This past weekend, Glenn and I were privileged to speak for the Edgewood Church in Columbus, Georgia, for a marriage seminar. We do these seminars frequently, so I was anticipating a weekend much like many others we’ve experienced. But, when we got in the car to head back home after the seminar concluded, we both looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “Wow. I’ve never seen seminar quite like that one.”
It was not our teaching that made this special. It wasn’t food or games or hand-outs. This seminar was unique in that the visitors from the community outnumbered the folks from the congregation in the listening audience. At one point, I was sitting near the local preacher, Ben Giselbach, and I asked about the member/non-member ratio in attendance. He pointed to an entire large section of the auditorium and said “I don’t know any of those people in that front-middle section.”
By the end of the lunch hour on Saturday, when we were leaving, I had overheard a couple of Bible discussions about salvation going on between non-members and Christians; one in the auditorium with a speaker and one in the foyer with one of the sweet women of the church. We knew of two Bible studies that had been set up and one commitment to participate in the Digging Deep study. By the end of the day on Saturday, one attendee who had been very vocally pro-choice had studied her way to advancing a pro-life position. I keep hearing more and varied positive responses from this very spiritually eclectic group. I am privileged this week to pray for the several attendees who are moving toward a clear understanding of God’s will for their lives and eternal salvation. This weekend was enough to dampen and smother any smoldering discouragement I’ve been feeling.
Someone may be wondering what exactly was the difference between this marriage seminar and all of the others of all of the other weekends. Although I know our God is uniquely powerful and there was a lot of prayer that preceded this event, I believe the unique variable for this one was that this church went into the planning of this marriage seminar with a very evangelistic focus. I believe their primary goal was not that of strengthening the marriages within their congregation, though that’s a very worthy goal and I’m sure it occurred. But this church placed beautiful billboards created by a qualified designer in a couple of prominent places in the city of Columbus. The billboard advertised a free marriage workshop including childcare (About 50 children of non-members were registered before the day began, and they attended fun Bible classes, watched Digger Doug and made related crafts. They practically had a VBS going in the kids’ hall and the nursery!) The graphics used on the billboard were splashed all over social media, along with other eye-catching designs. Members were encouraged to stop and photograph the billboards and share their photos on social media. They did. City security was engaged and visible so that the community felt protected as they attended and walked between the two buildings where sessions were held. Greeting crews were designated and trained prior to the event date. Handsome schedules were printed out and free snacks were always available.
All of that to say this: Sometimes our seminars and workshops have an inherent appeal to a very wide audience. The interest in marriage and parenting themes in our culture is perhaps at an all-time high. Since we have the answers in a very trusted Manual, maybe we can do a better job of advertising our seminars to the community. If we get them to attend because their marriages and families are needing answers, that’s a very good place to begin showing them their need for salvation and the church of God.
One non-member attendee put it this way: “You all have a beautiful, welcoming spirit. I can’t wait to fellowship and learn more. I know that I’m going to have to join the body of Christ and get a closer relationship with God, so thank you.” That, sisters, is a great start. I hope this church’s focus in planning can help other groups. I know it has already helped us and plans are in the infant stages to do a very similar workshop in our home church.