Last weekend Heidi Baker, Todd White, Chris Overstreet and other revivalists were preaching and ministering in Stockholm at the huge charismatic Gospel event called Awakening Europe. Sarah and I were there along with at least 12,000 other Christians hungry for God and the expansion of His Kingdom in Scandinavia. Even though I’m critical to big arenas, church shows, expensive equipment and male dominance the overall impression from the event was very positive since the message was centred on something we are desperately lacking in Northern churches:
This was without doubt the most Jesus-centred conference I’ve ever been to. The pure Gospel was being preached every night with emphasis on repentance, faith, salvation and being born again. The program booklet proclaimed that Europe shall be saved and that we should believe for 100 million souls over the next ten years. The pause screen in between sessions asked us if we had spoken to someone about Jesus today – something my friend Rebecka Rodriguez calls the One Person a Day Challenge. Swedish church leaders prayed that we once again would become a nation of missionaries.
Most impressively, they managed to get most of the ten thousand attendees out on the streets to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, love the poor and invite people to the event. I have never seen that happening previously. Every time when a Christian conference has had evangelism, it has only been a tiny minority participating while most people do other stuff in the conference or camp area. It has often been viewed as a bonus activity for those especially called rather than as discipleship training for all the saints.
I was even part of a team last summer responsible for a new outreach initiative at one of Sweden’s biggest Christian conferences. The conference leadership agreed with us that evangelism is for everyone and we hoped to get hundreds if not thousands out on the street. But out of ten thousand conference attendees, we didn’t bring out more than 40 over all five days. There was nothing wrong with the information – I made videos every day that they played on the evening meetings, and we got to share testimonies of how people received Christ and were healed out there as the conference was going on. Speakers at the conference referenced the outreach in their sermons – even the very theme of the conference was Exodus, encouraging the people to get out of their comfort zone and enter the wild.
So how in the world did Awakening Europe manage to get enormously different results? For starters, the demographics surely were different – the Awakening audience was much younger whereas many Christian summer conferences are mainly directed to families. The intention of attendees were also probably different: the Awakening folks went there for revival and breakthrough rather than cozy holiday and recreation. Yet this is not the whole story, because there were a lot of young and old revivalists present at the summer conference who still didn’t go out with us.
The main key behind Awakening’s success I believe was that nothing else was going on at the same time as the outreach. See, saying that evangelism is for everyone doesn’t mean much if you doesn’t act as if it is for everyone. You don’t have competing activities going on at the same time as Sunday services or evening meetings at conferences, and that powerfully signals that it’s for everyone. The same is true for evangelism.
Second, the outreach was preceded by a powerful message by Bethel evangelist Chris Overstreet who emphasised that this is for everyone, that salvation is the beat gift anyone can get and that we ought to pray for boldness and courage. He exhorted us not to retreat to hotel rooms or cafés but to take this opportunity to lead others to Christ. Hammering this in for at least thirty minutes, it likely prepare the uncomfortable more then a thirty second video would have done. He finished by letting us practice sharing our testimony and praying for healing with each other.
Third, the outreach was well prepared. An experienced Swedish evangelist shared how we practically act when approaching people – loving, respectfully, friendly and so on. We were told to go out of the arena and approach team leaders outside. Thirty key areas in Stockholm had been identified in prayer. Each team was led by an evangelist on fire and a Stockholm resident who knew the area. We received Bibles and tickets to the evening meetings.
This is something all Christian conferences should incorporate if we truly want revival and church growth. There’s only one way to reach out, and that’s to actually go out. Awakening Europe did precisely that in a very inspiring and honourable way.