Open-air preaching is a public form of witnessing. This type of witnessing would take us back to the New Testament era when John the Baptist commenced his ministry. It was conducted, not in the temple or the synagogues, but in the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus Himself was often seen in the Gospels speaking to people on the mountainside or by the sea during His public ministry. When the denominations closed their doors to the clear gospel, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley preached to thousands in the open air. In the British Isles, John Wesley traveled thousands of miles on horseback. He took the gospel to places where others would not venture. Over the last 150 years, assemblies have used this method to reach out to people in their locality with the gospel.
At present, there has been a decline in open-air preaching. Many reasons can be advanced for this. It may be due to the changes in society where people are unwilling to be found on the streets. Also, most people drive to the shopping centers without having much contact with others. They then quickly hurry back to the security of their homes. The many forms of at-home entertainment, the television, the Internet, and videos take up a great deal of people’s time. There may be a decline due to lack of interest or exercise on the part of Christians to participate in this work. It is so different from an arranged meeting in a hall, where designated speakers enjoy quietness while they preach.
Having written what may seem to be a negative impression of open-air work, it must be added that there are many positive aspects to it as well. It is a public testimony to the claims of the gospel. It gives an opportunity to meet people face-to-face, from all segments of society; people who would likely never come inside a gospel hall. It affords an opportunity to give out gospel tracts to those passing by. We have met Satanists, New Age people, Jews, Buddhists, witches, Moslems, drug addicts, alcoholics, beggars – all with varying responses to the gospel they have just heard. It is sad to see the awful ravages that drugs and alcohol have on people who are caught in these addictions, especially young people. Open-air preaching carries with it an unknown factor in the response of the listeners to the gospel message. It can stir up hostility and verbal abuse from those who are opposed; it is met with complete indifference from others; but some have responded well and have come to hear the gospel in the hall. We cannot tell the far-reaching effects of this public witness. We have met people who said that it was through hearing the gospel on the street corner that they were convicted and eventually led to salvation. Only eternity will reveal the full extent of this witness. The writer personally has attended open-air work for over forty years in various places, along with other brethren and sisters with a similar exercise. Today’s numbers are generally smaller than past years, when good numbers of both young and old took an active interest in the work. As a recent addition to this work in Vancouver, two of the brethren have made a portable stand for Seed Sower texts (in different languages) and tracts. People can help themselves to this literature while the meeting is in progress.
This is a good training ground for young brethren who can learn to give a short message in the gospel. May many who read this be encouraged to pursue open- air preaching in their own locality!