Evangelism at the county fair
It's a summer or fall tradition all over the country. Pack up the kids, grab some cash (actually, a lot of cash) and trek to your local county fair or livestock show. It's a menagerie of sights, sounds and smells. There are corn dogs, funnel cakes and cotton candy. A local band plays something almost recognizable while your mate gives very recognizable instructions to the kids. The farm animals are always waiting, and there are plenty of 4-H exhibits needing to be carefully examined. Soon there will be more delicious and unhealthy food to devour. As the ferris wheel twirls in the background amid the screams on the midway, you almost feel you are in a timeless freeze frame of tradition -- a genuine slice of Americana.
The last thing on your mind is what the Bible has to say about you or your eternal destiny. As you scrounge for a parking spot, you are not even remotely thinking about Bible verses, or discussing spiritual things, or wondering how to get saved. Yet this very scene, the American county fair, is the very setting for the most prolific evangelistic outreach in the history of our local church. It has been the location of literally thousands of gospel conversations, and only the Lord knows how many conversions.
For the past 10 summers, our church has rented an indoor booth at the Wadena fair and at numerous other local fairs. We set up tables and bring in materials. When the fair starts, we are off and running, conducting what we call the "Spiritual Viewpoint Survey." It is a series of 11 questions designed to encourage spiritual conversation and specifically inquire if people know they have eternal life. People will come in to the booth or tent, sit down face to face across the table from us, and begin to respond to the questions. Normally they will interact with us while we ask the questions. We ask them about their opinions and discover what they believe about God, the afterlife, grace, salvation, and the Bible. They often seem delighted to inform us of their viewpoint -- and we listen.
At the end of the survey, we ask if they would like to see verses from the Bible that directly address the questions we asked. Ninety-plus percent of the time, people say yes. We then explain to them in detail the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- and they listen. For the next 20, 30, 40 or more minutes (depending on their interest and willingness), we show them a visual diagram based on John 3:16 illustrating the gospel, read a number of corresponding verses, give a variety of illustrations, and answer their questions. As the Gospel message unfolds, it is amazing to see people time and time again drawn in by the living and powerful Word of God! Often they will be sitting on the edge of their seats, leaning in, and intently listening to the excellent message of the Grace of God. When it is over, they often ask to keep the diagram and the verses and are willing to take a booklet we offer called "The Gospel" which is a clear and thorough explanation of the good news of salvation. This literature does not get tossed (yes, I have curiously poked around garbage cans to check!) and we pray that it indeed gets read perhaps even more than once.
The positive responses are overwhelming. Naturally, there are the occasional grace-haters who are offended by the message, but they are the clear minority. Every year, at every fair, on every day, there are many, many positive responses. You can see it in their countenance: their eyes light up with joy and sometimes tears and a warm, broad smile. You hear it in comments like, "I have never heard this before," or "Now I know I am saved and going to Heaven!" Their positive response is evident when they bring a friend or spouse back to the booth or tent to hear the message too. Some are getting saved, some are hearing things they will think about for a long time, some are hearing the Gospel for the first time -- only the Lord knows the exact impact. But we are going, we are preaching, and the Word of God is being sown. And what a joy it is!
Clarissa Bible Church has been doing this for more than 10 years. We have survey tables at seven different local fairs. Our sister churches in Minnesota are also at fairs in their locations making a total of 19 fairs this year in Minnesota where this is occurring. Some are quite large, others much smaller. All total, over the years, we have handed out about 15,000 Gospel booklets at these fairs -- each one representing a positive and lengthy Gospel conversation. Every year we are amazed by the encouraging stories. A whole book could be written about incredible fair encounters and how the message of Jesus Christ goes out. In fact, we are starting to collect just such stories, and some will appear in forthcoming Grace Family Journals for you to enjoy.
So why does this form of evangelism work so well? I believe a number of reasons come into play. First, it's this classic American venue which so nicely enables these neighborly conversations. There's something seemingly natural about how the setting and the conversation go together. Second, it is very interactive and conversational and allows people to speak and be heard, especially at the outset. Though this form of evangelism is still "stranger" evangelism (occurring between people who have never met before), it warms up quickly in the direction of "personal" evangelism. Third, it appeals to all age and people groups. Seniors, families, teens, singles, the moral crowd, the immoral crowd -- they all are willing to come in and sit down. And finally, the well-developed diagram and verse sheet provide a clear and systematic way to explain the gospel. It is easy to follow and highly interesting. After all, what better news is there than the good news of God's grace? What could be more interesting? But above and beyond all that, the most obvious reason is the Lord's command to go and preach the Gospel and His willingness to honor His Word!
One final benefit of this fair evangelism outreach is the tremendous impact it has on many believers in our church. What better way to get equipped and experienced in evangelism than to witness to five, 10, maybe 20 or more people in one afternoon or evening? Believers have been trained and have learned to explain the Gospel clearly and well. They have become able to answer objections, use illustrations, and make appeals. And it sharpens them for personal evangelism in their daily life. There is an air of excitement and of importance around the tent all day long. Believe me, if your church decides to do this, there will be some in your congregation whom you will not be able to keep away from the tent or booth even if you wanted to!
This outreach has been such a blessing, that the Lord has allowed us opportunity to share it with several other churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas. We have developed various materials which we provide, and we offer specific training in this method. We have gone to these churches, conducted training sessions, and then been on hand to help at their first fair or subsequent fairs as needed. Perhaps we could do the same for you should your church be interested. If you have a passion for the Gospel and share in our desire for its message to be presented accurately and clearly, then we would be glad to assist you. For more information, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kurt Witzig is an elder at Duluth Bible Church and oversees Fair Evangelistic Outreach. Eric Johnson attends Clarissa Bible Church and participates in the Wadena Fair ministry.