Some Thoughts on ‘Treasure Hunts’

A new form of evangelism known as “treasure hunting” has gained popularity in recent years, stemming I think from a book written on the subject (which I haven’t read). The basic idea is that you spend a while praying for words of knowledge concerning specific people (e.g. someone called Brian, someone with a green jumper, someone with a knee problem etc). Then simply go out on the street, looking for people who match those descriptions, strike up a conversation (“I’m looking for treasure, and I think you’re it” – great chat up line!), and then offer to pray for them. For an idea of what goes on, have a browse through Simon Holley’s blog archives.

I have heard many exciting testimonies of people receiving healing, gratefully receiving prayer, engaging in deep conversations about the gospel, and accepting invitation to come to church or Alpha courses. There is a group here in Southampton who are attempting this form of evangelism, and I am hoping that the cell group I lead will be able to join them on one of their next excursions.

I do have to confess to having a few reservations concerning this method of evangelism, which mostly stem from the understanding of a “word of knowledge”. Much of what passes for words of knowledge often seem to me to be nothing more than lucky guesses (in fact, too often guesses that miss the mark totally). The idea that any random thought that pops into my head should be uncritically accepted as God speaking strikes me as a sub-biblical understanding of prophecy.

But enough negativity already. This technique, though somewhat unconventional does have a few important things going for it.

First, on a very pragmatic level, it provides a conversation starter. There is nothing more likely to end a conversation than asking someone “do you mind if I tell you about Jesus?” The whole idea of a “treasure hunt” provides a way to break the ice with a stranger, and allows the conversation to naturally move on to spiritual matters.

Second, it encourages a reliance on the Spirit’s guidance. Even the most ardently non-charismatic groups I have done evangelism with have recognised the vital importance of being Spirit-filled in our witness. To pray for God to divinely guide us to those in whom his Spirit may already have been working in, as well as to trust him for the right words to say is surely the right way to begin any form of evangelism.

Third, it focuses not on apologetics, but on demonstration of God’s power. Important as apologetics certainly is – people do need to face and answer their questions concerning the truth of the gospel, often apologetics can be a red herring. A chance to pray with someone gives the opportunity for them to experience first hand the living God who hears and answers prayer.

Finally, it requires faith. The fear of looking foolish or getting it wrong holds many of us back from stepping out and telling others the gospel. Praying for someone in public is a risk – what if the prayer is not answered? What if they think you’re insane? And yet, it seems that so often God is pleased to act when his people have nowhere to hide, and have to trust him completely.

So it is not hard for me to see why God may indeed be blessing those who use this mode of evangelism. I tried to think of any examples of this being used in the New Testament. I suppose you could point to Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well in John 4. Though his meeting with her was apparently a chance encounter, the supernatural revelations concerning her circumstances certainly opened her up to consider Jesus’ message.

Or Paul, who had a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia (Acts 16:9). He saw this as God’s leading to evangelise in that region and off he went. Interestingly, he doesn’t appear to have attempted to find the man he saw in the dream. When he got there, he took the strategic approach of searching for devout worshipers of God (Acts 16:13) as well as taking advantage of the chance encounter with the slave girl (Acts 16:16).

So while I am not wholeheartedly endorsing the technique of “treasure hunt” evangelism, I do want to be someone who is full of faith, following the Spirit’s lead, and seeing God’s power at work in changing lives as people hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would be interested to hear of any readers who have done this, and what your thoughts and experiences were.

11 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on ‘Treasure Hunts’

  1. I haven’t attempted this myself but I was cornered by some Vineyard radicals in Birmingham city centre who were doing exactly this! Out of pure interest and a slight naughty streak I decided to pretend I was a non-Christian and see what happened.

    They approached me – a young guy and a slightly older woman and asked if they could pray for me which I accepted. And they spent about 5 minutes just waiting, which even as a Christian made me slightly awkward. But they told me that they were going to have words of knowledge that God was going to give them about me (such faith! I was impressed) and that would lead them to pray for me – was that okay? I said yes.

    The words they had were pretty accurate – they said God told them I worked in a caring profession for children, that I suffered with depression, that I had been abused in the past (didn’t specify how) and that I was single!

    So they had my attention. I agree with you Mark, it could have been a lucky guess. After all I work at the city children’s hospital and frequently walk through the city centre from and to work. I had a t-shirt on, and there are some slight scars on my arm from where I’ve self-harmed in the past and I had no wedding ring! But … I chose to be optimistic and accepting and not too cynical.

