PARKER, Colo. (BP) – Two years ago Dan Bender was working a basement remodeling job when two young women approached him. They wanted to tell him about Jesus.
The homeowners weren’t there, he replied. And, not wanting to be rude while making himself clear, expressed that he wasn’t interested in what they had to say.
Three months later Bender was winterizing a sprinkler system when another couple – this time a mother and daughter – approached him in the same way. As in the previous case, they were from Cross Family Church and wanted to tell him about Jesus.
Again, he declined, but couldn’t help but wonder. What were the odds that in such a short period of time he’d be approached on the street by people from the same church?
The odds were better than he could’ve guessed, and for other residents of the city they’ve only increased in the last year.
Evangelism was a core component of Cross Family Church’s launch in September 2019 when Tim Wheeless’ family joined seven others out of Northeast Houston Baptist Church. Wheeless had been drawn to plant a church in that part of the country, and while having breakfast with Northeast Houston pastor Nathan Lino in March 2017, learned that congregation wanted to do the same in a frontier state.
“We agreed to pray about it over the next year,” said Wheeless. Those prayers resulted in the family moving to Castle Rock, adjacent to Parker, in spring 2018 after connecting with Dave Howeth, the Denver Send City missionary for the North American Mission Board.
Parker is an affluent area, but one where faith is often placed in possessions rather than the Gospel, Wheeless said. He wanted to make evangelism a strong component of Cross Family Church’s identity as it is at Northeast Houston Baptist Church. As a result, witnessing became an expectation of members, but last year Wheeless decided to elevate it even more.
“From that Easter to this one, I challenged them to have 1,500 face-to-face Gospel conversations from among our people,” he said. “Personal evangelism is part of who we are. The Great Commission is a personal command from Christ to every believer, and I want our disciples at Cross Family to see that as part of their daily walk with Christ.”
Those conversations take place primarily through door-to-door witnessing in conjunction with evangelism training. As approximately 1,300 of those conversations have taken place so far, church members have had to learn there are different definitions of a successful encounter.
Hannah Pratt, a student at Colorado Christian University, knocked on doors with Evelyn Wheeless, the pastor’s daughter and her best friend, and realized that regardless of the outcome she actually wanted to keep going.
“The more I go, the more confidence I get,” said Pratt, who said the pair had 30 Gospel conversations in their first week. “I’m still nervous to share, but I know how important it is. People need to hear about Jesus’ love because this world is so broken.”
Dan Bender was one of those people. And like so many, he didn’t realize the need even after the first two groups from Cross Family witnessed to him. In December 2020 his wife talked him into going to the church’s Christmas Eve service.
“We went, and I saw a lot of familiar faces because they had been at my house [to witness],” he said. “A month later my wife suggested we visit the church. A month after that I couldn’t deny the fact that God existed. I made my profession of faith and was baptized.”
Bender went on to go through a discipleship plan and evangelism training to join others knocking on doors. He also is on the church’s setup team.
“There have been some people who were rude, but not many,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my customers about Jesus and gotten to know other believers.”
Ron Freed, an 80-year-old retired Air Force officer, felt evangelism had taken a back seat in other churches. Then he saw its prominence at Cross Family, so he joined.
“It can be tough, but witnessing is such a blessing,” he said. “It isn’t optional for Christians if we’re going to obey the Lord. It’s helped my walk and the church.”
The sight of others with far fewer wrinkles than him is a huge encouragement, he said.
“I see couples from our church young enough to be my grandkids out there, and they’re modeling this for their kids,” he said.
Cross Family had no choice but to get beyond its four walls when those four walls were literally taken away. In the spring of 2020, the church went completely virtual alongside others during the COVID-19 shutdown. When restrictions began to loosen up, the school where they met could no longer allow usage of the indoor space. It was OK, however, for them to meet in the parking lot.
For a season, cars driving by or people out for a walk could physically look in on Cross Family’s services.
“We’re doing this because we want to see the lost come to faith, but it’s also a point of discipleship,” Wheeless said. “New people coming in are excited about what’s happening here and God’s Word.”
Bender said he was “the world’s biggest skeptic” when it came to Jesus. As a new believer, he can understand why others are resistant to the Gospel. It gives him some insight when explaining it as well as assumptions he had harbored about “church people.”
“Before, I thought they were boring and had no sense of humor,” he said. “But they’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
With those initial encounters, they also brought a message he had dismissed. In time, Bender realized it was the most important message he could hear. It would also give him a strong connection as a new brother in Christ.
“I was wrong back then,” he said. “People who are deeply faithful are still real people.”