In the next few days I’m publishing here a student project by Renee Dinges, who is preparing herself for church-planting in the Vineyard. She, along with some young folk at the Vineyard Church in Evanston, have initiated a new “party evangelism” format and here are the results of her project: she wants it to be a magazine.
Some in the emerging camp will find issues to disagree with, especially if one gets the impression that the parties are solely designed to reach out instead of forming friendship. This, however, I would observe depends on the person’s strategy and not the event of having parties. Well, here’s Renee’s stuff.
This project was initiated and designed to explore the contemporary efforts and results of “Party Evangelism”. With effort, this project worked to hold an objective perspective of Party Evangelism, although it is recognized that due to excitement and personal investment, the objectivity may have been skewed at times. Party Evangelism—the theology, methodology, and practice—has not developed fully nor reached its prime, yet without hesitation, attention must be brought to what is happening in its wake.
May this project serve as an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom coming in a new way.
We live in a culture that is rapidly becoming faceless. Online banking, Christmas shopping through Amazon.com, Internet chat rooms, and distance education courses are telling symptoms of a society—our society—that is set up to eliminate personal relationship. While teaching ourselves and our children to be aware of “Stranger Danger” is wise and the convenience of life in the 21st century is pleasurable, this thread has become extreme in nature, causing us to be skeptical and resistant to any relationship we neither expect nor initiate.
The Church is not excluded in its bending towards this social dynamic. In the land of the Mega church, where intimate, personal relationship is a legend, people are used to coming and going, free of creating any roots of community. In a local 500 plus church, it was recently observed that nearly 50 percent of the church body arrives to a Sunday morning service ten minutes late or “during the second worship song”. Now some may “blame” this statistic on the long line at Starbucks or the time change, but the staggering element of this fact is that the same 50 percent of this congregation is known to leave within roughly five minutes after the service is dismissed.
People are reluctant to linger and invest in relationship.
Regardless of their behavior or even verbal claims, people are in need of relationship. This faceless society has left people craving personable interaction, where they are known and know others. Interestingly enough most are overtly responsive to the invitation for relationship. While invitations to coffee dates, Book Clubs, “drinks”, a Cubs game, and dinner can, at times, be startling, more often than not, invitations are accepted and then returned.
In this midst of this faceless, relationship skeptical society, a new wave is brewing in The Church. The “emergent church” most known for its radical, cutting edge approach to mixing Jesus and the real world, is beginning an evangelistic first, in an attempt to extend relationship outward. They are calling in Party Evangelism…and it is working.
Foundational to the concept of Party Evangelism, is the belief that relationship is a vital part of a person coming to know Jesus. It is most common (and the hope) that through relationship with a Christian, a non-believer is drawn into the church community, where Jesus and the salvation message are presented as alive, near, and tangible.
Party Evangelism, is exactly what it sounds like: a party that serves as an evangelistic tool towards the un-churched. These parties are often held in someone’s home or apartment hosted by a small group (aka: housegroup, cell group) from a particular church. Members of the small group and often other church goers use the venue of a party to gather un-churched friends of theirs to a non-threatening environment. Themes or activities often decorate the parties, bringing some “flare” and fun to the evening. With the ever enticing aspect of “free food”, these parties become a place where casual, yet meaningful relationship is built between the churched and un-churched, where neither party is threatened, on a mission, or viewed as “the project”. Parties are usually held about once a month, providing consistent opportunity to build relationship with new un-churched folks as well as those who have attended other parties.
Radical and risky, at best, Party Evangelism is proving to be successful; with “success” being defined as an evangelistic tool where un-churched people are being invited into the greater church community where they are introduced to and often accepted of Jesus.
Church communities vary in their approach to these parties. A rapidly growing emergent church in Pittsburgh, PA, hosts their parties in a tattoo/ coffee house in the southern art district of the city. A Vineyard church plant in Seattle, Washington has taken the “in home” approach, hosting their parties in the houses and apartments of their church goers. Another Vineyard church in Evanston, Il incorporated themes into each of their parties; one of the most popular being “Hat and Wig”, where party goers where asked and/or given a hat and/or wig to wear throughout the evening.
The “practicals”, points of interest, and theological components of Party Evangelism are still developing. Yet, without question or need for extensive observation, one can see the success that this evangelistic tool is bringing is undeniable.
For More Information or Resources Regarding Party Evangelism…
“When God is the Life of the Party” By Norm & Becky Wretlind
Serving with the unchurched: “Christmas Boxing Parties”
Cultural Evangelistic Parties
“Tea Parties with a Purpose”
“Back to School Block Parties” http://www.christianwomentoday.com/training/themeparties.html