Thank God for every effort being made to reach our nation with the gospel! May these endeavours greatly increase in number! Yet there are very many people not being reached with the greatest news that could fall on human ears.
Our nation is very different from 50 years ago. Most of our children come out of school with little or no knowledge of the Christian faith. Atheism appears to be gaining an increasing foothold and many have become materialistic in their view of life, encouraged by constant media bombardment persuading everyone to want more.
Added to all this, we have had a large population of immigrants from the four corners of the earth bringing to our country their own religions. To make things even more confusing, we also have the cults who labour to gain converts to their false beliefs. All these things have marginalised the Christian faith, so that we seem to make little, if any, impression on our communities.
There are many people in our country who neither have contact with a church nor a Christian friend to witness to them. How are they to be reached? This question is worthy of our serious consideration.
One suggestion I would like to put forward is that we all work towards having a regular open-air witness in every town and city in our land. Having had over 50 years’ experience in this form of outreach, I am more convinced than ever that such a witness would go a long way towards bringing the gospel to the unchurched. It would also provide the bonus of making a larger number of God’s people stronger in their faith and better equipped to give reasons for what they believe. What I have to share about this is drawn from many years’ experience of labouring in varied situations up and down the country.
It all began not long after my conversion. I was one of those who came through school and college without ever knowing a real Christian. I had met religious people, but nothing of the Christian faith was communicated to me until, at the age of 18, I met a Christian for the first time.
Within three weeks of hearing the gospel I had become a Christian. With no background knowledge of the Bible and not knowing of any evangelical church in my area, the first six months of my Christian life were very difficult. At last I found a group of Christians who helped put me on my feet, and I began to learn how to share my faith with others.
I soon became aware that most people I spoke to had no idea what it meant to be a Christian; they were as much in the dark as I had been.
At this time I had started working in a department store in the centre of Nottingham. During the lunch-break I would wander into the Old Market Square, where during the spring and summer crowds would gather from shops, offices and factories with their sandwiches, to listen to various speakers keen to promote their ideas. Added to this there were a number of hecklers trying to catch them out. It provided lunch-break entertainment for many.
After some months of observing this, I became aware that here was an opportunity for the gospel and prayed that the Lord would bring along some experienced Christian to use this opportunity, and that in some way I could give support. No such person came along and gradually I became aware that the Lord was moving me to take the opportunity.
It would be difficult to convey the turmoil in my mind at this time, the questions that I grappled with as I wrestled with a growing conviction that I should take up this work. There were so many problems: I was only 20 years old; I had only been a Christian for two years; I had little knowledge of the Bible and no experience in public speaking. How would I fare when confronted with these experienced hecklers?
Then there was the question of my future. I worked only two minutes away from the market square. What would my superiors think and how would this affect my future career? These were real and hard questions to deal with. However, there was one big lesson I had learnt in my early days as a Christian, which was that you must let God have his way in your life.
So, in May 1962 I finally took up the challenge crying out to be taken, and with fear and trembling stood up to proclaim the message I believed everyone should hear. I had not spoken for long before the hecklers soon observed there was a new boy on the scene and quickly made themselves known by throwing a whole variety of questions in my direction.
Praying for wisdom, I took the questions I felt I could answer; and, after taking on a few of these, went on to explain the gospel and the need for everyone to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Eventually I had to pull myself away from a whole group of enquirers, in order to get back to work. That was my first experience of a lunchtime open-air. The next day I was back again with a similar response; and, after some time, a number of Christians who worked in the city centre came to take part in this daily witness.
This witness was to continue for a number of years and, for all of us involved, it proved a real stimulus to our Christian lives, as well as being a wonderful opportunity to reach many unchurched people with the gospel.
We were to learn that the effects of this work went far beyond our expectations, when we found out that as a result there were many conversations on spiritual issues in many nearby work places. We also saw a number of individuals come to salvation, and many of these went on to become faithful servants in the Lord’s work, some even serving the Lord overseas.
In the early 1970s, like so many other town and city centres, we began to see many changes to our indoor shopping centres, as well as the introduction of shopping precincts. In Nottingham the city shopping precinct was stretched from the north to the south. This meant people ceased to congregate in the Old Market Square as they had in the past.
As a team, we had to adjust to this new situation and decided to move into the precinct. We eventually used a free-standing magnetic board with visual aids to illustrate our messages. Added to this, we used a table with Christian literature, which provided an added opportunity to our witness.
During the later 1970s I entered full-time Christian work and in the early 1980s joined the Open-Air Mission. This gave me the opportunity of working in many towns and cities all over the British Isles, and I continued in this work for the next 30 years.
Throughout this period, I have spoken to a huge variety of people from every walk of life. I have had the opportunity of communicating the gospel to people from every part of the globe, including those from countries where possession of a Bible is forbidden. I have spoken to people who have never been to church in their lives and would never dream of doing so. I have also had the great joy of seeing people come to know the Lord through our witness.
Yes, I am absolutely convinced that a Christ-honouring open-air witness in every town and city would go a long way to reaching that vast number of people who have no knowledge of the gospel.
Just for one lunch-time in the week on a regular basis — what a difference this could make! In fact, in view of the number of Christians there are in most towns and cities, it ought to be possible to have an open-air witness on every day of the week! This would make an even greater impact.
The Open-Air Mission would be pleased to give advice and help to any churches or group of Christians willing to take up this challenge. A ‘Teach and Go’ seminar is available if your church is interested.
Jesus said, ‘I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest’ (John 4:35). Who knows how many unreached people in our nation would respond to the gospel, if only they were told. ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’ (Romans 10:17).