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7/14/97 Pastor held up a tract; members asked for more

HOPEWELL, Ark. (BP)–The story of Hopewell Baptist Church’s incredible growth through evangelism is simple: It began with a sermon and a tract.
The rural Arkansas congregation, six miles north of Harrison, has recorded 35 baptisms since last June and another 35 have joined the church by letter.
The 25 baptized in 1996 put Hopewell near the top of the list of baptisms by ratio among churches with resident memberships of 100 to 199. Last year, it took only 4.6 members to lead a person to Christ and to baptism.
Hopewell’s love for evangelism is newly found. Pastor Sam Dunham said it began “about a year ago with a sermon on personal evangelism. I held up the blue ‘Eternal Life’ tract and told them, ‘If you have the love of Jesus in your heart, you can use this tract to win people to him.'”
Dunham had come to respect the tract, produced by the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, when he was a pastor in Arizona. He recalled his friend, Nathan Pillow, evangelism director for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, had used the piece with success.
“Nathan led an old Hispanic man to the Lord and gave the man the tract,” Dunham said during the sermon. “A few days later, he saw Nathan again and asked him for another copy. He had worn it out. He had led several people to the Lord and 11 followed him in baptism.”
Following that sermon, Dunham said, several of the 30 church members in attendance asked for copies of Eternal Life. He gave them all the church had in stock. They asked for more. The church had to reorder. In the past year, members have handed out more than 1,600.
“It was our newest Christians” who got most involved, the pastor explained, “still walking in their first love.”
Dunham, encouraged by the eagerness of witnessing members, started a “lay evangelism school” with 10 members. “I wanted to give them a doctrinal basis. We started with Southern Baptists’ Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.
“You can teach people to win souls, but without a doctrinal base, they fizzle out.”
A second and third school were started. Eighteen members have now been through the training and received certification.
Member Kent Decker was among the first to receive the training and begin witnessing. “Me and my wife rededicated our lives a year ago,” then developed a burden for working with the youth, he recounted.
The lay evangelism classes “got me more familiar with giving my testimony and praying with my prayer partner,” Decker said. “I was brought up in a dead Baptist church. I decided there was going to be more to church.”
Children’s Sunday school teacher Tina Edwards said the evangelism training means “God’s Word is our focus.” She emphasized the importance of leading children “to hide that Word in their hearts.”
Even amid the spiritual victories, Edwards pointed out members are “normal” people. While the training gave her the tools to witness, she said, “It doesn’t mean we’re not scared.”
Pastor Dunham has remained focused on involving others in the church’s growth. Greeting people at the front door of the church prior to a recent Sunday service, he told a visitor, “We need you and we’ve got a job for you in there.”
He told Andy Grinder the same thing when Grinder accepted Christ last June. Grinder immediately began to work with youth.
While helping other members lead a youth rally at another church, “the Spirit moved and we had 50 kids come forward and there were only three of us,” Grinder said.
“I had never seen anything like that. You become a new Christian and you look up a month or so later and see that many kids coming forward.”
The increased outreach has resulted in increased numbers and an increased need for space. The congregation has begun preparing an area for a multipurpose center for classes and youth ministry.
In outreach efforts for youth, Wednesday night activities regularly draw as many as 100 “Bridge Crossers,” as youth are called. The adults provide “Bridge Builders” leadership.
Youth director Richard Brisco explained Bridge Builders major on “sincerity and dependability — and trying to get the kids to Jesus Christ.”
“There have been a lot of defeats” during witnessing efforts, acknowledged Decker, who also works with youth. “But there have been a lot of victories, too.”
He told of witnessing to a boy who had come to the church one Wednesday night to pick up his sister. “He was sitting on the back pew and we witnessed to him. I asked him what would happen if he drove off from the church and was killed in a car wreck.
“He said, ‘I’d go straight to hell,'” Decker said. “The next Sunday he gave it all up to the Lord. It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday