CAIRO, Ga. (BP)–Kenneth Cloud is making a believer of folks in Grady County.
Cloud, pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Cairo, Ga., faced a problem well-known among Christians — How do you effectively reach the lost in your community with the Gospel? — when he was named director of evangelism for the Grady County Baptist Association.
Additionally, Cloud sensed that churches in the association needed to be spiritually energized if they were going to impact their communities for Christ.
And he began with a budget of only $500 for the entire year’s evangelism efforts.
Cloud was familiar with Crossover events that have gained popularity on the state and national level. In that approach, volunteers descend on a city for a weekend evangelistic blitz through a partnership with local churches. But he was seeking a more personal approach that would energize the local churches without having to depend on others from outside the community. It’s not that the volunteers were not wanted, Cloud is quick to say; he was just wanting the churches to accept the responsibility to reach their own neighbors without having to ask volunteers to drive for several hours to provide assistance.
The task was formidable: reach 7,400 homes with a Gospel presentation within four weeks — something that had never been accomplished before in the association — with only a $500 budget.
Today, those who doubted Cloud’s initiative are among his biggest supporters. Not only did they reach their goal, but a quickening of the laity has begun that shows no sign of letting up.
For four weekends volunteers met on a Saturday morning last fall to focus their door-to-door efforts in a different section of the county. The approach was named Operation Total Contact (OTC).
Cloud and his team of 12 pastors divided the county into various zones. They cross-referenced active church members, including those from churches of other denominations, with their maps and deleted those addresses from the visitation maps “so we wouldn’t waste any time.” Each zone required about 14 hours to map out.
Volunteers stuffed thousands of bags with copies of the Gospel of John and the Book of Romans, evangelistic tracts, maps with all the Baptist churches in the association circled, and brochures explaining the association.
Then came the training of the volunteers.
Cloud said he and the pastors quickly learned that one of the keys to recruiting volunteers was not requiring them to share the Gospel during visits. For many, being paired with someone who was already a soul-winner took the edge off of the initial encounter.
“At the first Saturday meeting when we were ready to go out visiting, I asked for a show of hands of those who had never knocked on a door in their life,” Cloud recounted. “About 85 percent raised their hands, but you know what? When they all returned and when I asked who wanted to participate in a second visitation, 100 percent raised their hands.”
Jenni Broome, a member of First Baptist Church in Cairo, was among those who were hesitant about being a part of the strategy — but hearing the testimonies of those who had participated soon changed her mind.
“I had never gone door-to-door in my life but I just couldn’t ignore the exciting testimonies of those in my church. Every time I turned around someone else was telling me what I was missing. They had such a contagious spirit that I wanted to experience it for myself.
“And you know what? It was not as scary as I thought.”
Kevin Ross, a financial advisor and fellow member at First Baptist, had a similar experience with a member on his team.
“I had an older woman who called and asked to be a part of my team. She made it very clear that she did not want to say a word, she just wanted to go.
“But when we got out there and had visited three homes, she began to strike up conversions on her own. She starting talking to the homeowners and did a wonderful job. All it took was for her to take that first step of faith, in obedience to God, and He took over from there.”
John Paul Hassick, pastor of Gordon Heights Baptist Church in Cairo and prayer coordinator for the event, described the response as “a work of God.”
“What I’m impressed with is the sense of unity of the churches and the laity who have never turned out to share the Gospel. For each of our four Saturdays we maintained about the same number, between 350-400, but many were new faces. That means we are reaching more laity each week and were not just working to death a handful of the faithful.
“What you are seeing in Grady County is what we read about in Scripture, with people going house to house to share their faith. The number of people who showed up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning is amazing. You can’t get 350 people to show up for coffee and doughnuts on Sunday morning.”
Ross said he found residents to be surprised that Georgia Baptists were taking their faith to the streets.
