I’m an evangelist. I’ve always been one. It started in middle school and really took off in high school. It was my mission to see every person in my high school an attender of my youth group (mainstreamorlando.com). I was somewhat successful with the invite and would have nights in which I’d bring 50-80 plus friends or acquaintances to church with me. My heart really broke for my friends who didn’t know Jesus and I understood the mission of the church at an early age. Let’s stop right here – what is the overarching purpose of the church? Clearly, it is to GO and MAKE disciples. These are two different things though. GO essentially means to INVITE and BRING, while MAKE could be translated as shepherd, lead, and develop. While the stats are against us, (people are going to church less and less) it still doesn’t negate our call to both GO and MAKE disciples. In fact, that very statement should inspire us and force us to innovate ways to get the Gospel into our communities like never before.

Back to my title: Every Pastor Needs a Dog. The older I got, the less comfortable I was introducing myself to strangers and striking up conversations about JESUS or church. For some, high school was the most intimidating place on earth, for me, the real world has been much different. Anyway, when Lauren and I decided to plant The Block Church, I knew the evangelist had to come out again and GO into every corner and crevice of the city to INVITE people into “The House.” I love how Jesus tells a parable in Luke about His desire for His house to be FULL. So He sends the servants into the highways and byways to BRING THEM IN. I needed to do that again, but how should I start? And more importantly, how could I do this without looking desperate? So I began inviting everyone I met, everywhere I met them. I tried everything to strike up conversations and steer them towards an invite or a conversation about God. More often than not though, it was simply ineffective. I’m sure you can relate!

Since the start of my marriage, Lauren has pleaded with me and presented her case as to why our family needs a dog. I fought with her, held my ground, and made my case that I would be the one taking care of this animal, not her. But after Lauren had a miscarriage and while I was on a ministry trip to California, Lauren decided it was time for HER dog to join our family. I have to admit; I was impressed with Lauren’s unrelenting tenacity and her opportunistic approach. Needless to say, I came home to my new dog (already named) Philadelphia Hoagie Furjanic. We also call him PHIL (the terrorist). Soon after Phil’s arrival, he became my dog and the workload of taking Phil out, cleaning him, and playing with him became my overarching responsibility. Nonetheless, I’m an opportunist and I started to notice the crowds this dog would attract. Every time we’d go out, Phil would attract children, adults, and other animals too. REDEMPTION. Phil became my greatest method of conversation, invitation, and establishing reputation. Phil is the greatest conversation starter I’ve ever met – ‘where are you from, why are you here in this neighborhood, how old is your dog, what do you do for a living?’ My dog has been a goldmine of conversation and opportunity. I’ve invited countless families to church because of this animal.

Every pastor does not actually need a dog. However, every pastor does need a strategic way to facilitate conversation and connection in their respective community.

Here are some other great ways to cultivate conversation in your community:

Slight of Hand: I have a buddy who uses playing cards and slight of hand to attract a crowd. It’s remarkable to watch people freak out, laugh, and gather. After the few minutes of tricks, he gives a quick gospel presentation, invites people to church via invite cards, or does both.

Hydration: Things we’ve done in the past and ideas I’ve seen work well is to engage people and athletes over the summer with any form of hydration. In the early days of our church, we would post up at basketball courts with waters and Gatorades. We’d give those out for free, along with invite cards.

-Own the parks: There are always families at parks and leveraging this is a no brainer. Bring ice cream, popsicles, or any sort of items that are safe and would attract families toward a conversation. One thing we’ve done is get the ice cream truck to pull up and pay for everyones ice cream. While everyone is in line, we hand them invites to church.

-Serving in Your Community’s Events: When our church started, our neighborhood hosted a 2nd Saturday event where many would come out to shop, eat, and listen to live music. We paid for a tent and brought out our merchandise, gave away free gifts, and invited anyone who would approach our tent. We eventually ran the event and organized all the set up and tear down (imagine that, a church plant running this portion) as well as helping lock in the vendors and children’s games. Additionally, we do a BIG egg hunt for our community, we put on a MAJOR Halloween event, and a 4th of July party too. All of these attract conversation from interested and sometimes-annoyed neighbors.

-Surveys: A simple way to begin conversation in your community is to ask for feedback. Stand in a busy park or walkway and ask a few questions to your neighbors. I recommend an iPad, a gift, and an invite card to follow. Questions like: What would draw you to church? Have you heard of us, what have you heard? These are simple enough but nonthreatening ways to engage your community in conversation.

-Joining the neighborhood alliances or counsels: I served on our neighborhoods business alliance. This gave me influence in our neighborhood and it introduced me to several people I wouldn’t have known early on.

Buy random peoples coffee & meals: This is a bit trickier and takes some ($) and strategy. But there have been times where I’ve decided to pay for an entire table of police officers or teachers and handed them invites. It’s been a great way to initiate conversation. I’ve also paid for random peoples coffee as I’ve stood at the front of the line to meet folks and invite them to church.

Outreach Strategy: Our strategy at every location is to — 1) Adopt a park (serve a specific park in your neighborhood by way of cleanups and events. 2) Adopt a school (serve a specific school by way of caring for the teachers, painting, cleaning, and meeting the needs of the principle) 3) Adopt a partnership (there are multiple partnerships in the community worth engaging. One of ours is a drug rehabilitation program and we’ve purchased them a van, helping fix their bathroom, and meeting needs for them they can’t meet for themselves).

There really are no boundaries, just don’t be weird and break the law. I’d love to hear from you! Comment below some great ways to initiate conversation in your community and invite others to church.