The "Delicate Dance"
Kevin: Season of Service has worked very well in Little Rock, San Diego, and Phoenix—three larger cities in which we've worked—and a small town in Yakima, Washington, because we didn't invent anything new. There are churches in these cities that already have a desire to do the work, so we come in as outside organizers to give them better opportunities to do it.
For a festival to happen, the key pastors of the city have to be on board. The mayor and city leaders have to support it. And the key CEOs of the town have to make it happen. During this year-long preparation, we give these cities examples from Portland and other cities that have been successful. But we also have to recruit the right leaders. We can't assume we've culled out the cream-of-the-crop leadership, but as long as they genuinely understand what we're trying to do, and they agree to work together post-festival, all four of these cities are continuing. We have a conference call every month with the leaders from these cities to keep learning from each other and compare what's been working and what's been a challenge.
Have you seen the churches working together in the Season of Service and festivals translate into greater receptivity to the gospel message?
Luis: The pendulum seems to swing between social action and evangelism, and right now I think the pendulum has swung to social action. I worry because right now people almost sneer at the concept of evangelism.
Andrew: Especially proclamation evangelism. They would say relational evangelism is fine, but proclamation evangelism is too much.
Luis: True. But I wonder how much real evangelism goes on in "relational evangelism." Is having a beer together at a bar and chatting for three hours about culture truly evangelism? When are they going to hear the gospel?
Kevin: I wish I could say, "Oh, my goodness. We held a service festival which fostered a ton of relational evangelism, and the number of people accepting Christ doubled." But we can't say that. At times I wonder, Has it taken all of this work just to keep anyone at all interested in hearing the gospel?
Andrew: Looking at the broader perspective, changing people's general sense of who a follower of Jesus Christ is opens the door for more relational and one-on-one evangelism. And just getting evangelism on the radar of some people inside the church is important. If we can't even do that because we're too focused on the festival model, they're going to keep it at arm's length. But we want to start breaking down the barriers that have kept people from even thinking about evangelism. At the end of the day, they look at the whole thing and say, "You know, this festival thing really wasn't that bad. The gospel was proclaimed. I brought my friend, and he came to the Lord. Or maybe he didn't come to the Lord, but we're still friends and now we have this new conversation."
Kevin: Over the years we've looked at the best way to measure the success of evangelism. Based on our understanding of biblical evangelism, we've tried to help the church move away from the short-term view of asking, "How many made a commitment to Christ? How much did my church grow?" For years we've said to churches, "If you're doing this because you're looking at short-term church growth, you should walk out right now." There are a few examples of it hitting the right church at the right time, but in most cases it's a sowing and reaping process. There's a value to mobilizing the body for unity. There's a value to service, and there's a value to training and equipping and evangelizing. There's a value to breaking down stereotypes. Our prayer is that over the longer haul we will see new churches planted. We saw churches revitalized. But it's not going to be a short-term project.