“I knocked on one door and explained who we were and the woman thought for a minute and replied, ‘I thought Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only ones who went door-to-door.'”
When the last team walked away from the last house to be reached in November, all 7,400 homes had been reached with a personal presentation of the Gospel — either with a verbal presentation or, if no one was home, with the printed material. There were 887 positive responses that have received follow-up visits.
Cloud affirms the door-to-door approach as a tried-and-true method.
“If you don’t go out and knock on doors you won’t reach anyone. But if you go and don’t reach the person you intended to visit, you will still reach someone.
“There have been times when I’ve knocked on doors and did not have a single positive response to the Gospel presentation. But the following Sunday our church would have people walk the aisle who were never witnessed to on that visit. God honors our faithfulness, and if you’re sowing, you’re going to reap.”
After Operation: Total Contact, six weeks of simultaneous revivals were held in the spring and then a May 1-3 countywide crusade with Frank Cox, pastor of the Atlanta-area North Metro Baptist Church, speaking nightly at the Cairo High School football stadium. Again, all 25 churches and missions in the association committed to support the crusade, the first such countywide event in years and further testimony, as Cloud sees it, to God’s blessing of the strategy.
Looking back on the past six months from early fall to late spring, Cloud and the other pastors are amazed at how the association has been transformed.
“Our churches have not only had an increase in professions of faith and baptisms but people are returning to church who have not attended in years,” he said. “God has dealt with their heart as a result of a visit by a team member and they are wanting to return to church again.”
As a side benefit, more than half of the churches have increased their giving to the Cooperative Program and to the association because of their renewed enthusiasm for evangelism, Cloud said. “Attendance at our youth rallies is up, Brotherhood attendance is growing … it’s like a snowball effect. The more it rolls, the bigger it gets.”
The amazing thing, he added, is that “the spirit never died. The excitement is still there and is as strong as when we first began six months ago.”
Cloud is prepared for those who will doubt that the approach could work in their counties, but he wants them to give it a try. Taking God at His word has never failed, he said.
“We believe this worked for one very simple reason: we literally prayed and asked God to raise up the workers, and He did. We believe that if we would commit ourselves to the Great Commission right here in Grady County, He would provide the people needed to make it happen.
“This is Kingdom growth at its best,” Cloud continued. “One of the best ways to get a good, healthy church is to get people involved, get them thinking outside of themselves. We can teach people forever and be content to keep them in their pews, but you only see growth when they get out of their pews and become personally involved in missions and evangelism.
“If you give me just one man who has a vision that this will work in his association, it will work. I don’t care how big the association is, it will work.”
Cloud said he can envision OTC being implemented in any association, regardless of size. He would not have been as bold six months ago.
“I would not have made that statement when we started, but now I know it can work anywhere. You may not have 100 percent participation and that should not be the judgment of success, but you will still have far more members participating than we had [at the outset]. You may need eight or nine weeks rather than the four we used, but the end result will be the same.
“We are just as diverse down here in Grady County as in Columbus, Augusta, Savannah or Atlanta. We have traditional and contemporary styles of worship, we all do things differently. We have things that can keep up apart. But this worked because we all put our differences aside and focused around one common purpose — to reach our county for Christ. Anyone who has a problem with that has a real problem,” Cloud said.
“I admit that reaching a metropolitan area like Atlanta or Savannah would be just as intimidating as it was for us to try to reach our county. But our God is just as big in those cities as He is in Grady County. All He needs is someone willing to do the job and take Him at His word.”
A manual titled, “Operation Total Contact,” is being developed for distribution through the Georgia Baptist Convention office of evangelization and Grady County Baptist Association. For more information, contact the GBC at 1 800-RING-GBC or Grady County Baptist Association at (229) 378-9092. Kenneth Cloud can be reach at [email protected]. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CARRYING THE GOSPEL, SPREADING THE WORD, FINAL PREPARATIONS, KEEPING TRACK and KENNETH CLOUD.