It is the time of year when everywhere has their fairs and stuff. the park over the road had their "Larks in the Parks" yesterday - a local organised set of stuff in a number of the local parks.
One church I used to attend used to like took this opportunity to set up a prayer tent, providing prayer for people who want it at the local event. I was always uncomfortable with this, but I think I am starting to understand why I don't like it. There are three reasons:
1. The demographic who will respond to this are the same demographic who are currently in the church. Yes, it may reach some people not previously reached by the church, but it is the group of people that the church would tend to attract. It is not really doing anything new - "Oh yes, the church is praying for people. I never expected this!"
2. The event has brought one or two new people into church. However, is this the purpose? Getting one new person into the church - or enabling people to engage with God? We have such a focus on Numbers In Church as if this is the thing that is most important. Yes it is good that someone sees something of God in the event, but praying is notoriously unreliable. What about those who are prayed for and feel nothing? Those who expect more than is on offer (and there was never a promise of anything), and are disappointed?
If you rely on counting Bums on Pews, then you ignore those that you drive away. Bums on Pews is easy - put a fiver on each pew, and people will come. The problem is that those people who are prayed for and get nothing out of it, those who are turned away from God because of their experiences, these never get counted.
3. The big problem is that by putting all of the resources into this is that so many other opportunities go begging. There are other chances - to do things that are unusual, that provide something other organisations are not doing. Why is the church not organising a nightclub, for example, for the younger people in the area? Or put together a music stage - and bring in some local bands playing some different and unusual music.
So this is the problem I have with the church doing the same thing for the same people as always. If the church really wants to be effective, do something different, do something radical, do something that will really challenge the church members, push them to the limits and beyond. And see what God might do with that.
So to anyone else organising something for a summer fair, forget the prayer ministry, forget the cake stalls, forget the bookshop and hire a techno DJ to party into the night. Or something - but do something different.