Each year we setup a table with tracts and books at local fairs and events to do the easiest ministry of our lives. The event organizers attract the people, and we just sit by and encourage people to take free things (which includes salvation).
For the first time in years, another church setup a table at one of the summer fairs we have been tabling. Usually, the only representation of anything religious is our table and the Jehovah Witnesses, and we are the only ones preaching the gospel of God’s grace. (The Gideons would attend in the past, but it is hard to find them these days in our rural community.)
This year a large local Baptist church setup a large booth with free popcorn, 90’s youth group music, and a method that reminded me why we do what we do how we do.
As I observed the new booth, their method became obvious: that after giving popcorn, an invitation was extended to visit their church. After that, there was little further interaction since the main goal seemed to be to invite new people to their church.
There is nothing wrong inviting people to your church as far is it goes, but it often accompanies a method of church growth that goes like this: 1) invite people to church, advertising friendliness and fun; 2) form a relationship with the family; 3) integrate the family into church activities for children and groups for adults; 4) give family positions of responsibility to help grow the ministry. Giving them the gospel does not come until later when a relationship has formed or when they have had enough exposure to talk to a pastor.
The idea is to invite them to church where they have an opportunity to hear the gospel and be saved.
This creates an environment where doctrinal understanding is diminished or hidden because a large part of the congregation is in a constant state of deciding whether to believe or not, but they stay in church for the relationships that have been formed out of the gate.
I know this method because it is what the church growth experts teach. It is also one of the primary reasons why there are so many unsaved people in churches these days.
Since we prioritize salvation over relationship, we flip that script. At our table, we don’t make it a priority to invite people to our church.
The goal for our table and our church is to communicate the gospel clearly and the Bible rightly divided. This is why we present Bible study material, gospel tracts, and are interested in having a conversation with the passersby.
We might ask, “Are you a Christian?”, or “Do you read the Bible?” just to start a conversation. Our signs can be read from a distance and say things like “You can understand the Bible” and “Learn what most churches won’t teach you”. These never fail to get attention unless we are standing in front of them hiding them.
Don’t get me wrong, we have given invitations to people, but only after a conversation with the person and usually after they ask us what kind of church teaches what we do. We advertise the website and church address on all our tracts and books, but it is never the first, second, or third thing out of anyone’s mouth at the booth.
Why don’t we invite people to our church?
Yes, people want to feel welcome, but it is more likely people will take free material or have a conversation than they would come out to a church by invitation.
Instead of kicking the can of gospel presentation to step 2,3, or 6, we make it step 1. Find out if they are saved. If not, give them the gospel. Find out if they study the Bible. Whether they do or not, give them Bible study encouragement.
More people have been saved and edified by direct conversations and taking our material than if we had invited them out to our church to hear the gospel later.
Not making invitations a priority over the gospel and Bible study is beneficial in many ways.
When local fairs, colleges, or public forums allow us to setup a table to advertise our organization, we do it. This is not because we think we can get more people to come to our church, but because it provides an opportunity to evangelize.
Table ministry is an easy way to minister if you have tracts, saved people, and time to sit behind a table. You don’t need a church to invite people to.