We must preach where the people are. You may think that this a simple and self-evident truth. It is! The problem is that some people do not understand it. With open-air preachers, we can develop a martyr complex of preaching where there are no listeners. A person goes downtown when it is dead. All of the workers are out of the area since it is the weekend. Yet, a preacher takes to the street corner to preach when there is no one to hear.
Why would a person do this? It can be justified by many Biblical statements. First, Jesus deserves to be gloried and exalted in the open air. Second, the angels are hearing the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and rejoice over it. Third, this is a way to be salt in the world by preaching truth on the public square. I agree with all of these reasons to preach. However, it misses the primary goal of preaching; it is to have people hear the Gospel.
Charles Spurgeon gives an illustration from his Lectures to His Students which displays the misguidedness of preaching to no one.
"I once saw a man preaching with no hearer but a dog, which sat upon its tail and looked up very reverently while its master orated. There were no people at the windows nor passing by, but the brother and his dog were at their post whether the people would hear or whether they would forbear. Once also I passed an earnest declaimer, whose hat was on the ground before him, filled with papers, and there was not even a dog for an audience, nor anyone within hearing, yet did he “waste his sweetness on the desert air.” I hope it relieved his own mind. Really it must be viewed as an essential part of a sermon that somebody should hear it: it cannot be a great benefit to the world to have sermons preached in vacuo." (Spurgeon, pg. 277)
The Gospel must be preached to the people and not the air. A fisherman goes to the fishing hole. He doesn’t go to the mall. A deer hunter goes to his stand in the woods. He doesn’t go to the John Deere dealership. They go to where their prey lives. In the same way, we must go to the people.
In Romans 10:14-15 states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ (ESV).
Paul assumes that a preacher is sent to the people. They are the ones who need to hear the Gospel. How can an unbeliever hear the gospel if the gospel preacher is sent to an empty street? Paul assumes that the preacher is sent to an audience in order to hear the words of eternal life.
In the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:12-24, Luke wrote about the master wanting people to come to the banquet. “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (ESV). The servants were sent to the highways since there would be people there. They would find people to invite to the kingdom of God.
Where do people gather?
This depends upon your location, but I will give several suggestions. If you are not familiar with the area, then go to the city’s chamber of commerce website to look at the community calendar. It will give you a list of upcoming events.
Any and every kind of parade will gather a crowd. Plan your calendar around them: St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, State Fair, Veteran’s Day, Homecoming, etc. Bring plenty of gospel tracts. Have a group hand out tracts up and down the parade route while another group preaches the gospel. Many people will hear the Words of life.
Mankind loves festivals especially in the summer. These are usually public events in the park or downtown area. Even if you live in a smaller town, there may be an event which draws a crowd. I grew up in a town of 1400. It has a three-day picnic every August where hundreds of people attend.
3. Sporting Events
If you live in a metropolitan area or college town, then you have access to thousands of people. Go stand outside the stadium and preach the gospel while the fans come into the game. You will preach to more people in a day than a pastor preaches to in a year. I recommend contacting Sports Fan Outreach International to learn more.
4. Public College Campuses
Publicly funded college campuses are opportunities to exercise your free speech. Some campuses have a spot for debate and public addresses. Make this a weekly outreach so that you can develop relationships with the students. I know a few brothers who go to a college campus every Thursday night and preach outside the dining hall. Their faithfulness has opened doors to meeting these young adults.
In the summer time, many people gather in the parks to play or relax. Take advantage of the Lord’s providence in giving us good weather. This includes parks near employers. Many people will take their lunch outside in order to enjoy the fresh air. Plan your lunch break to preach when the workers are present.
5. Cult Gatherings
Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have conferences locally and nationally. When they come to town, go to them. Stand outside the Mormon Temple or the arena where they are gathered to give them the truth.
6. Metropolitan Areas
Large cities always have people on the sidewalks. If you live in a major city, you have the opportunity to go to the streets every day. I was with a group that would go to Chicago once a month. On the Magnificent Mile, the crowds always gathered to shop. The weather did not stop it. There would be people walking to the bus stop, the “L” station, or to the mall even if it was 10 degrees out. The cities have great potential for this ministry since this is where most of the people live. If you live in a city, please go to the streets regularly trumpeting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are more options in which you can explore. This is only a sample. Remember to preach the Gospel and to preach it to people.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.