Street preachers throughout history have used various means to draw crowds. The goal is always the same: give as many people as possible the opportunity to hear the preaching of God’s law and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
This article presents several examples of how to draw a crowd as a street preacher. The examples are followed by a suggestion for what to do when crowd-drawing efforts fail.
Crowds Draw Crowds
R. A. Torrey, the great evangelist, teacher, and author of the late 19th and early 20th century, wrote the following:
“Get as large a number of reliable Christian men and women to go with you as you possibly can. Crowds draw crowds. There is great power in numbers. One man can go out on the street alone and hold a meeting; I have done it myself; but if I can get fifteen or twenty reliable men to go with me, I will get them every time.”1
R. A. Torrey was right. Crowds draw crowds. When people see other people gathering, their curiosity often compels them to move toward the crowd. People want to be in the know. They are voyeuristic. They love to be entertained. They love to see conflict. Some want to be part of the conflict while others simply want to be a fly on the wall and watch other people engaged in conflict.
Street preachers affectionately refer to Christian brethren who help to draw crowds as “rent-a-crowds.” It’s the easiest way for Christians to participate in street preaching without standing atop a box to preach. Asking Christian brethren to participate in this way is also a great way to expose them to street preaching.
Christians who help draw crowds by being part of the crowd can serve another vitally important role. As they stand listening to the open-air preaching they can pray for the preacher. They can pray for the lost souls who are listening, and they can pray that other Christians who happen to be in the area will be edified by what they hear.
“In 1880, following a successful pilgrimmage [sic] to America by Lt. Eliza Shirley and her family, General Booth determined that the United States was ready for conquer. Booth called upon Commissioner George Scott Railton, to set sail to America with the aid of Captain Emma Westbrook and six ‘Hallelujah Lassies.’ The Salvation Army set to ‘invade’ America. Railton and his Lassies made swift progress with their unorthodox style of ‘Open Air Chapels,’ music and street corner ministry.”2
From the days of Whitefield and Wesley, to the glory days of the Salvation Army, to modern-day street preachers3, music has been used to draw crowds for the public proclamation of the gospel.
Music played or sung to draw a crowd needn’t be well-performed. After all, the Bible calls the believer to make a joyful noise to the Lord (see Psalm 95:1, 2, 98:1, 4, 6, 100:1). Hymns, worship choruses, choir singing, instruments--any kind of music sung to the Lord as an act of worship is a wonderful way to draw crowds to hear the preaching of the gospel.
Ray Comfort,4 arguably the most influential street preacher in the last 30 years, starts almost every open-air by asking trivia questions5 to draw a crowd. He gives a dollar to each person who answers correctly.
Initially, people are slow to gather, skeptical of the man on the box giving away money. But once they realize he is giving away his own money for answers to trivia questions, their love for money takes over and they begin shouting answers. The sound of people shouting, laughing, and clapping is the kind of cacophony of sound that lures curious people to join the crowd.
Ray Comfort has taught literally thousands of people to use this simple, humorous technique to draw crowds to hear the preaching of the gospel.
Some street preachers will draw a crowd by simply reading the Bible aloud. A loose knit group of Christians, under the leadership of evangelist Daniel Beaudion6, participate each week in an effort known as Project Ezra7. The purpose of Project Ezra is simple: get as many Christians from around the world on the streets of their community reading the Bible aloud in the public square. During the last few years, Project Ezra has helped Christians move from reading the Bible in the open-air to preaching on the streets.
A growing number of street preachers are using the reading of God’s Word as their only means for drawing a crowd.
When All Else Fails
Every street preacher has experienced it. Nothing you do is working. People will not stop long enough for you to engage them. You’ve given away $20 in one-dollar bills by asking trivia questions to strangers, but a crowd just won’t form. You’re growing more discouraged by the minute. You’re thinking about packing up and heading home. Today just isn’t your day.
I’ve seen this happen to many people new to open-air preaching. He has dollar bills in one hand and a list of trivia questions in the other. His shoulders slump forward, he exhales, and he looks at the ground. I wait for the budding preacher to lift his head and make eye contact with me and then say . . .
Two words. That’s all I would say.
There are very few people like Ray Comfort--people who seem to have the uncanny ability to draw a crowd by simply opening their mouths. Most people have to work at it. I have been with Ray when he, too, has struggled to draw a crowd. I’ve seen him spend as much as an hour trying to coax people to stop, listen, and engage. What I’ve never seen Ray Comfort do is quit. On those rare occasions when he couldn’t draw a crowd, Ray would preach to whoever would listen.
Just preach. If you can’t draw a crowd, just preach. God is sovereign. Everyone God wants to hear the gospel will hear. It matters not if you preach to a few or a few thousand. Ultimately, you are preaching to an audience of One. The effectiveness of a street preacher is not based on the size of the crowd he draws. It is based on his faithfulness to the Word of God and the truth of the gospel. It is based on the obedience and love--love for God and love for others--that he brings to the effort.
- 1. http://www.biblebelievers.com/Torrey2.html
- 2. http://www.thesalvationarmytucson.org/HISTORY.html
- 3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy5iwOB2OgM
- 4. http://www.livingwaters.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=991:the-way-of-the-master-kirk-cameron-and-ray-comfort&Itemid=74&lang=en
- 5. http://stonethepreacher.com/2007/01/15/open-air-preaching-with-ray-comfort.html
- 6. http://norcalseedsowers.com/general/sharing-the-gospel-at-oakridge-mall/
- 7. http://norcalseedsowers.com/project-ezra/