PERSPECTIVE: Research reveals value of event evangelism
So you think attractional events don’t work any more? Well, then read this:
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)—Block parties, festivals and other evangelistic events are an essential ingredient for effective churches, say findings from a recent study conducted by the Scarborough Center for Baptist Church Planting at Southwestern Seminary in conjunction with the North American Mission Board.
“Our findings suggest that many of our nation’s most effective evangelistic churches are utilizing attractional evangelistic events,” said Jerry Pipes, team leader for mass evangelism, North American Mission Board (NAMB).
Researchers started by polling 3,200 churches last year as part of the Evangelistic Event Research Project. From that group, they identified 500 “A–CHURCHES” and 500 “B-CHURCHES.”
“A-CHURCHES” were those with a membership of 50 or more who experienced at least 10 percent growth between 2002 and 2007, and baptized more than 12 people in 2007. They had a membership to baptism ratio of no more than 35 members to 1 baptism, and 25 percent of new members came from conversions as evidenced by baptisms. These churches were in the top 5 percent for baptisms among SBC churches in 2007.
“B-CHURCHES” were those of the same size range who baptized at least one person in 2002 and between four and nine people in 2007.
“A” churches were identified as highly effective with their evangelism efforts. They reported, on average, one baptism annually for every 25 members. “B” churches were identified as less effective than “A” churches, but still more effective in evangelism than most SBC churches. They averaged one baptism annually for every 104 members.
To put these criteria within the context of the entire SBC, the top 25 percent of SBC churches baptized nine or more in 2007, and the bottom 50 percent of SBC churches baptized four or fewer in 2007. In designing the study, researchers brought greater focus by addressing only the top 50 percent of baptizing churches.
What the study revealed:
A number of common denominators emerged among highly-effective churches.
• They sponsor attractional evangelistic events, do several of them annually, do them especially well and get excellent results.
• Two-thirds of highly effective churches sponsor both evangelistic events and an active personal evangelism program.
• Significantly more highly-effective churches sponsor evangelistic events than lesser effective churches.
• They sponsor significantly more evangelistic events and do significantly better preparation and follow-up for evangelistic events than lesser effective churches.
• They sponsor more holiday-related, revival-like and sports and recreation evangelistic events than any other types (in that order). More than half sponsor revival-like evangelistic events.
“We define evangelistic events as special events, which intentionally draw lost people through relationships and attraction, clearly present the Gospel and provide an invitation to respond,” said Pipes.
The report comes as some pastors question the value of attractional methods in reaching communities with the Gospel.
“A lot of churches have pursued a missional approach to evangelism and church growth to the neglect of attractional evangelistic events that will draw people in,” Pipes said. “It’s like asking a pilot flying over the Pacific Ocean whether he wants his right wing or his left wing. The answer is you need both wings—both missional methodologies and an attractional model.”
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said when churches are committed to conducting evangelistic events, it creates a more evangelistically-motivated congregation.
“Events help get people mobilized—and mobilized people reach out to their friends. In research we conducted for our book, Comeback Churches, we found that doing evangelistic outreach events was a key part of many churches’ revitalization.”
The event evangelism research did not include events such as Vacation Bible School given their widespread and recurring nature. Great emphasis was placed on how integrated special events are into the fabric of churches through frequency of events and awareness and training among lay people.