    And I must be honest – their prayers really blessed me. So my reaction as a recipient of such a technique is more positive! I am sure there could be other negative stories. But I did look around sneakily while they were waiting for words of knowledge and there were a whole line of us being prayed for and some people really seemed to be touched by God, crying etc.

    I’m encouraged personally that evangelism is not just a form of godliness and denying the power thereof anymore.

  2. I’ve heard reports of this and have to say I’m more concerned than enthusiastic about it. I’m all for stretching faith and for seeing God’s power in evangelism, praying for people etc, but like you say this seems to amount to a degrading of prophecy combined with a lack of confidence to simply go and speak to people about Jesus… sure we should pray before for guidance and opportunities, but then we sow the seed indiscriminately right?

    The chat up line might break the ice but why not just say “I’d like to talk to you about Jesus” rather than needing to give a ‘spiritual’ excuse. I dunno.

    That said, those using this technique may well be doing more evangelism than me which makes me cautious about dismissing them too quickly..

  3. Hi,

    As someone who has read the book, and yet to embark on a treasure hunt…(though going on a local one soon!!!!)and has MANY friends who do this in Sydney and in the USA…I’d like to comment.

    Whilst I fully appreciate the notion that perhaps people will get word of knowledges wrong, any person in the office of a prophet will tell you…they get prophecy wrong all the time. Basically, its just opening yourself up to hearing from God. You will make mistakes, and you will get it right. But you are open to God speaking to you, perhaps more than the person next to you.

    I’d like to quote from the book itself by Kevin Dedmon:

    God is more interested in the level of my risktaking than in the level of my success. I still miss because I am still learning to discern the voice of God. what I have learned, however, is that every step of risk is rewarded equally, regardless of the results. God rewards faith not the performance.

    Words of knowledge do not degrade prophecy. Ever. Yes people get it wrong, but you know what…do you know how many find that actually what they thought were their own thoughts, has actually blessed them. People like Dan experience a level of love from God through these encounters, I mean, realistically, nobody could have ascertained all of that from Dans appearance. Come on! That was God himself saying…I LOVE YOU DAN!!! I KNOW YOU AND STILL I LOVE YOU!

    More than any other form of evangelism today, this treasure hunting thing seems to be touching more lives for real, seeing more healings….and more breakthroughs than any other.

    What is wrong about it being fun? Or giving people confidence to step out? Because the goal is to learn to discern His voice, and to touch a broken and dying world. And eventually it becomes a lifestyle, where you walk down a street, get a word of knowledge for someone, and they can see for the first time in their lives and meet the king of kings.

    Lastly, any prophet will tell you, if you have the prophetic gifting, and desire to grow in it, don’t stop prophecying. How can you grow if you don’t ever prophecy. There is never die in the wool hard concrete assurance with prophecy. Its always a risk. But the more we recognise His voice, the more assured we get.

    Just my two cents worth…by the way….it is an EXCEPTIONAL book! Well recommended.

  4. thanks for the responses everyone.

    Dave, you’ve articulated quite well how I feel about the whole thing. The concept of it being just fine to get prophecies wrong “all the time” doesn’t sit well with me. The NT gift of prophecy surely should be more accurate than the tipster in the Racing Post.

    But as you say, its good that they are getting out there. If this can be combined with a more Biblical understanding of prophecy then most of my concerns would be alleviated.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I’ve just stumbled across your post about treasure hunting and the post and comments have made interesting reading.

    I read The Ultimate Treasure Hunt about 18 months ago. Within a few weeks of reading the book I gathered a team together and we went out treasure hunting. The first time we went out was crazy, it was a day of signs and wonders, gold dust appeared on us as we worshipped and prayed together, we went out for the treasure hunt and saw a lady healed of severe arthritis in her knees. When we saw her (one of our treasure maps had her exact description along with ailment and another map had her name) she could not walk up steps and had to be helped by her friend. Straight after we prayed for her she went bounding up the steps, we also saw her later in the day and she came running, yes running up to us, pointed her finger at us (yes, my initial thought was ‘oh what now’) and shouted, “My knees, my knees, I have no pain at all, for the first time in years.”

    I don’t really want to comment on the approach or method used but I just want to comment on what has happened with my wife and I since taking risks like treasure hunting. I am so much more in love with Jesus for stepping out and taking risks, because He loves to change peoples lives. It’s scary doing it, but the method, for us, was just a catalyst to living a natural life of bringing the presence of God to every person we meet. Recently we have seen physical healings such as broken ankles healed, broken ribs healed, swollen knees healed, torn ligaments healed.

