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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–God knows where Buffalo Gap is. You probably don’t, and neither did I until a few weeks ago, but God most certainly does.

I was in Texas to work on a strategy to help our rural churches evangelize more effectively. I was asked to preach at First Baptist Church of Buffalo Gap on the Sunday I was there. My motel was a full hour away from the church, and as I drove there I considered how I would help the people of this church who surely must be discouraged by the challenges of reaching people in a small church far from any large population base.

Was I ever in for a surprise. As I drove up to the church, there were cars everywhere. It looked to me like there might be more cars than people in the town. As I got out I was greeted before I reached the building. As I entered, everyone wanted to help me with anything I needed. I felt like family.

As the service started, I knew that I was at a special place. There must have been close to 400 people there. And these people know how to worship! I expected a church made up primarily of older adults. But children, students and young families were everywhere. The song leader was incredible. He led the people to the throne of God. The music clearly was aimed at a young audience. I immediately realized that there must be a lot of people in this church who cared more about reaching the lost than about their personal musical tastes.

And then they baptized. The pastor, Steve Joiner, whispered to me that they had seen something like 70 people come to Christ so far this year and had baptized 10 in two weeks. As each person came into the water, I could hear people around me quietly praising God. I heard a woman say, “I have prayed for him for so long!” The atmosphere was just electric –- full of New Testament joy. Then the worship leader stood back up and said, “I am so excited I am trembling.” I saw their secret. This church really loves people. Especially lost people.

I found out later that the pastor had been there 19 years and for the first 10 he was bi-vocational. In the early days they had 20 people and almost shut the doors. But they had committed together to reach those God had assigned them. They had found God’s unique place for them. They are an unapologetically conservative church that is not afraid to do things in ways that are different. And so people come from many miles away to get in on it. I don’t blame them. I want to go back myself! In a cold world, people will always move close to the fire.

And I wonder how many rural churches have a minister to ethnic groups. They are determined to reach the world, so they pay the salary of Yohan Jammalumudy –- and they office him in Atlanta. The largest number of people in the group they are trying to reach are in Atlanta, so that’s where they sent him. So a church in Buffalo Gap, Texas has sent their staff member to help reach people where I live. I think these people actually believe that the Gospel is good news and that we should do anything it takes to share it!

Steve is going to help us learn how to resource other rural churches to see this same kind of evangelistic explosion. What an encouragement they are. There seems to be a lot of bad news in SBC life these days. But this is who Southern Baptists are at their best. And things like this are happening all over North America. God knows where Buffalo Gap is –- and He knows where you are. Don’t be discouraged or defeated. The kingdom of God is advancing and you are invited on board for the ride. Thanks, Steve, and all my new friends at First Baptist Church of Buffalo Gap, Texas. You are making evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant