There is a difference between messages proclaimed in the open air and those proclaimed in a building where people are sitting and attentive. People in a church building are there willingly and are a captive audience. In the open air, if people don’t like what you are saying or think you are boring, they leave. Therefore, you need to learn the skills of open-air evangelism. The analogy of “fishing” for men is so applicable. A good fisherman is a skilled fisherman, and his skill comes by experience. He learns to go where the fish gather. He knows that seagulls gather where the fish are, or that certain seaweeds attract certain fish. He knows how to bait a hook so that it is disguised. He knows when to reel in the fish, etc. These skills come by experience, but to hasten that experience see Parts 1 and 2 for additional suggestions on choosing a suitable “fishing hole” and how to draw a crowd.
One way to attract “fish” is to use any type of entertainment, such as playing a guitar and singing. If it would help me pull in a crowd, I would sing, if I could. If I could dance or juggle or smash wood with my fist, I would use that skill for the glory of God. If you have a talent of any sort, give serious consideration to using it to reach the lost. Some Christians have a great talent but set it aside, thinking that it was just part of their old, sinful life. Then resurrect it for the sake of the unsaved. If you can do sleight-of-hand (magic), do it. Rekindle the skill.
“If you have a talent of any sort, give serious consideration to using it to reach the lost.”
However, make sure that any entertainment is used to attract people to the message, rather than distract them from it. If it continues while you’re witnessing, people won’t be listening to your words. So, once you have their attention, stop the entertainment, but keep it handy, and do something else for your listeners when you have finished speaking to leave them with a positive note.
One fear of those who open-air evangelize is the inability to draw and hold a crowd. One suggestion is to search the Internet for pictures of celebrities who have died. Print a large copy of each and staple them at the top left corner. Go through them one at a time, asking the crowd who they are and why they are famous (their most notable movie, etc.). Then ask what they all have in common.
As people call out their answers, watch for someone who is confident and loud. Ask for his name as you ask why the celebrity was famous, etc. Be sure you deliberately log his name into your memory. Call on him a couple of times and ask him for the identity of the next celebrity. In doing so you are building a relationship so that you can come back to him (or a couple of other people you have befriended) and ask, “Bill, tell me—what are your thoughts on what happens after someone dies? Is there a Heaven? Is the person reincarnated? Do you think there is a Hell?” Then take him through the Good Person Test.
Even if you don’t sense a conviction of sin from the individual you’re addressing, when witnessing in the open air it’s wise to go ahead and explain the gospel. It may seem like a contentious crowd, but there could be one or more individuals who are listening.
One very effective way to build up a crowd is to ask trivia questions and give dollar bills to those who answer correctly. Have the crowd applaud enthusiastically when answers are given—even if they are incorrect. Say, “That was wrong, but it was a good try. Let’s give him a hand!” Loud, enthusiastic applause draws more people to the crowd, so the more people clapping the better. Consider having a friend step forward at appropriate times with an “Applause!” sign and encourage everyone to clap.
“One very effective way to build up a crowd is to ask trivia questions and give dollar bills to those who answer correctly.”
Offer $1 to anyone who can name ten beers. If someone names only five, give him a dollar as a consolation prize.” This creates good will with the crowd. Keep asking for other volunteers who can name ten. After that, offer $10 to anyone who can name all of the Ten Commandments, in order (very few can). That will get several people quoting the Commandments, making it easy for you to ask who has kept each one.
Then offer $20 to anyone who proves to be a good person. When taking someone through the Ten Commandments, appoint six people in the crowd to act as a jury (people are usually quick to judge the sins of others). That will help to engage the crowd, and it will take the heat off you. After giving the gospel it’s good to say, “Thanks for being a good sport. You didn’t prove to be a good person, so you don’t get the $20. But I have something else for you. Here’s $5 as a gift. You didn’t earn it, but I’m giving it to you because I care for you. That’s called ‘grace.’ God offers everlasting life as a gift to sinners, not because we earned it, but simply because of His amazing grace.” Have the person come forward to receive the $5, then explain that it wasn’t his until he received it. So it is with the gift of God.
To engage the crowd, another way to draw responses is to address trivia questions to those in the crowd who embrace evolution. Simply say, “This next question is only for those who believe in evolution.” Then ask these questions (giving away dollar bills for correct answers): “What was Darwin’s first name?” (Charles) “What was the name of his first book?” (The Voyage of the Beagle) “What is the age of the earth: thousands, millions, or billions of years old?”
“You are completely in control of the direction of the conversation and can move from the ‘intellect’ to the ‘conscience’ anytime you wish.”
While people are calling out answers, look for the most outspoken person. Then ask him, “What’s your name? Fred, you obviously believe in the theory of evolution. Why?”
Don’t feel that you need to be an expert on the theory of evolution or even have to give your thoughts on the age of the earth. All you have to remember is that you are completely in control of the direction of the conversation and can move from the “intellect” to the “conscience” anytime you wish. Simply ask him questions about why he believes what he believes about the theory, then ask if he believes in the existence of God—is there a Heaven, etc.? If he says that he doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife, say, “If Heaven does exist, are you good enough to go there? Are you a good person?” This moves away from the intellect to the conscience. Then take him through the Commandments. If he says that he is not a good person, ask, “So have you broken the Ten Commandments?” and take him through each one for his (and for the crowd’s) sake. Then preach Judgment Day, the cross, the resurrection, repentance, and faith.