpse into the impact of the Crusade on people’s lives:
- The Bureau of Statistics showed a 10% reduction in alcohol consumption for 1960-61.
- Australian Crime Statistics show a brief halt in the increase of crime for 1960-62. (The rate had doubled from 1920 to 1950, doubled again between 1950 and 1959, and then the upward trend continued in the late 1960s).
- 1960 recorded the slowest growth in the number of ex-nuptial births in a decade in which the figure had been steadily growing.
This impact can also be seen anecdotally:
- Businesses reported an “epidemic” of repayments of bad debts
- Counsellors at the Crusades reported burglars handing in the tools of their trade when coming forward. Even a revolver was handed in!
- A Sydney District Court magistrate reported a 50% drop in alcohol-related crime.
Another profound impact was on people’s life and career decisions. In this sense, the Crusade had an immeasurable but enormous influence, the ripples of which were still felt 50 years later. The impact in theological colleges training people for Christian ministry was felt almost immediately:
- More than half of Melbourne Bible Institute’s 160 students in 1969 were there due to the 1959 Crusade.
- Of Adelaide Bible Institute’s 118 enrolments, 25% were there because of the 1959 Crusade.
- In Moore College in Sydney, numbers peaked at an unprecedented level in 1960 and 1961. (They had a first year intake of 44 students in 1960, and a record level of 104 total students in 1961).
- Every female student at Moore College in 1961 had been involved in or converted at a Billy Graham Crusade.
- The leadership and personnel of missionary organisations, like CMS, or Wycliffe Bible Translators are full of those impacted by the 1959 Crusade.
Overall, there was a widely-reported “deepening of spirituality” because of the Crusade. This is hard to measure of course, but nevertheless we do know that:
- During the Crusades, sales of Bibles trebled in capital cities.
- An additional 140,000 copies of the Gospel of John were given away free.
- Scripture Union memberships almost doubled between March 1958 and November 1959 (from 58,000 to 104,400).
The 1959 Billy Graham Crusade in Australia had a remarkable impact at the time and an ongoing long-term influence. This was not just the result of one great preacher coming to town. It is the outcome of the church working together, sustained prayer, an anointed preacher who presented the Gospel is ways that could be clearly understood and without apology, outstanding organisation and the power of the Spirit of God at work in the lives of those who heard the message. Whilst it would be foolish to try to replicate these events, it is a challenging reminder of what God can do when we focus on the Gospel and work together for Kingdom outcomes.
Karl finished in his position as Senior Pastor of Gymea Baptist Church in late 2014 where he served for over 20 years but he is still deeply committed to resourcing the local church and helping equip believers to be sure in their faith and effective in evangelism. Olive Tree Media is the organisation which strategically brings together the media ministries of Karl through which he seeks to bring the message of Jesus into the complex and challenging world of the media to help listeners and viewers consider a fresh perspective on life and faith.
– Some of the background material and information for this article came from research by Mike and Nikki Thompson as well as scripts written by Martin Johnson.
For more on being ‘Revitalised in Witness’ please read the other posts in this series:
What does a Baptist church do with someone within the congregation who is identified as an evangelist? Do they send them off to a para-church organisation where they can feel more at home, or utilise them within the church. How do evangelists fit in to the church context which often revolves around the ‘found’ rather than the lost, around pastoral care as opposed to reaching out? (more…)
I indulged today and instead of my spartan lunch of tuna on rye bread I splashed out and headed off to my nearest Subway. The lady in front of me was a pensioner, and it was her first visit to Subway. She seemed confused by the choice of sandwhich and the rapid fire questions being asked in sequence by the ‘sandwich artist’. Fear and confusion got the better of her and she pulled out of the queue. I tried to coax her back in by giving her a brief lesson by pointing out the sequence as displayed on the counter. It still seemed too overwhelming so she opted to stand back and observe the sequence and decode the language of ordering. When the queue cleared she ventured back to the counter and began her first ever faltering Subway purchase experience. I’m not sure if she’ll be back. I will be, cos I know the lingo and can repeat the drill in my sleep. I wonder if this his how people encounter the church? (more…)
The Summer Edition (#62) of PRAC is hitting the streets. In this edition of PRAC there are two dominant and overlapping themes. One is Christmas and the opportunity we have to claim it back as a Christian festival and a platform for the presentation of the gospel. The other theme is around doing things as a church for the enjoyment of our local community. There is such a thing as “presence evangelism” whereby a Christian community seeks to represent itself before its neighborhood in a positive light. It’s a subtle and less overt form of evangelism, but helpful in altering people’s perception of the church. Those who drive past our churches have many perceptions of what goes on inside them (if they notice us at all!) and often imagination fills in the blanks. By contrast, when churches do things for the good or pleasure of their wider community negative paradigms are broken down. Churches have moved beyond a “bums on seats” approach to evaluating their effectiveness and, when it comes to planning for healthy and highly missional churches, Australians have a gift that the church worldwide is envious of. Read it online here or download it to share here.
“I detect an emerging and distressing phenomenon, angry missionary-ministers, ministers whose anger is kindled by their congregation’s failure to get with the missionary programme. These are ministers who feel held back by their congregations. It is as if their people are getting in the way of their own missionary-ministry. And it makes them mad. I sympathise. I think I understand. But I am also alarmed.” (more…)
Christmas lights are big in Australia. Every Christmas hordes of Australians go in search of the best light displays, and increasingly they end up at a church. Churches are starting to invest large amounts of time and money into impressive light displays along with creative ways to connect and interact with the people who come to see the lights. Is it all worth the effort and money that is involved? Crossover has gone in search of some churches who clearly think it is. In the first of our series we talk to Stafford Heights Baptist Church who are in their 8th year of putting up the lights. (more…)
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Coffee Chaplaincy is a ministry to patients in the mental health wards at the hospital in Nambour, Queensland. Our teams of Coffee Chaplains visit the ward one morning a week to serve beautiful cappuccinos and designer coffees. (more…)