We just had our Easter egg hunt this past weekend. It was the first time I had planned one. It was a lot of fun.
As I was planning for the event, and afterward as I reflected on it, I was wondering how many times we try to use events like these to “present the Gospel” to people coming to the event. Many times, I feel that when we make people sit through a traditional Gospel presentation before allowing them to have the fun most are there for, we have somehow pulled a bait and switch. We spend so much time advertising an egg hunt or harvest carnival or whatever and leave out in our advertising that their will be a mini-sermon (or full blown one in some instances). People innocently come to have fun, and many leave feeling as if they just had been tricked into hearing how they are sinners who are headed to hell if they don’t ask Jesus into their hearts.
Don’t get me wrong… I am not saying that you have to remove any aspect of God from these events. People aren’t dumb. They know they are coming to a church. They expect to hear something. What if, though, instead of hearing a sermon, people are shown the love of God through genuine relationships, a quality event, and competent volunteers? Would that be wrong? Would that be a waste?
For our egg hunt event, we ended up singing two songs at the beginning… sort of a mini concert. The songs were “Jesus the Soccer Star” and “The Bug Song.” Both are from Rob Biagi’s V.I.P. to G-O-D CD that is available in the Kidology store. We then had a drawing for some large plush animals and gave them directions as to how the hunt was going to happen. Before dismissing everyone, I invited anyone who did not have a place to go for Easter to come to one of our services.
It was a positive experience for everyone. I’m not sure how many people took up our offer to return, but I do know that I made an impact on our community as far as the professionalism and care we took in offering this family event. The local newspaper came and took pictures, only to place a quarter-page photo on page three. We joked that the picture was bigger than the Pope’s on the front page! Also, a couple of radio stations had picked up on our ad and advertised for us. On Sunday morning, one of my small group leaders mentioned that he heard one of the DJs on Saturday afternoon talk about how much fun his family had at the hunt and how well it was done. (This was a DJ on one of the more popular 70s-80s-90s mix stations in our area.)
Anyway, I’ve been on an interesting journey in ministry. Five years ago, I would’ve said, “Of course you have a ‘Gospel message’ at these events. Why waste an opportunity to tell people about Jesus?” Over the past five years—especially the past six months at my current church—I’ve been challenged as to what it means to “present the Gospel.” Do we have to open our mouths to do it? I think we do far more to advance the Gospel by our actions—like when we give to people with no expectation of anything in return, including having to listen to us talk about God. I think too many times we try to help the Holy Spirit convert people. I know that we still must speak truth and tell people about Christ, but when do we do that?
Ivy Beckwith, in her book Postmodern Children’s Ministry, brings up a valid point that most churches today get caught up in how many people get saved from Sunday to Sunday or from event to event. Salvation is seen as “the goal.” Is it the goal, though? Is it the finish line? What happens after people cross the line of faith and make Christ the Lord of their lives? Many times we hand them a Bible, tell them to read it, pray, go to church, and oh yeah, don’t forget to tithe. We forget that Christianity should be an adventure. It should be exciting. To steal a term from Erwin McManus, Christianity should be “barbaric.” (If you haven’t read The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus, stop reading this and go get yourself a copy!) Making Jesus the Lord of your life is simply the beginning… not the end. We would all say amen to that, but are we actually living out that philosophy?
I can’t help but think that when we say things like, “We had ____ people get saved at ______ event,” we trivialize Christianity. Christianity is more than just a destination.
When it comes to large events, I think the emphasis should be on building relationships. Yes, present the truth, but it doesn’t always have to be “in your face.” In a world that is becoming more and more cynical towards the church, we need to reach out in love. We need to give our best. We need to offer programs and events that are professional, well-thought-out, and organized. We need to listen first and earn the right to be heard.