Block parties, festivals, and other evangelistic events are essential ingredients for effective churches, according to a study by the Scarborough Center for Baptist Church Planting at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in conjunction with the North American Mission Board.
"Our findings suggest that many of our nation's most effective evangelistic churches are utilizing attractional evangelistic events," said Jerry Pipes, team leader for mass evangelism at NAMB.
Researchers started by polling 3,200 Southern Baptist churches last year as part of the Evangelistic Event Research Project. From that group, they identified five hundred "A-churches" and five hundred "B-churches."
A-churches were those with a membership of fifty or more who experienced at least 10 percent growth between 2002 and 2007 and baptized more than twelve people in 2007. They had a membership to baptism ratio of no more than thirty-five members to one baptism, and 25 percent of new members came from conversions as evidenced by baptisms. These churches were in the top 5 percent for baptisms among SBC churches in 2007.
B-churches were those of the same size range who baptized at least one person in 2002 and between four and nine people in 2007.
A-churches were identified as highly effective with their evangelism efforts. They reported, on average, one baptism annually for every twenty-five members. B-churches were identified as less effective than A-churches but still more effective in evangelism than most SBC churches. They averaged one baptism annually for every 104 members.
To put these criteria within the context of the entire SBC, 25 percent of SBC churches baptized nine or more in 2007, 25 percent baptized five to eight, and 50 percent baptized four or fewer in 2007. In designing the study, researchers focused on churches in the top 50 percent of baptisms.
What the Study Revealed
Several common denominators emerged among highly effective churches:
• They sponsor attractional evangelistic events, do several of them annually, do them especially well and get excellent results.
• Two-thirds of highly effective churches sponsor both evangelistic events and an active personal evangelism program.
• Significantly more highly effective churches sponsor evangelistic events than lesser effective churches.
• They sponsor significantly more evangelistic events and do significantly better preparation and follow-up for evangelistic events than lesser effective churches.
• They sponsor more holiday-related, revival-like, and sports and recreation evangelistic events than any other types (in that order). More than half sponsor revival-like evangelistic events.
Missional and Attractional
"We define evangelistic events as special events, which intentionally draw lost people through relationships and attraction, clearly present the Gospel, and provide an invitation to respond," Pipes said.
The report comes at a time when, in some quarters, the value of attractional methods has been questioned for reaching communities with the Gospel.
"A lot of churches have pursued a missional approach to evangelism and church growth to the neglect of attractional evangelistic events that will draw people in," Pipes said. "It's like asking a pilot flying over the Pacific Ocean whether he wants his right wing or his left wing. The answer is you need both wings — both missional methodologies and an attractional model."
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said when churches are committed to conducting evangelistic events, it creates a more evangelistically motivated congregation.
"Events help get people mobilized, and mobilized people reach out to their friends," Stetzer said. "In research we conducted for our book Comeback Churches, we found that doing evangelistic outreach events was a key part of many churches' revitalization."
The event evangelism research did not include events such as Vacation Bible School, given their widespread and recurring nature. An emphasis was placed on how integrated special events are into the fabric of churches through frequency of events and awareness and training among laypeople.
Frank Page, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, said the study confirms what many pastors have learned firsthand.
"I think it's on target, and I say that not only from the statistics but from thirty-four years as a pastor," Page said. "Attractional events do work.
"This research helps correct some erroneous thinking and helps provide a recognition of reality among churches who might have inadvertently pulled back from these events," Page said.
"There has been the perception that the individualistic nature of our society would tend to negate the importance of these events. The issue has always been balance. But there has to be an attractional element that intentionally draws people into the hearing of the Gospel and a deeper walk."