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‘Go out quickly’ – Open-air evangelism

June 2004 | by Jonathan Swingler

In this age of high-tech media, is it necessary to take the gospel into the highways and byways? In our post-modern culture, is street preaching an appropriate means of evangelism? In the past the Lord has blessed such activities but doesn’t it take something different to reach the sophisticated masses today?

Well, as an associate of the Open-Air Mission I do believe that open-air preaching has an important place in the Church’s life, and Jesus’ parable on The Great Supper (Luke 14:15-24) underlines the matter.

The necessity

Struggling to keep on top of things, men and women live out their lives in confusion and without hope. But it need not be like that. The man in the parable has prepared everything – the supper was now ready (v.17). There is nothing to do except come, eat and be satisfied by Christ.

This is why the servant goes out urgently. There is a kingdom to be filled and Christ has accomplished all that is necessary.

The parable has the servant seeking out the poor, maimed, lame and the blind (v.21) and, of course, this is the crux of the matter. Men and women are crippled and blinded by sin.

But Christ came into the world to deal with our need, bringing forgiveness and peace with God through his atoning sacrifice.

Highways and hedges

‘Friendship’ evangelism has been prominent in recent years, and has its place. However, the parable has the servant going out to strangers – into the streets, lanes, highways and hedges (vv. 21,23).

Why is that? Well, the man wants to fill his house (v.23). The gospel is not just for the comfortably religious and their acquaintances. One reason open-air evangelism is needful is that it reaches all types – particularly those who may never enter a church or have Christian friends.

Does open-air evangelism generate a mental picture of eccentrics ranting at the street corner? I agree that this is not appropriate. Open-air evangelism must project a witness that is reasonable and rational, in which we are friendly and gain a reputation that brings glory to Christ.

Winchester

The ‘open airs’ in Winchester, conducted by Hyde Street Chapel in association with the Open-Air Mission, have been operating for over two years now. What is our approach?

A team of ten go out to the same spot in Winchester city centre on a regular basis. A regular spot and time is essential for people to get familiar with you being there – and they know where to come for help.

A board for visual aided talks acts as a focal point for the preacher. The other team members provide a ‘crowd’ and distribute leaflets as appropriate. We never give leaflets or talk to people who are listening to the preacher. We let them hear the gospel!

When they move off, we then engage with them. We also have team members giving testimonies to add variety. Our aim is to present the gospel in a clear, sane manner.

The response

Has it been worth while? Preaching in the open air elicits all sorts of response. Some just walk by, others offer insults. Some stop, argue and disrupt. Others watch from a distance.

But yet others stop and linger. They move off but are soon back. They listen to every word preached as if the rush and noise of the city centre isn’t there. They move forward timidly to the literature display, driven by something bigger than them.

They are ready to talk of the big issues of life and death. It is amazing what the Lord is doing in people’s hearts as he calls them to salvation. I’ve been involved in this sort of work for twenty years now and know of many wonderful conversions. Read of the Open-Air Mission reports on www. oamission.com.

But even if there were no response, it is a necessary work. The Lord’s servants must be out in the highways – reminding our nation that there is a God who has made us, that the feast is coming, and that they are left out at their eternal loss.

We do not know of any in Winchester who have professed faith as a direct result of these open airs. As in the parable, many reject the invitation to the supper. However, over the last two years folk have stopped and engaged in conversation, and attitudes have changed.

One man, angry at first, went away thoughtful after one of the team spoke with him. Much literature has gone out. We leave the seed sown in the Lord’s hands.