“What you do to reach them is what you’ll have to do to keep them.”
I’ve taken this little maxim to heart. I believe it’s true. If people are won to the church through flashy junk then you’ll keep having to ramp it up in order to keep them. Folks will be entertained but few will actually be discipled.
And yet I just encouraged our church to set aside funds to purchase a block party trailer complete with inflatables and games.
How do these two fit together?
Not the Reason
I haven’t changed in my theology. I still believe that an attractional model of church not only doesn’t work, I believe it is harmful to the cause of the gospel. When I say “attractional model” I mean something similar to what Jared Wilson said here: “a way of ministry that derives from the primary purpose of making Christianity appealing”.
If I had an attractional model of doing church this is how I would promote our new block party trailer. We would say something like this, “Listen, most lost people aren’t going to come to our church for a Bible study. We need something to hook them. We know that all people love the word free. We also know that children love games. Having a block party trailer will give us an opportunity to reach people with the gospel outside of our church walls.”
At this point, with our attractional mindset, we would put together a big event to draw people. We would attempt to get as many people as possible. The more people who attend the more we would consider this a success. Our workers would be there to set up the inflatables, pass out the free popcorn, and make sure everything runs smoothly. The pastor would then try to gather up as many people as possible and give a short and simple gospel presentation. If someone makes a decision for Christ then the event will be deemed a wonderful success. But even if not we would count the number of people there and consider it as having planted X amount of seeds.
After the event you could hear people saying things like, “Those inflatables were a great idea. People really showed up for them. Our block party trailer is effective in reaching people.”
But that’s poppycock. Stuff doesn’t reach people. People reach people.
So, then, does that mean there is no place for inflatables and block party trailers in doing ministry? Does this mean that fun is the enemy of gospel presentation? No. And this is why I encouraged our church to pursue acquiring a block party trailer filled with inflatables and games. Let me explain.
A block party trailer combined with an attractional model is a deadly thing. But I’m convinced a block party trailer with a different philosophy can be a wonderful tool. What if rather than saying our block party trailer is a great at reaching people we started saying that our block party trailer is great for opening up the door to love?
You see my philosophy of ministry is really simple. Love people. Preach Jesus.
Think of how this changes everything with the block party trailer. Rather than measuring something as a success because we blew up some inflatables and people came—we measure success by how many conversations our people had with their neighbors. We don’t see blowing up the inflatables and making the show run smoothly the end of the game. It’s only the beginning.
We believe that people reach people. We believe that what people really want and need is love. Often that starts in the tangible form of a follower of Jesus before it moves into the eternal love of God the Father. And so we use our block party trailer as an opportunity to give our community the one thing they can’t get anywhere else; namely, the gospel. And the gospel displayed with our lives and proclaimed with our lips.
Though I’ll still likely take an opportunity to do a bit of open-air preaching, I don’t consider that the main event. The main event is our people connecting with other people.
We believe that our power lies in the gospel. But we also believe that church folk are regular people. And regular people like to have fun doing things like hanging out at a block party. Regular people like free pizza or hot dogs and maybe a bite of cotton candy. So our block party trailer gives us a great opportunity to open up the door of love for our community.
It’s a subtle difference, but I’m convinced it makes all the difference in the world.