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Gospel growth through online evangelistic courses

Gospel growth through online evangelistic courses

What has your church decided to do to keep sharing Christ with those who haven’t become his yet, while physical gatherings are still limited? I’m sure there are lots of things to try in these times of creativity! Our church didn’t want to stop running our regular evangelistic course. We usually run Simply Christianity, so I decided to give it a go via Zoom.

When we started out, I wasn’t sure how it would go and what would need to change. The course consists of five weeks taking in the Gospel of Luke, with live presentations from myself, so we kept the content basically the same while adjusting the practicalities to suit online video chat.

We had 16 people attend—a record for any of the evangelistic courses I have run over the past two decades. (We do one every term; I think 11 or 12 people ‘in the flesh’ was the previous best.) This included nine people who were not regular and/or clearly Christian attenders at church. Three came after meeting us via our livestreamed services, especially over Easter. The other six in that category included contacts of regular believers, some of whom had been attending St Michael’s sporadically or in the past. Of them, I think four were helped to come by invitations, while a couple signed up because of the announcements on our livestream and emails.

We also had several regular church goers—and we welcome them too, because we want them to see how good Simply Christianity is and how well guests seem to relate to the content and format. Such confidence makes them more likely to invite a friend in the future. Also, sometimes they need to brush up on the basics of the Christian faith and to refocus on Jesus.

With the exception of my trainee, who had to drop out near the end because we asked him to do something else, everyone completed the course, and I had a very low absentee rate each week (compared to previous face-to-face sessions). That’s unsurprising, since there was very little else on! I expect that once movement restrictions are lifted the absentee rate might increase.

Although Matthias Media have now very helpfully made the participant manual available for purchase digitally, I decided to home deliver physical manuals. This meant they did not need two screens (for the Zoom interface and the manual). In addition, I traditionally supply dessert when I run a course, and I always start with Toblerone cheesecake. It’s a bit of a ’thing’ that is associated with functions I host, and it helps as a little relational motivator too. On the afternoon of the last night, I also home delivered a licorice allsorts chocolate slice to celebrate making it to the end. (One or two declined who did not like licorice!)

I am well experienced at running the course now, and have familiarity with the basic material, and a decent store of personal anecdotes and interesting historical and biblical snippets to pad it out. But, putting aside my own ability and the excellent course content, I think people really enjoyed the course via Zoom for a couple of additional reasons.

Firstly, they were participating from the comfort of their own home, and so felt more relaxed on their turf. This meant they were more able to engage.

Secondly, I always promise not to put guests on the spot with tricky theological or personal questions, but I welcome their questions. Sometimes in the flesh, questions just don’t start to flow. But with Zoom, I think I got a wider range of people asking questions. Perhaps it was because they could do so via the chat function, either openly or just privately to me, and not just by speaking out loud.

I also enjoyed a few people staying online and chatting after most others had departed the video conference. Normally, I find myself torn over wanting to talk to people but being busy packing and washing up; this way there was nothing to tidy and I could focus more on people.

The Simply Christianity course has a response form, which I put online. I’ve only had about a 50% return rate—but that is actually better than I often get with old-fashioned paper, where people have to mail or drop it in.

Someone who had a church background in the distant past and had just begun dipping their toe in the water of attending St Michael’s before lockdown answered the question about whether they would say they are a Christian now this way: “Yes, knowing that we are forgiven for our sins through Jesus Christ”. This person wants to join a small group.

Another said, “I call myself a ‘work in progress’. I accepted Jesus in my life when I was a teenager but then life got in the way. I just want to make sure that when I do accept Jesus, it is for life and that I won’t stray again.” How good is that! That person is attending a livestream ministry with a neighbour.

Another person is interested in doing some Bible reading one-to-one with another person, but only after doing some more reading on their own first. (I made some suggestions about this on the last night.) They wrote very honestly, “I don’t feel that I am. I still have questions about other areas of being a Christian. If I was asked “Are you a Christian?” I would say yes, however with real repentance I am not sure.”

Another person who grew up in a Christian family, but has not been to church much at all for over a decade of adult life, seems to have re-committed to following Christ and has joined one of our growth groups. This person said, “I am looking forward to staying engaged.”

I am very encouraged, and even more so, since I am beginning to hear these sort of experiences replicated anecdotally from colleagues in a good number of other churches. I’d love to hear more about how God is continuing always to help us rise to the challenge of reaching all people for him!

Sandy Grant

Sandy is the senior minister at St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral in Wollongong. He is married to Karyn with three daughters. Prior to entering full-time ministry, his only other job has been in a bottle shop! Sandy enjoys reading theology, biography and crime fiction.