‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12).
My favourite part of the year in our church family is ‘dialogue event’ season. It’s fantastic to see stay-at-home parents, students, workers, retired folks across the church family laying on breakfasts, lunches, drinks parties and dinners in their own inimitable way for their friends and contacts.
These low-maintenance gospel get-togethers typically include a short presentation about Jesus from the Bible with lots of time for guests to make observations and ask questions. Sometimes they’ve involved nothing more than a few people meeting for a beer while discussing Two Ways to Live. Other times they’ve involved an imaginative craft activity or Easter related quiz followed by a discussion of John 20:31. But it’s thrilling to see everyone engaging in the greater works Jesus promised as the truth about life and judgement is shared.
A common objection against arranging these informal gatherings is that the local church can organise slicker, smoother, shinier events. Maybe so. There is certainly value in the one-off ‘big top’ event. But let me give you a few ideas to help you encourage everyone in your church to see that these enjoyable, easy-to-arrange, evangelistic enablers are worth putting on.
Our not-yet-Christian contacts will appreciate the invite to something on their ‘home turf’. We’ve all seen the reluctance of many to enter a church building. But it was much less intimidating for David’s friends to join him for a round of golf and then listen to a short address by a vicar in the clubhouse; or for Martin’s colleagues to chat about the claims of Christ in their favourite curry house; or for Paul’s friends to come to his house for a relaxed dinner. I’ve seen office meeting rooms, pubs, five-a-side football pitches, halls of residence, posh restaurants, even Zoom calls all work well.
Our guests like the fact it is an event tailored specifically for them. Joy’s friends didn’t feel like they were being recruited to church, but it was a chance for them to have the questions addressed which she’d asked for in advance. Emmanuel’s work colleagues knew it was an event open to the whole team so they knew who else would be there and they could all go together.
Reaching those we know
They’re a great way for us to develop ministry among our own circle of contacts. A centrally organised event can often mean we only invite people we think might come. Whereas if we arrange something ourselves it usually results in us ‘casting the net wider’ in our unique mission field – and often being blown away by who actually shows an interest!
These events regularly start ongoing conversations. Once a Christian has put on an event like this, their friends and colleagues know that they won’t be offended by difficult questions about the gospel. No one came to one of Martin’s lunches but a few days later two colleagues sought him out to say they’d like to find out more.
Easy to arrange
What’s more, they’re very simple to organise. I don’t think it can have taken longer than 45 minutes for Fred to book a room, a speaker, send a few emails and pray.
Dialogue event checklist
Here is a checklist that you could give someone you’re seeking to encourage to put on a dialogue event:
2. Who should your event serve?
It’s worth listing all the unbelieving people you see regularly: your colleagues, family, friends and neighbours. Do this before you start to plan your event, because it will help you identify the opportunities you have and the people you can serve. Resist the temptation to prejudge who might be interested, and list everyone! You can certainly invite a mix of people who don’t know each other. But it might be great to invite a little group who are already acquainted – perhaps a group of colleagues, or people from a sports club.
3. Partner with other Christians
We don’t need to do this alone; it can be a great opportunity to encourage other Christians to grow by working together. Ask your church or home group to pray for the event before, during and afterwards.
What sort of setting would make people feel most comfortable?
5. Decide on a time and date
Breakfast, lunchtime, and evening events can all work well, or even a weekend if that suits your guests best.
6. Choose the content
You could give the talk yourself or you could ask someone else from your church. A simple talk that makes one clear point from a passage that easily leads to discussion and questions is great. It can also be really useful if you or another Christian is ready to share their testimony. If you invite other Christians make sure unbelievers have space to make their points and ask their questions and it’s not just Christians doing all the talking. It’s worth thinking about the running order. Sometimes it works well to have a short quiz, musical item, craft, game or video clip to break the ice.
Make sure you invite people personally. Once one person has agreed to come that often helps encourage others to come, too. Explain clearly what’s going to happen so your guests know what to expect. Why not ask them what big questions they’d like to see addressed?
8. Plan your next steps
There are plenty of options for continuing the conversation, such as Christianity Explored, inviting to church or a lunchtime talk, using The Word One to One. Perhaps think through what you might say to someone who wants to take things a step further.