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Center provides national network for telephone evangelistic response

ATLANTA (BP)–Imagine a form of personal evangelism where everyone you talk with is interested in spiritual questions, and you need not worry about concerns for personal safety or appearance. There’s not even any drive time involved — you don’t have to leave your home.
That is the promise behind the Evangelism Response Center, a new national effort designed to give Southern Baptists across the country a common phone number for evangelistic response. Callers are directed to a telephone “encourager” located near them, and decisions are forwarded to local churches for immediate follow-up.
The concept, which was fully implemented for the first time during the Arms Around Atlanta evangelistic media campaign earlier this summer, was introduced to church-planting and evangelism leaders during the North American Mission Board’s Aug. 1-5 Summer State Leadership Meeting in Atlanta.
“The Evangelism Response Center exists to advance the national presentation of and response to the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ by talking and praying with persons who contact us through various media, and referring them to local churches so they can receive further ministry and grow as disciples,” said Joy Neal, a decision counseling associate on the North American Mission Board’s direct evangelism team.
Through the system, the common national phone number — 1-888-JESUS 2000 — is made available for churches, state conventions and any other group to place on evangelistic materials. Calls are redirected from a national center directly to the homes of trained volunteers who have logged on to the system to receive the calls.
Another number is used for special media campaigns in which individuals are offered free materials — such as the “Jesus” video in the case of Arms Around Atlanta and other efforts. Callers to that number are given an opportunity to leave their name and address on an automated system, yet with the option of talking to an encourager personally.
Such campaigns can be sponsored by churches, associations or other groups to target specific areas. During the Arms Around Atlanta effort, for instance, more than 12,745 calls were received, 7,826 requested a free “Jesus” video and 1,933 spoke with an encourager. An estimated 1,099 of those were recorded as “significant conversations,” and an estimated 237 made first-time professions of faith.
All responses are logged and tracked, and decisions are forwarded within hours to local churches where training has been conducted in immediate follow-up.
The term “encouragers” is used rather than the traditional “counselors” to clarify the nature of their role. Neal said many potential volunteers consider themselves unqualified to serve as counselors, but the term “encourager” makes it clear that all that is required are a love for God and for people. When callers need more help, encouragers are trained in how to refer them to professionals.
“We’re not offering therapy. We’re encouraging people to consider their relationship to Jesus Christ,” Neal said.
The low-risk nature of the encounters is also a plus for both callers and encouragers. Both are anonymous, allowing them to be more open with each other. And because encouragers are working from their homes, they need not fear for their safety. Even if a caller does become hostile, encouragers are assured repeat calls likely will be routed to someone else because of the nature of the system.
Neal said it is also an ideal opportunity for homebound individuals seeking a place of ministry.
“Now we have a way that a person who is homebound can reach out to North America from their home,” she said.
The system also has an advantage over traditional evangelistic encounters in which a Christian is hoping and praying that the Lord will provide someone interested in talking about the gospel.
“Once this person gets to the encourager on the telephone, there’s already been a pretty high level of interest expressed, so (telephone encouragers) know they’re likely to have a pretty fruitful ministry,” Neal said.
“The most important thing they do is to help the caller clarify his or her relationship with Jesus Christ, and if the person is unsaved to encourage the person to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”
Toby Frost, manager of event evangelism for NAMB, said an Internet component to the response center also is being developed to take advantage of the opportunities available through an emerging NAMB emphasis on Internet evangelism.
In addition to encouragers, the system also requires a network of churches willing to make a commitment to follow up with those who make decisions. Darel Robertson is another NAMB decision counseling associate who works with Neal out of NAMB’s Fort Worth, Texas, offices, where their primary role in the past has been coordinating responses generated by the radio, television and Internet efforts of NAMB’s broadcast communications group.
“Our largest frustration has been what to do with these people once they’ve made a decision for Christ and they need to be discipled, but yet we cannot seem to find a local church” that will effectively meet the need, Robertson said.
Through the network of specially trained churches, along with other partners such as state evangelism directors, the goal is a system in which follow-up by a local church occurs within hours of a decision, Robertson said.
For more information on becoming a telephone encourager or having your church become a part of the follow-up network for the Evangelism Response Center, contact state evangelism directors or Neal or Robertson at (817) 737-4011.

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  • James Dotson