Open-Air Preaching

Andrew Bennett, Kirkby-in-Ashfield [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Precious Seed

Introduction

‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’, Mark 16. 15. It is with this commission from the Lord Jesus Christ in mind that we mention the opportunity that there is to preach the gospel in the ‘open air’.  The word for preach that is used in the verse is interesting – it is the Greek word kerusso which has the idea of being a herald, such as the town crier. The primary arenas for preaching in the New Testament were public places, see the example of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, John 7. 37-43, Peter on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2. 14-40, and Paul at Mars Hill, Acts 17. 22-32. Therefore, we see that preaching the gospel message in the ‘open air’ has a basis founded solidly on scriptural principles.  

Preaching in this way can:

  • Reach the lost who have no intention of coming to a conventional gospel meeting;
  • Reach believers who are not already gathering with you;
  • Enable your assembly to develop a greater presence and impact in your community; 
  • Be the starting point for a New Testament assembly in a place where there is currently no testimony.

While this article deals with our experience in commencing an ‘open air’ witness in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, it is our desire to encourage others to get involved in this avenue of evangelism.

Commencing the work

Our exercise for this gospel work started from a report given by a brother of a similar work done in Manchester and Liverpool; as an assembly we had desired to increase our efforts in evangelism to reach more lost souls in the town. A special week of gospel work was arranged and a brother was invited to take the meetings in the evenings as well as preach in the town centre during the day. The writers agreed to assist the evangelist with this but were unexpectedly encouraged by him to preach as well.   

Following that short campaign we continued to preach occasionally when leave from work would allow, but it was decided to commit to preaching on the first Saturday of each month.

If you have an exercise to commence an ‘open air’ witness, it is important to speak to the elders of your assembly to get their blessing for the work – you are representing the assembly and the elders need to know that suitable workers are used and due preparations made. If you have their support it is useful to let the whole assembly know what is planned so that prayer can be made for this new outreach. This would also be an oppor-tunity to gather fellow saints who have a desire to take part and support the work. Clearly, it is assumed that you will have at least one brother taking part who is gifted to preach the gospel publicly.   

The next step would be to find a suitable location in which to preach. From the examples in the scriptures given above, we see that the gospel was preached where people were gathered and somewhere where the preacher’s voice would be heard. Paul preached at Mars Hill, a place where learned men would gather. We chose a square in the very middle of a pedestrianized town centre away from the noise of road traffic.  

It was the apostle Peter who said that we needed to submit to those who are placed in authority by God, 1 Pet. 2. 13-14, and whilst preaching on public property is in most cases permissible by UK law, it is prudent to get permission from the authorities in charge of your prospective preaching location before commencing a work. There may be certain regulations that they have to uphold. For example, when we commenced our work, the local Town Centre Manager wanted to know if we planned to use loudspeaker equipment and requested that we contact the police officer in charge of the town centre in advance of preaching. With an open and clear relationship in place a good testimony is maintained and local authorities may look more favourably on your future outreach plans.

At first the open-air preaching was held quarterly on a Tuesday but work commitments have meant that Saturday was the best day so the first Saturday of each month was chosen. The reason that those days were selected is to coincide with the town’s market. We found that on other days there were not as many passers-by. 

How to preach 

Every preacher has a different style. Here are some suggestions and guidelines that we have found useful. Pray before and after you go out to preach. 

Preach loud and clear

  • Avoid shouting, this tires your voice and can be seen as confrontational to people who are near to you.
  • You’ll be surprised how far your voice carries, particularly in urban locations.
  • Preach concisely for 5-10 minutes at most.
  • Most people within hearing range will be passing by, most will not wait around to listen so it’s vital that you get the message across succinctly.

Preach simply and understandably

  • At best, most of your listeners will have a sketchy knowledge of the gospel so you will need to deal with the essentials of the gospel, God, our sin, Christ’s death, repentance and faith, etc.
  • Quote the word of God; it is ‘quick and powerful’, Heb. 4. 12, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God’, Rom. 10. 17.  
  • Explain what you mean by key words such as faith, forgiveness, grace, and avoid using unnecessary jargon that only believers would be expected to understand.
  • Poor preparation leads to poor performance in the open air. You do not want to be caught off guard, making up the message as you go along, as this does not put you, or your assembly, in a very good light. 

Take literature with you, for instance:

  • Tracts advertizing your meetings
  • Good general gospel tracts
  • Bibles and New Testaments, John’s Gospels
  • CDs of gospel messages

If there is a group of you going out in the open-air work then, whilst one is preaching, the others can be distributing tracts and speaking to people who are listening or those who are seated in the area. For example, we preach near an area where people can be seated, and so speaking to individuals can give further oppor-tunity to share the gospel. 

Open-air preaching can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Simply standing up and preaching is appropriate for most locations and occasions as people pass by without stopping. They will hear the message as they approach and as they depart.
  • Preaching with visual aids, such as text cards or diagrams can help give you a structure to your message and help your listeners to remember what you have said. Make sure your visual aids are of good quality and legible. 

Ideally, you would like people to stop and listen to you; they will then hear more of your preaching. If a crowd gathers you can create a dialogue with them by asking and answering questions like the apostle Paul did, Acts 17. 2; 18. 4, 19.  

Make sure that you have some answers prepared for any questions that might be asked, for example

  • Why do babies die?
  • What evidence is there that there is a God?
  • How can you prove what you are saying?

These questions can often help you to develop your message and you can use questions as a way of developing the gospel. The most important point in this section is to preach in a manner befitting the word of God, without causing offence to people by the manner in which you preach. 

Follow-up work

Once you have concluded preaching, the work continues. Follow up work can include: 

  • Collecting names of people that have spoken to you or others with you. These names can then form a list for the assembly to pray intelligently. Ask any individuals if they have any matters that they wish you to pray for. We had this experience after a prayer meeting when a car pulled up outside the hall and the daughter of a contact asked us if we could pray for her mother who had cancer. This gave opportunity for further witness. 

It is good to have a regular time in the open air so relationships can be developed and further contacts made. 

As has been mentioned before, prayer is vital for any endeavour in the gospel. A prayer meeting before the work, and after, is essential.

You can use the open air work as a way of advertising any events that your assembly may be having such as special meetings. 

Open-air witness can lead to other work in your location such as door-to-door work and gospel campaigns as you can then use the list of contacts that you have made to form a basis for the work. 

If, God willing, there are souls saved as a result of the open-air witness then you need to ask the question, ‘Is the assembly ready to teach those souls and answer their questions?’

It is our desire to encourage others with regard to gospel activity in your locality. We need to remember that time is short and there are many souls heading for a lost eternity. It is our responsibility to reach them with the message of the good news of salvation in Christ.

AUTHOR PROFILE: ANDREW BENNETT is and Alastair Rodger was in fellowship in the assembly in Kirkby-in-Ashfield. They have been active in gospel witness in and from their own assembly and in other assemblies locally. Owing to a change of job, Alastair Rodger is now in fellowship in South Norwood, London.