“But the shift in thinking was that it would become more of an outreach opportunity,” says Rev. Denise Tiedemann.
Before COVID-19 hit, the people of DeBows United Methodist Church in Jackson, New Jersey, hosted flea markets in the church parking lot every summer and fall to raise money. But the pandemic forced the church to pause most activities, and Sunday church attendance dropped from 35 to 25 people. The flea markets were also a casualty of the pandemic for a season. Once the church resumed in-person services, the leadership team discussed recommencing the flea markets.
“But the shift in thinking was that it would become more of an outreach opportunity,” says Rev. Denise Tiedemann. “We said, ‘Let’s see how we can draw more people in and reach out to new vendors.’”
The church, which has been part of the community since 1867, resumed holding flea markets last year to the delight of vendors and buyers. To draw even bigger crowds, a popular local historical Civil War band called the Libby Prison Minstrels provided musical interludes.
“The band was definitely a draw for folks coming to see them and for those who came to see the flea market,” Tiedemann says, noting one congregant is a band member.
Some vendors attend DeBows, she says, but “the majority are from outside the church. So that’s really where a lot of the evangelism took place.”
During the flea markets, congregants walked the grounds to see if people needed assistance and to strike up conversations with them.
“We prayed for God to give us opportunities to share our love for Jesus, to ask if they were looking for a place to worship and to say that we would love to have them worship with us,” Tiedemann observes.
As a result, Tiedemann says some vendors started attending the church’s Bible study on Thursday mornings. Now, she and the congregation plan to brainstorm more outreach ideas.
“I think the more we open our doors and bring people in and show them Christ’s love, God will continue to bless us.”