    I guess the summary is, for us treasure hunting has been a catalyst to realising that a lifestyle of walking in and demonstrating the supernatural presence of God is normal for a son or daughter of God and that the supernatural presence is not only physical healings or signs that make you wonder, but it’s the ability to demonstrate other element of His nature such as love, compassion, encouragement, joy, peace etc in everything we do and to everyone we meet.

    Abundant grace.

  6. Hello, I was looking to see if there were any testimonies from treasure hunts. And found this article. I’ve only been on a couple of these treasure hunts and have seen them to be very successful. Especially, when going in a group. One of my friends saw the words southern Maryland hospital. Which was not one of the locations we originally intended to go to that night. Than he saw a baseball hat that was similar to the one he was wearing. We arrived at the hospital ER around 2am (after being out all night doing street evangelism.) Not five minutes after we were there a young man walked into the ER on crutches and had the same identical hat. We prayed with him and prayed for healing. He received the prayer. We did not see a miracle but it was encouraging to him that God would send someone to meet him at the ER in his time of need.
    Also, that same night we went to a couple of night clubs to witness. At the first club I stood in the middle waiting for God to speak to me about someone so that I could start a conversation and give them an encounter with God. God highlighted a person that was standing at the bar. he was clearly intoxicated. God said, “tell him that I have called Him to preach the Gospel.” As the man went to walk out the door. I followed him out and told him what God said. The man was shocked. Four other people all family and relatives had told him the same thing in the last 6 months or so. He was suprised that a perfect stranger would tell him the same thing. After a few minutes of conversation we prayed. As we prayed standing in front of the club he began to cry and experience the presence of God. After we prayed he declared that he knew this was God that he was experiencing. He told us that he was going home to call his mother that had been praying for him to come to know Christ. Oh yeah, and he sobered up from a whole night of drinking after abour 30 seconds of prayer. Towards the end of the conversation he told me and the group I was with that he was the owner of the club.
    God will use extreme measures to reach people. He love supercedes any preconcieved notion of how He can reach people. Let’s let God out of the box and dive into the supernatural. 1 Corinthians 13 says that Love believes all things. So, as far as the words of knowledge not being accurate, they may start that way but as a person continues in their faith towards God, their ability to hear from God becomes stronger. So, it is a good way to reach people and to cultivate a deeper level of hearing from God. In the end everyone involved experiences God. And relationship with Him is the goal. Pure motives and a willing heart will keep everything in proper order. And His perfect love will cast out all fear.

  7. To comment further on the concept of Treasure Hunting, I can share some of my experiences.

    I began to go out on treasure hunts about 2 years ago. At first, I did them by myself just to “test it out” to see if anything would really happen. When I went to the mall to do an errand or to the park to do some reading, I would take some time beforehand and just ask God to show me something about a person that I needed to minister to. The first time I ever did this, I saw a quick flash of a picture of a woman with long black hair, holding her child. I wrote it down, and went off to do my business. I shopped for about 30 minutes, looking around at every person to see if I could find this woman. Then, I saw her. It was the exact woman that had flashed in my mind, not to mention, she was holding the hand of her 3 year old child as I approached her. After sharing with her what I experienced, telling her that I believed God sent me to her for a reason, she shared some difficult situations that she was currently facing, began to break-down crying in the middle of the store and told me that by me coming to approach her, it reassured her that God was real. After that, I was convinced!

    After that, I have continued to do treasure hunts by myself and also with teams. Now I teach people of all ages how to do them and then we go out to practice. The results have been amazing.

    To me, treasure hunts are so powerful becuase as you practice hearing words of knowledge and you are led in your ministry efforts by what the Spirit of God is saying, it eliminates wasted time. The truth is that not everyone is open to hearing the gospel and sometimes believers can spend a lot of time trying to talk to someone and convince them to accept Jesus.

    What treasure hunts do is to lead you to those that God has already been preparing in many cases. It’s like a specific mission that God sends you on and you’re able to hit the target with accuracy and great impact, thus, talking to less people but having a greater influence. If you study the Word, you see that Jesus didn’t even try to share his message with everbody that came across His path. He only talked to those whom the Father led him to….like the woman at the well, Nicodemus, as well as many others. Jesus only did what the Father showed him to do.

    A lot of evangelism efforts today are ineffective and tiring. Treasure hunts are very unconventional but they’re quite energizing when you see what God does through them.

    I’ll never forget a treasure hunt that I did in a foreign country on a missions trip. The clues that my team had were “ladybug, dancer, and bear.” We ended up ministering to a woman who worked at a little stand in the mall called “ladybug”, we also foud out that she was a “dancer” and she happened to be standing close to another store window that had a “bear” in it. We spent just mere minutes talking with her and in that amount of time, God revealed several prophetic words to us about her life, she was able to forgive her mom of some deep hurts from the past, and I still keep in touch with this woman today.

