My church has many links to families and individuals through the varied outreaches that it runs, but one thing that doesn’t stand in its favour is that its building is located on the outskirts of town. Where we are, people aren’t likely to just wander in to church off the street! How do we engage and reach the people where they are?
Ten years ago our pastor had a simple but inspired idea! Our town runs a market three days a week on a pedestrianised precinct. He contacted the council and told them who we were and asked whether there was any possibility of us having a stall giving out free literature. They agreed! Ten years later, we are still a regular, visible presence in the centre of town every Friday.
We have had the privilege of sharing the gospel with hundreds of people, we have given out thousands of Gospels, booklets and tracts, and we have given Bibles to those who have needed them. We have got to know and love many of the other market traders and ‘regulars’ who stop by every week. Our regular presence there each week has been crucial in building up relationships with these people, and by God’s grace and mercy, people have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
You may be thinking, ‘That sounds great, but our town doesn’t have a market.’ Well, how about setting up your own table? I know that without the cover of a stall you’ll be at the mercy of the weather (this is Britain after all!), but if the forecast looks dry, then there is nothing stopping you setting up an impromptu table with a good selection of Gospels, booklets and tracts.
Letting people know who you are is an important first step in people noticing you. A simple poster or sign with the name of your church and an invitation for people to take free literature is all that’s needed, either hanging from the front of your table or propped up on it to make sure it’s visible.
It’s a good idea to keep your selection of literature relatively simple. Having too much on the table can be overwhelming for people who have come to look at what you’re about.
We have a full selection of all four Gospels available. Of all the booklets we give out, it is the Gospels that people take most of all. What could be better than for people to be going away with God’s word and the accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?
There is a wide array of great booklets available, but we have found John Blanchard’s booklets to be ideal for us. The covers and titles are simple but eye-catching, and the classic Ultimate Questions is a go-to one for me if someone is asking about the basics of what Christianity is all about.
A small selection of tracts is also a good idea, and again there is a good selection of tracts available at 10ofThose or DayOne. You could even have a go at writing your own and make it specific or personal to your town.
We have an abundance of Bibles available to us, don’t we? If your church has some spare, why not take two or three with you? We always keep one or two back, and if someone comes to the stall who genuinely needs a Bible, we will give them one.
(We don’t put them out on the table, though. We have found through experience that if there are free Bibles available, people are quick to take them, even if they already have ten at home!)
Having a small selection of children’s booklets is a good idea too. Often, children will run up to the stall, followed shortly after by their mum or dad, and their faces light up when we hand them a free book! Adults will often take a children’s booklet too, which is no bad thing!
One last thing regarding literature, it’s a good idea to have little stickers with your church details on them to stick on the back of the booklets and tracts, so people know where it came from!
First impressions are important. When people do come to the table to look, take something, or just to talk, we want them to meet with Christians who are smiling, friendly and warm! Not a manic grin, or an over-the-top eagerness, but genuine appreciation that they have come over (after all, it might take a lot of courage for someone to come over to the table).
When someone approaches, I smile, say hello and let them know that they can take anything they think will be helpful. Some people will start talking immediately, which is great as you get a quick idea of where they are coming from. Others may not say much, and you may need to coax things out of them gently. I usually ask them what it was that caught their attention, or if they have a faith or belief? This is often the catalyst to them opening up. If they still don’t say anything, then I let them continue to browse without putting any more pressure on. They may just walk away without saying anything, but that’s okay! Depending on the situation I may offer a Gospel for them to take, but if they refuse, then I don’t push it on them. The main thing is that they have clocked you are there and that they have been made to feel welcome. You may find that they come back another time more ready to talk.
Listen to their response
Once a person has started to open up, then it’s important that you listen! I know that sounds obvious, but we know very quickly when someone isn’t actually listening to us. Ensure you give eye contact, full attention and pretend that there is nothing else going on around you except the conversation you are having with the person in front of you.
Often these people come back again, and it’s very encouraging for them when you remember the things they have told you. ‘How did that appointment go?’ ‘I was thinking about that question you asked…’ ‘Remember when you said this, well…’ This will only happen if you have been listening to them.
The temptation to jump in and say something will be very strong, but try to resist it! And chose the right moment to then reply. You will find that this leads to opportunities to share the gospel in a natural way.
Sharing the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus is the greatest privilege we have! A literature table will give you great opportunities to do this. We just need to be ready, willing and faithful!