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FIRST-PERSON: Making the most of being out of place

CHICAGO (BP) — “The Beverly Hillbillies” topped the TV ratings in the early 1960s in its first two years of production — nearly 40 percent of households that were watching television tuned in to the hit sitcom. That’s a greater percentage of viewers than Game 7 of the Cubs’ World Series Championship victory in 2016 over the Indians.

The humor in the writing of The Beverly Hillbillies stemmed from the principal characters being out of place. The family from deep in the hills of east Tennessee discovers oil on their land and moves into a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. The setting, the culture, the socio-economic and education divide between them and the locals was the well from which all the jokes were drawn.

While not quite that extreme, a move from a small town in northeastern North Carolina to the western suburbs of Phoenix in 2006 was a similar learning experience for my wife and me. Here are just a few of things we learned:

People are open to the Gospel.

True, church attendance has declined substantially in the little more than a half-century of my lifetime. Yet, while people may not be going to a church gathering to hear the Gospel, they are willing to hear the Gospel, discuss the Gospel, consider the Gospel, embrace the Gospel or reject the Gospel in a park, a coffee shop, a workplace, a restaurant, a classroom, a condo building or a myriad of other places.

When we were planting Crosspointe, the Church at Tartesso, in Buckeye, Ariz., most of the Gospel conversations I had with those who became new believers and those who didn’t were in one of the parks in our community.

In the three years I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve learned people are open to the Gospel here as well. And while I haven’t lived in many other cities, towns, villages or farm communities that make up the varied mission fields of our nation, I’m confident that every place has people who are open to the Gospel even if they might reject an initial invitation to church.

The fruit of the Spirit is effective in opening doors for evangelism.

When our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we will never lack opportunity to talk about what produces those qualities in us. Unbelieving people recognize the difference in us. They are drawn to the fruit of the Spirit. They will ask questions. Often, their desire to learn will be expressed in invitations to family or social events that welcome us in their lives and networks of relationships.

Effective evangelism often starts with open ears, eyes and minds.

Taking time to get to know someone expresses the value we place on them. Asking questions about a person’s education, family, work or interests demonstrates a desire to know them. If genuine, it will communicate our value of others. Simply demonstrating care and concern will earn us relational credibility and gain opportunity for relational influence. As Jesus-followers, our influence will lead others to go with us as we follow after Him.

New people bring new opportunities for the Gospel.

Moving to a new place often will open people up to new relationships and new experiences. In planting a church in a brand-new master planned community in Arizona, we hosted numerous events like movie nights, barbecues and a back-to-school bash intended to serve the community and gather new neighbors together. Bringing people together on the common ground of a park or school property gave these new people an opportunity to get to know each other. Being a part of those networks of relationships gave the people of Crosspointe, the Chruch at Tartesso, an opportunity to share the Gospel with those new friends.

And here in Chicago, people who are new to a neighborhood or suburban community often will be ready and perhaps even eager to meet new people. A monthly weekend brunch for newcomers could be an effective tool in a condo building. While small towns in rural areas may not see as many new people, those who do arrive often are even more open to new relationships because the established social networks can be hard to penetrate.

Daily, Southern Baptists around the nation have the opportunity to turn their attention from their own lives, agendas and objectives to take note of, learn about, hear from, get to know and understand unbelieving and unchurched people around us. With open ears, hearts and minds, we may discover some new ways to communicate the unchanging message of the Gospel. And we may see those who seemed so distant and different brought into the Kingdom of God and the Southern Baptist family.

    About the Author

  • Dennis Conner

    Dennis Conner directs church planting efforts of the Illinois Baptist State Association in northeast Illinois. This article is adapted from the Illinois Baptist (ibonline.ibsa.org), the IBSA’s newsjournal.

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