    Once you get started, you will be hooked!

  8. I am a ‘treasure’from a treasure hunt. I was a new christian (still am) ad had known i needed to finda church, looked about for some near me (I was in a city I hadnt lived in that long so didnt know anyone personally to ask), anyway non seemed quite right and i was also scared to go into a church service by myself, though I think i would have made myself i i found a church that seemed right for me.
    Anyway I couldnt find one that was right, so I finally said ok god, I am handing this over to you, please find me a church, and here are my criteria for the perfect church for me (yes, thats me arrogant, bossing god around would you believe!)
    Anyway 2 days after that prayer, I was approached by two treasure hunters (seems strange to call them that as they are now just people I know by their first name, friends. Anyway they had a listof clues they showed me, incl the way I was wearing my hair that night (not the way i normally do) and other things, and said they were christians and felt god had lead them to me.
    I was pretty blown away by this and it was like (even though I had become achristian therefor officially said i beliee in god) it was still like ómg… he really IS out there’
    Anyway I went to that church, which ended up being right up the road from where I live, and they were exactly what I had wanted in a church. and I still go there now, and every time I go, I feel that god has said something to me personally. They have had many miracles as a church, not just via treasure hunting but as church. They are non judgemental, interesting, funny down to earth and real, and I truly do believe that they were given those clues by god, in response to the prayer I prayed asking for a church. The place where i was and time i was there were also unusual for me that night, and i was actually at home,planning to head out about 2 hours after I did when all of a sudden I just had this urge to just go out now – i was not feeling compelled to ge up and head out at all, then I was, putting me smack in the path of the treasure hunters at exactly the right moment

    coincidence? maybe. Oh and they occasionally do treasure hunting about that area, Ive never seen them there before, and i doubt most people would – ie they are not at all a regular thying in that partof town, and I can honestly say the chances of me and them being in the same place at the same ime, statistically would be very very slim – well below the 5% I was taught is significant,. so highly unlikely it was a chance encounter, even more so, right after I asked God for it.

  9. Hi Kim, thanks for your comment. I genuinely thank God for everyone who is reached with the gospel by whatever means and have no doubt that God can work through “treasure hunts”, just as he can through the many other forms of evangelism that exist, however flawed some of them may be. My goal is to test all things by the Word of God, while remaining open to the Spirit’s leading.

  10. Hi Mark,
    Just been doing some research into this as it seems to be cropping up in church conversations.
    The term ‘operating in the Supernatural’ is bandied around a lot and is associated with this kind of activity. My own concern is that we are making a false distinction between Christians into have and have nots in the area of supernatural living, and turning over the supernatural to the superstitious.
    You yourself make a distinction between the work of apologetics and the demonstration of Gods power, as if the Holy Spirit is less effective in applying unchanging truth through honest answers than in hit and miss street theatre (which can be an very large red herring).
    Despite the glowing testimonies of some treasure hunters, I am not convinced that God is in the business of playing Cluedo with his saints.

  11. As a 19 year old Christian, I’ve been going to church for 3 years now, and I would say my relationship with God is pretty strong, I’ve done treasure hunting twice with the youth at my church. And I think it’s a pretty amazing experience…for everyone. I will tell you how we did it, first of all we gathered at the church extension, played some games and had lunch together, we then split into groups, prayed and filled out our treasure hunting maps. (This was a piece of paper saying name, appearance, prayer requirement and miscellaneous).

    We then went out to the local village and started looking for people who matched to our maps (It was rare that the person matched all the items but at least one or two), We started off by saying “Hey we’re on a treasure hunt, and we think you’re our treasure.” I think this is a great way to get into it because it’s a great way to break the ice and can start a few laughs as it can sound quite flirty. We would then explain that we are christians and what we were there for. Then we would ask if they had anything to pray for.

    Not only is it a great opportunity to bond with the youth, but it’s also an opportunity for you and the youth to “step out of the boat” I believe it’s Matthew 14 when peter steps out of the boat.

    It also is a great opportunity to spread love in the community. I met this elderly woman alone and spoke to her, after my initial greeting she said “I’m no ones treasure” Instantly i could see she had a broken heart, we explained why we were there and she said that she used to go to church but because of everything bad happening in her life she had drifted away from God, so we had the opportunity to pray for her and bless her and remind her that she’s God’s treasure.

    I would definitely suggest it.

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