The opening year of the new millennium is nearly over. The celebrations, festivals and political agendas that declared the dawn of a new age are all but forgotten. But what is the reality for biblical Evangelical churches entering the uncharted territory of the 2000s?
The present generation of believers has been destined to live in a period of apostasy, of famine of the Word of God, and of little tangible encouragement. We see few souls added to the churches, and even the opportunities for witness seem circumscribed.
The people of God are sighing under the imposition of a deserved withdrawal of the Spirit from our land, and the absence of any real desire to call upon the Lord for a fresh outpouring of his Spirit. Good news in this context is scarce!
Many churches have ceased to preach the gospel on a weekly basis because they assert that no unconverted sinner ever attends on a Sunday evening. If this is so, then what efforts are being made to redress the situation and fulfil a cardinal function of a local church, namely, to reach the lost?
Yet against such a backdrop, the challenge for the Christian church is still: ‘Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’.
Our own situation was no different. Despite having three prayer meetings a week, preaching the gospel specifically for the unconverted every Sunday evening, going around our locality handing out gospel literature (with an invitation before each Sunday evening service), the number responding and coming in under the sound of the Word of God was minimal.
While recognising that this may not be true of every sound Evangelical church, it does not take much research to discover that this is a common scenario. This reality faces many fellow pastors with whom I have discussed the matter.
How can such a situation be resolved? How can we create an opportunity to preach the gospel to those who most need to hear it? Are there any means we can adopt that would retain biblical principles, and involve no compromises, yet would enable us to discharge our responsibility to lost and perishing sinners?
We wrestled and prayed over this problem for years, and seemed to make little progress. We have no doubt that many of our fellow saints face a similar discouraging situation.
Coffee for anyone?
However, in February 1999 a lady on furlough from the mission field in Peru drew our attention to the fact that some of the churches she visited had instituted different means to seek to overcome the problems described above.
A coffee morning? The suggestion was not greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm. We have never done anything like this before, and while some churches run such meetings this idea did not immediately commend itself to our way of thinking!
Where will we get the personnel and the equipment? Will people come in just because the facility is available? There was an eruption of doubts and dark apprehensions. Nevertheless, we went ahead.
Folding tables were acquired, together with coffee and tea pots and plated serving trays; everything looked quite professional! But would any sinners come over the threshold? After all, if the previous twenty years were any gauge, only a trickle of unconverted souls ever attended the Sunday evening gospel services.
All shall hear
The handout leaflets presented a cheery invitation to come in for coffee and a chat. Eighteen months have elapsed since that first nervous opening, and more than a thousand unconverted souls have now had a personal witness around these coffee tables.
We resolved that not one person should leave without hearing clearly that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’! Every stratum of society and every class of sinner has been represented among our visitors. Well over a thousand of our fellow Glaswegians, who might not otherwise have heard, have been challenged with a direct presentation of the gospel.
Drug addicts, alcoholics, ex-jailbirds, proud pharasaical churchgoers destitute of the life of Christ; we have seen them all. Ordinary working-class poor, and others from the upper echelons of society, have come. But they have one thing in common; almost all of them have been ignorant of the most basic gospel truth.
There have been Roman Catholics, spiritually-dead Protestants, nuns and unconverted clergymen. Even some Muslims have been included among those reached. Not a few genuine Christians, sadly disillusioned with the present state of apostasy in so-called Evangelical churches, have also sought solace and assistance.
Because the outreach takes place on a Tuesday morning, we are obviously stretched for workers, but although inundated on many occasions, the Lord has enabled us to cater for every visitor thus far.
The coffee and biscuits are free, though some customers insist on pressing a donation on us, and we accept this rather than risk offending their generosity. If it were to cost the church twenty times the amount we spend, we would still consider it a tremendous investment. It presents opportunities not otherwise available through normal church programmes.
We now have several ‘regulars’ every week, who have been well instructed in the gospel. Also, by God’s grace, we have had no disturbances to mar the work. So what are the fruits of this ministry?
It would be wonderful to record that many have been genuinely converted and added to the church through this work. But, as most of us who engage in evangelistic outreach know, these seem to be times of sowing rather than reaping.
They are certainly times that bring to mind such admonitions as Galatians 6:9: ‘Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not’. We are now beginning to see some of these folk coming tentatively to the church for our gospel service. Some of the disillusioned Christians have come to other services.
Effect on church life
The effect on the church life has been tremendous. At our Tuesday evening prayer meetings there are always names to bring before the Lord, people who have been witnessed to that very day.
How many years did it previously take for a thousand souls to hear the gospel in the evangelistic services? To some degree this method is superior, in that the message can be tailored to the needs presented to us. Questions can be answered, booklets and tracts given.
The numbers given do not include those who are witnessed to outside the building. Many accept the leaflet but for various reasons are unable to come in and sit down for refreshment.
We have a superb location for such an enterprise and the facilities and workers to carry out this scheme. There can be no argument that without these logistics, such an enterprise would be well nigh impossible. However, we had these existing means for years before the challenge and possibility was highlighted to us.
What an encouragement the enterprise has been to all members! It was born of frustration at being unable to fulfil our responsibility to the heathen on our own doorstep, that frustration under God has now produced probably the most effective gospel outreach in the church’s long history.
This is a matter for praise and thanksgiving. The spin-off it has brought is a joy to behold and experience. Its fruits have been unity, fellowship and harmony among the different members of the team, from kitchen staff to front-line activists, from counsellors to preachers.
Even more encouraging is that we also have a couple of mature experienced workers from other churches helping us regularly. May this morsel of good news, though not perhaps spectacular or headline-grabbing, still encourage the people of God. We are often despondent over the seeming surfeit of bad news in these dark days, but the experience related here may awaken some to latent possibilities that are waiting to be realised.