OceanFest on July 4th draws over 100,000 people who visit various booths along the Promenade in Long Branch, NJ. To be sure it is a festival of sorts. People come from the surrounding area as well as from other states to walk the Promenade. There’s food, entertainment, all kinds of goods to buy, activities, and then there’s some like us.
For the second year, our church had a booth at OceanFest where we presented The God Test, a simple tool for presenting the Gospel. If you’re not familiar with The God Test here’s a brief description: the “test” asks ten questions to people who say they believe in God and another ten questions to those who do not believe. The questions are designed to help people see what they think about God whether they’re religious or not. It also reveals areas where the questioner can ask more questions to help people clarify what they believe. The God Test is a useful tool that can adapt to many situations. I like it as an outline to get a conversation started with unbelievers.
This year, it was clear that those who gave the test had a much higher degree of confidence than last year. The people who participated in giving the test were more eager to give the test this year anticipating great results. Last year was the first year our church used the God Test and there was a bit of anxiety in the test givers. This year, there wasn’t much of this at all.
By the end of the day, over one hundred people heard about salvation in Jesus Christ. The mixture of people was astounding. We spoke to people from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, ethnic groups, and occupations. To say this was a great opportunity and experience would be an understatement. The chance to sit with unbelievers, skeptics, and nominal Christians rarely presents itself with these numbers. What we have found in both years at the booth was that many people are anxious to tell you about their beliefs and also see what the Bible has to say.
Pastor Tony Moss of Long Branch Covenant Church stated as he looked at the event admirably, “This is the church being the church.” Indeed it was as members stepped out of their comfort zone and spoke to complete strangers about Jesus. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of sharing Jesus, we came away with three important facts.
The first was that you learn a lot about what unbelievers (and those who say they believe) think about God and Jesus. Most who came into the booth this year claimed to believed in God, but we quickly found out that the beliefs people profess are not anywhere near orthodox Christian beliefs. Hearing what people think is always eye-opening. Sometimes people fumble for answers and need a little help. Other times it is clear that people are hesitant to sound judgmental. Most people were drowning in political correctness as they could not say Jesus was the only way to God. However, also apparent was how eager people are to talk about what they believe. Most of those I spoke with were eager to hear what the Bible says about these questions, too.
The second fact was that a vast majority of people we talked to moved closer to knowing God through Jesus. Greg Koukl calls this putting a “stone in someone’s shoe.” We put a lot of stones in people’s shoes that day. If people didn’t make a confession of faith, they did leave with a free book and at least one new truth for them to consider. Watching people leave our booth with a smile on their face gives a sense of accomplishment. Knowing they have something to wrestle with is probably more important.
Lastly, we did lead some to either re-commit or make a first time commitment to the Lord. This is something you don’t do every day. At least I don’t. I had a few opportunities to help people see Jesus as their Savior, but one I remember most was when I spoke with one high school girl who was waiting for her friend. One of our “barkers” (designated men or women who get people to come into the tent) convinced her it was painless and fun to take the test. After brief introductions, we dove right into the test and within a few minutes, I realized she was thinking seriously about each question. She was responding to each question as I would have scripted it. As a father and grandfather, I could do all I could to keep myself from getting emotional. I could see her countenance change with each answer she gave and responded positively when I asked her if she would want to follow Jesus. We bowed our heads and prayed, and I sensed we were standing in eternity as she passed from death to life. When she lifted her head, her smile was infectious. She knew Jesus forgave her and God was making himself real to her. Moments like these outweigh all the awkwardness and intimidation a person could feel when they hesitate to share Jesus with someone.
When the day was over everyone involved had a sense of elation. Some moments were funny, some moments were intense, and also moments of a breakthrough for both the test givers and the recipients. OceanFest is a great venue to meet people we would otherwise never meet. It is also an opportunity we recognize God put right in our neighborhood to share Jesus with these people. The God Test is a great tool to get the conversation going, too. The volunteers who helped man the booth were the instruments God used to reach a lot of people. Our hope and prayer is that God in some way met all the people who took the test, dropped a stone in their shoe and helped them come closer to him.