BOSTON (BP) – In the nearly four centuries since its founding as America’s first park, Boston Common has witnessed some of the most important news events of American history – from public hangings during Colonial days to celebrating American independence in 1776 to Union soldier recruitment in the 1860s.
Earlier this month, Boston Common witnessed the sharing of history’s greatest news – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jaime Owens, lead pastor of the historic Tremont Temple Baptist Church just a few blocks from Boston Common, led 15 congregants to the park to give away copies of the Gospel of John and sandwiches and to share the Good News.
While at the park, the group initiated conversations through a sign saying, “Ask a pastor anything.” A number of interesting questions came Owens’ way, including one from a Muslim who wondered how Christians could believe in a God who died on the cross. Another non-religious man asked what the world would be like if everyone lived like the Good Samaritan.
In each case, Owens shared the Gospel. He also teamed other experienced personal evangelists with less experienced ones to strike up conversations, hand out food and talk about Jesus. It was the first week of what Owens hopes will be at least a monthly time of personal evangelism for church members.
“In my preaching, I’ve always emphasized sharing the Gospel personally with those God has placed in our lives – neighbors, coworkers, unsaved family,” Owens said. “But we had never considered going downtown together to openly share the Gospel. This is a new direction for us. It’s one way we can carry out the mission, and it’s encouraging because we can do it together.”
Tremont Temple began as an American Baptist congregation in 1839. Abraham Lincoln once spoke at the church, and Charles Dickens first read A Christmas Carol on American soil there. Today, it’s jointly affiliated with both American and Southern Baptists.
Carl Bradford, an associate professor of evangelism and missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the timing couldn’t be better for churches like Tremont Temple to get more involved in personal evangelism.
Bradford believes the old adage that people are more open to the Gospel during the holiday season than other times of the year. He notes research has shown more people are searching for churches online during Christmas and Easter than at any other time of the year. The same studies, he says, show Christmas and Easter are the highest attendance Sundays of the year in many churches.
“Though not everyone in the world understands the Gospel message, many do embrace the spirit of giving behind Christmas,” Bradford said. “The season’s emphasis on generosity and goodwill can make people more open to hearing the Gospel.”
Bradford also notes many people struggle through the holidays because of all the cultural pressures attached to the holidays. Often, those people are open to hearing about what Jesus has done for them.
At Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ill., the holiday season comes during the middle of a fresh evangelistic push. While the church is in a transition period between lead pastors, interim pastor Eric Reed has been encouraging the church to focus on evangelism.
“There was a real sense of, ‘We’re going to be OK. We’re good.’” said David Higgs, the worship pastor at Lincoln Avenue. “But [Pastor Reed] brought this to our attention. We knew we were good, but we couldn’t just settle there. We don’t want to settle. The way he put it is, ‘When the sheep catch their breath and get comfortable, they tend to nibble, and they nibble on each other.”
So, the church decided to go all in on an initiative they call “Engage J-Ville,” which is all about personal connections and community connections. Leveraging an evangelistic prayer app through their state Baptist convention, church members began praying for and sharing the Gospel with friends and neighbors who didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.
The church also had several events scheduled throughout the fall and into the holiday season, including a Fall on the Farm outreach and a Christmas concert.
To create a visual reminder of their commitment to sharing the Good News, the church has a display of ping-pong balls. Each represents a person who heard the Gospel through someone in the church.
“We’ve not, to my knowledge, heard of any immediate people coming to Christ yet,” Higgs said. “But there are a whole lot of seeds being sown. We’re hearing that, so we’re just going to watch those be planted and trust the Lord will work.”