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Kinds of Outreach

True story:

Saturday was Louisville Pride Festival on Bardstown Road.

Louisville Gay Men’s Chorus opened the musical side of the festival with the Star Spangled Banner and other opening songs, and VOICES of Kentuckiana sang right afterwards, so I was there in the back row trying to sing newish-to-me music after having been out on sick leave for a couple of seasons, although I have sung “Make Them Hear You” before.

Because our director had begged us and one of the other chorus members had been emailing us and because I felt responsible to take part in what I’m part of, I had volunteered to “help with the High Heel Race.” In my case, this turned out to involve walking up and down the many blocks of the festival in the 87 degree sunny weather holding a large sign that said “HIGH” along with someone else with a sign that said “HEEL” to encourage festival-goers to be spectators. I don’t know how effective we were, but what seemed like a lot of people did watch the race.

On one of the corners, a preacher was standing on a chair or stool, with a bullhorn, and two large signs. One read “JESUS SAVES” and another read “REPENT OR BURN IN HELL.” He preached non-stop, but I only caught a few phrases; I had the general impression of language I know from church. No doubt some of the festival-goers understood this language as well.

I do not know what he would have done if anyone had gone up to him to have a conversation. I did not see that happen.

Some people were standing around him with other signs; some seemed to have the name of the preacher and some contact information; another read, I think, “Jesus loves everyone.” It might not have been those exact words.

Directly in front of the preacher, across the street, was a booth for Central Presbyterian Church, which is a More Light PC(USA) church near downtown. Behind the preacher were other church booths: Third Lutheran; Highland Baptist; St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ; Metropolitan Community Church, maybe a couple of others. The big open-to-LGBT-folk churches in town.

The church world is small. I stopped to see if people I know from those churches were there, and talked to a few people. The booths were pretty well-staffed. I don’t know how many non-church people stopped to talk. When I was there I did not see that happen.

Walking up and down the street, two different people came up to me and talked to me and gave me stickers to wear.

Both of them were very enthusiastic young people, campaigning for candidates for public office.

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4 responses to “Kinds of Outreach”

  1. Seems like an interesting, if predictable mix of folks for the type of event planned. If “outreach” was the goal of each — from the Pride organizers, to the churches, to the politicians, to the protesters, what are your thoughts on effectiveness? If one group didn’t engage with another (except, of course, the politicians), can any of it be considered “outreach”? Celebratory for the participants, perhaps. And that’s a good thing. But outreach? I wasn’t there but I’d like to hear your impressions on that.
    Peace Heather!


    • Well, the relative absence of what I might call “genuine interaction” is definitely on my mind.

      I agree that “outreach” worthy of the name really needs to connect with its audience. And that is exactly what I question in the case of the church outreach – not only the street-corner Reverend’s sermon, which people noticed, but I gathered mostly tuned out with varying degrees of indifference, but also the “friendly” mainline presence.

      What was most on my mind on Saturday, after I stopped being overheated and had a chance to sit down and put my feet up, was that there was less contrast between the approach of the street corner preacher and the approach of the churches than you might think at first. The preacher is letting people know up front that he thinks everyone there is going to hell, and he has not bothered [if this is fair of me, it might not be] to figure out what he would need to do to make that message compellingly interesting to even one actual individual there.

      But … how is that really different from having a booth? On the surface, there’s this huge difference between a message of “you’re gonna be in big trouble when your Big Brother gets here” and a message of “you’re so OK.” But in practice … I’m not so sure about that, I think they are both mostly about being ignore-able.

      Having done my share of booth-sitting over the past 20 years or so, I know that USUALLY how booths work is that you have some literature and some stuff to give away and if you’re smart some kind of food, like candy, and decent signage, and you hope that some people come to the booth and chat, and of those people you might eventually see one or two ever again. And then you tell yourself, well, this activity is still worthwhile, because people see the booth, they know we are around, name recognition is important, and so on and on.

      And while I think all of that is true to a point, still, I think it is way different from walking up to another human being and saying in effect “hey, I have a story, it concerns you, it will affect what you’ll want to do a few months from now, and I think you’ll be glad we talked.” I think this is the approach of the campaigners – it’s more proactive, it’s more personal, it’s concerned, it’s connective, it’s honest, it’s caring – at least, it’s caring about something, and it may turn out that it IS caring about me and people like me, the candidate may have my interests very much at heart.

      Of course, I think it CAN be all that, too, possibly because people expect it from political campaigns, but also because people often actually recognize that they want and need information about candidates, and often care about voting, see the connection … so there are some favorable conditions for the proactive approach, too, on that topic.

      I’m afraid people in our world are sensitized to ward off what they see as “evangelism” heading their way, and think they already know everything they need or want to know.

      Our chorus calls things we do outside of concerts “outreach events,” too, and we don’t talk to individual people. But singing in venues like that does, I think, work to make the chorus more visible, to publicize upcoming concerts, to act as a “sampling program” for the music itself which presumably increases interest in attending a concert – you hear it, and then if you think, “hey, they sound good,” you might want to hear some more. And people, not all of them our friends and relatives, assembled and listened to us sing. So I think that activity was effective.

      I keep thinking there ought to be a sampling program for church.

      [Sorry, long, I know … but … you asked.] Peace to you, too, Tim!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I asked. And I had assumed some of what you’re saying because of the title and the lack of parenthetical asides within the text. Interesting comparison between the churches who had booths and the preacher outside the fold. My profession (in real life, not blog life) is sales and marketing and I hate to think that we should apply that to evangelization but then when I see what some churches use, I think, “oh my goodness.”
    Thanks for the additional commentary. It’s helpful context.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose I should add, it’s not that I think the churches are wrong to do tabling … the visibility does matter. Just that I think the more formidable obstacle these days is the indifference.

      I get that no one wants to “sell Jesus” the way unscrupulous used car salesmen might. But in the best case, sales and marketing are about bringing people something that will delight and help them that they didn’t even know about. So good news-ism really needs an excellent sales and marketing department.

      Liked by 1 person

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