One of my students, Renee Dinges, did this project on party evangelism and she is working this out with another of my students, who must have one of the coolest names in history, “Lightning.” He, too, is prayerfully considering becoming a church planter. This post is his interview.
February 24, 2006
Lightning Atkinson, with his wife Sara and a few others, are currently pioneering the concept of “party evangelism” at the Vineyard Christian Church of Evanston, Evanston, Illinois. Currently using their house group as the “pilot” forum of the cutting edge evangelism angle, Lightning sat down to talk about what he has found.
Where did you originally hear about the idea of “party evangelism”? What was your initial reaction to the concept?
I initially heard of a Vineyard pastor, Steve Morgan, who was using “party evangelism” as significant gathering element of his church plant in Seattle. Steve Nicholson, the senior pastor, at Evanston, later suggested the idea, sharing a bit of how it has impacted the Morgan plant, at Evanston’s Leaders Day in September. My thought when I heard of the concept was “that could work.”
What was it that made you want to try “party evangelism”?
When Sara and I began to dream and talk about the vision for our new house group, we decided that we wanted a group that drew people in. Being that we are preparing to church plant in the next year and church plants are often full of new Christians, we wanted to try the “party evangelism” with our house group, making it a place that attracted people that were unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with the traditional church setting.
Is there a specific passage in the Bible or element of Christ’s character that you relate to “party evangelism” as a foundational characteristic?
Jesus, as a person, was so attractive to others that people threw parties for Him; take Simon, for example or Zacchaeus. Jesus created a non-religious context to meet with these people and build relationship with them, similar to the idea of “party evangelism”.
Now that you have hosted a few of these parties, what are your thoughts about the concept? Do you think it’s effective?
It is a slow way to do evangelism. Practically it usually takes about 2-4 months of inviting, for a person to first come to a party. Followed by an additional 3-4 parties (which usually means 3-4 months—a party per month), for a person to come to a Sunday morning service. For people that arrive at these parties primed and “ready”, in a sense to become Christians, the parties are clearly effective. These parties are not aimed at “closing the deal” on a person’s salvation, but rather focused on “getting leads” on peoples’ lives.
What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of “party evangelism”?
A major strength is that these parties are a tool to bring people into a place and eventually a community that then allows other tools (relationships, the salvation message, etc) to be used.
The parties that we have found to be most successful are those that have had a gimmick of sorts. “Hat and Wig” night was one of our favorites, requiring all party-goers to wear either a hat or wig or in some cases both. Some brought their own, while most claimed and throughout the night, traded the hats and wigs we provided. This gimmick tied the party together, allowing for a central aspect with low-key, low-pressure structure.
A weakness, or hard part of party evangelism, is that it takes a lot of people and structure to “put on” or host a party. In most cases, it requires about 12-15 people to organize and facilitate a party.
We have come to realize that there need to be definite and clear roles filled by the group of people hosting the parties. I believe there are about seven major roles that need to be filled by either a person or few people during each party, beginning with the “administrator”, who does the “pre party” work, coordinating and planning the details. A “host” is concerned about making people feel welcome, initially greeting them and bringing them into the party. A “team of minglers” then takes over, working to mix new people with old people, make conversation, and connect people. An “overly extroverted person” helps a lot, setting the social tone of the party. A “kitchen staff” is responsible for more than food, as people are often likely to wander into the kitchen and just hang out; this team creates the “homey” part of the party. “Bringers” make the party, by simply bringing people, which requires them to be networked within the community (one outside of the church) from which they can gather people. A few “intercessors” rounds out the group, praying that God’s work would be done at the parties.
What about follow up (with the people that come to a party): is there a necessary process or does that element happen naturally?
Ideally the parties work by person A inviting an un-churched friend of his that is in the 1st or 2nd circle of his life. This way the follow-up is naturally, happening casually at the office, a playgroup, book club, etc.
Do you think “party evangelism” attracts a certain type of person or is it something that anyone “flocks” to?
These parties usually hook the demographic of people holding the parties. People invite their friends who are usually like themselves.