Reaching out with the Gospel - Market Stall Work
Winston Vanderput, Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
How did you go about setting up your market stall outreach?
These days people do not go to church on anything like a regular basis. Like many assemblies, we struggle to get people into our usual gospel meetings. Equally, when out with gospel literature we were conscious that people can easily bin it without giving it more than a glance. Our main concern was that we were anonymous. In contrast, the market stall gives us the opportunity to meet and talk to people – letting people know we are here!
On the second Saturday after starting the work, and when there were enough of us to walk about, we had an opportunity to talk to a person who was clearing up after the market. He spoke to us, and said, ‘You have been noticed!’ In this sense we feel that it has been very profitable. However, whilst we started with five volunteers, it is important to be able to ensure ample staffing. One point of interest is that over the last couple of months the Jehovah’s Witnesses have started doing something similar!
What issues did you have to sort out before you could start? Were there any requirements that you had to meet?
Most markets are run by the local council (either district or parish). Before you can do anything, you must obtain permission from the council designated person – seek out the market stall supervisor. If classed as a ‘charity’ you may be allocated a space/slot on the fringes of the market and without a choice. Be prepared to take what place you are given! Alternatively, if you want to choose your location there is usually a charge.
It is important to realize that bookings must be made in advance. Equally, if you cannot staff the stall on an agreed date, you are obliged to inform the council representative/administrator. Be aware that times can be really early – initially, set up times are between 5.30 – 6 a.m. if, like ours, the stall is in a cordoned-off street.
Whatever position you are granted, it is important to make some sort of visual impact upon those who pass by. Banners can be helpful and a simple check on size of the stall can provide you with some idea of what is needed and the cost. The display you may use on the stall is relatively open – we have received no objections as yet. Whilst some other stall holders are rather blasé about our stall, it has generated some interest.
Minor administrative points are:
- Ensure the stall is staffed at all times.
- Keep the stall tidy – many councils provide a bag for rubbish!
What do you stock on your market stall and why?
Apart from Bibles, we have mainly tracts and booklets, e.g., Journey into Life, Norman Warren. Various booklets by John Blanchard are also acceptable and useful. We always try to have copies of different Gospels. As we have occasionally attracted interest from children, we now have a limited amount of children’s materials. Lately, we have expanded to include some Creation/Evolution literature. This has been helpful in attracting interest. However, overall it is the display of the materials that is important.
Points to ponder:
- Some of this material can be expensive.
- Be careful not to stock too much.
- Plan how to deal with people who wish to make a donation for any materials.
What type of questions do you get asked by people who stop to have a look?
There is always the general enquiry – Who are you? Be prepared and able to tell people who you are and what you believe! We do meet with scepticism – Why do you believe in God? The assumption that the theory of evolution is fact has also generated discussion. Therefore, it is helpful to know some of the basic issues surrounding the creation/evolution debate. Although in a minority, it is good to be prepared for people who may well come and try to challenge what you believe and what you are about. For example, what would be our response to the homosexual question?
What are the benefits of such a work?
We believe it is essential to talk with people and engage them in conversation over the gospel. The market stall has given:
- us the opportunity to let people know we are there and approachable;
- the public the chance to put faces to the people who go to the Hall;
- some success in drawing people into the gospel meeting, particularly through the Christmas calendar distribution.
We have noticed that we get quite a few people from out of town – the stall has enabled us to reach out into rural Lincolnshire. To have some people go away with tracts and Bibles is a thrill!
What lessons have you learned that have helped you improve the outreach?
We seek to listen to people and to answer without alienating them. One essential is to be prepared and knowledgeable about the issues that people have as ‘baggage’ that has to be overcome before openings for the gospel can be gained.
The author is happy to offer what advice may be helpful and can be contacted through the PSI email address. This article has been compiled from a conversation between the editor and the named writer. It is included in the magazine as a means of sharing experience of this type of work of spreading the gospel to those amongst whom we live.