GADSDEN, Ala. (BP) – A recent evangelism initiative through the Etowah Baptist Association brought thousands of residents into direct contact with the Gospel, while spurring many church members toward witnessing as a lifestyle.
“One-fifth of Etowah County has no religious affiliation,” said Craig Carlisle, EBA director of missions. “Our churches knocked on over 11,500 doors during September and it led to a lot of gospel conversations. Pastors were encouraged by it.”
Carlisle introduced the idea, called Gospel to My Neighborhood, to pastors in the spring. Churches would be assigned according to their zip code with an ambitious goal of reaching 25,000 homes. It was promoted throughout the summer and preceded by an Aug. 29 rally featuring a message by Shane Pruitt, National Next Gen evangelism director for the North American Mission Board.
Carlisle will present Gospel to My Neighborhood to other associational missionaries from throughout the state at a meeting in January.
They may have fallen short of the goal regarding number of homes reached, said First Baptist Rainbow City pastor Dave Roberts, but some increases can’t be tabulated in numbers.
“This got us to go out and meet our neighbors – to knock on their door, introduce ourselves and invite them to come visit,” he said.
Roberts was retired when he preached in view of a call to become pastor at First Baptist on March 8, 2020. The following weekend, the one when many churches chose to temporarily halt in-person services due to COVID-19 concerns, First Baptist met to vote Roberts as their next pastor. Roberts himself was not in attendance that day, so his first sermon as the church’s pastor came through an iPhone in an empty sanctuary on March 22.
Twenty years ago, First Baptist had 400 members. That number had dropped greatly when Roberts arrived, so the first thing he addressed was the need for evangelism.
“That first week, I established a GROW team,” he said. “God Rewards Our Work when we’re faithful and we needed to get going. Our folks were hungry to get out and do something.”
Making inroads through the GROW team has helped bring 12 new members to the church, bringing that total to around 44.
Evangelism, he added, is about “doing what you can with what you have. Our GROW team may not lead 1,000 people to Jesus, but we’re going to establish a plan. We’re going to share the Gospel, plant seeds and let them know Jesus loves them.”
In September, those seeds were planted through doorway discussions and bags left on doorknobs, primarily at three apartment complexes near the church. Within 15 minutes on the first day that teams from First Baptist delivered bags including candy, bookmarks with Bible verses and a copy of the Gospel of John, a phone call came to the church.
“It was from the wife of a retired pastor who lived in one of the apartments,” Roberts said. “She said she hadn’t seen a church involved there for 10 years and wanted to thank ours for doing that.”
Matt Wethington, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Southside, was encouraged to hear Carlisle’s plan when it was first pitched to pastors earlier in the year.
“I was so excited when Craig told us about it, to see his passion and heart for this community to be reached with the Gospel. He had prayed through and thought through it and set a goal to knock on every door in our county. I was grateful for his vision and leadership on that,” he said.
Although Southside members had taken part in outreach efforts in the past, participation had lagged, he said. Gospel to My Neighborhood gave them something to rally around, with at least 50 adults and students meeting on most weekends (one was rained out) during September to knock on more than 600 doors, handing out gift bags with information and inviting others to church.
“Our folks got really excited about it,” Wethington said. “It created a lot of energy and unity on those Sunday afternoons.”
Roberts said visitors to a Sunday service haven’t materialized yet, but both churches reported good crowds for recent fall festivals. “However God decides to use us, we’re OK with it,” Roberts said. “We’re about kingdom growth, not [individual] church growth.”
Wethington said he has already witnessed a change at Southside Baptist among those who took part in the effort. Now comes the next step of how God is going to bless it.
“We’re prayerfully ready to reap some fruit from it,” he said. “But whatever God does, it was good for our people.”