EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of five columns about the National Evangelism Initiative, called God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS).
WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–Like so many other American men, I’ve really gotten into this GPS (Global Positioning System) technology craze. It’s actually ironic. We guys used to ignore our wives as they tried to give us directions when we were lost. Now, we don’t hesitate to take directions from an eerie-sounding, fake female voice from a GPS.
Thanks to my GPS, I know that Johnny and Janet Hunt live at latitude 34 degrees, 7 minutes, 37 seconds, and longitude 84 degrees, 32 minutes and 52 seconds. Is this an accident or has God providentially and strategically placed the Hunts at this exact spot on earth and put specific neighbors around me? What if God put the Hunts at this particular location just so someone would be there to share Jesus Christ? But if I remain silent, failing to engage my neighbors, will they ever hear the Gospel?
The North American Mission Board introduced a National Evangelism Initiative during the annual SBC meeting in Indianapolis in June. But the initiative — whose goal is “every believer sharing, every person hearing by 2020” — is centered around another form of GPS, God’s Plan for Sharing. This GPS has four goals: praying, engaging, sowing and harvesting. In this column, I want to emphasize the “engaging” aspect of the initiative: every believer sharing as a trained witness. How do you engage people? One thing’s for sure — we won’t reach everyone with the Gospel in North America if we can’t get individual believers to take stewardship of their personal block or street.
Since I’ve been pastor at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., for 22 years, I could tell you what my church has done over the years to engage both our members and the unchurched. God has blessed us with much success.
But instead, I want to tell you about four different churches throughout the SBC and how — although these churches are as different as night and day — they are passionate, creative, intentional and relentless when it comes to engaging people for Christ.
For the last five years, Macil Duncan has served as senior pastor of the Mulberry Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. Mulberry runs about 600 each week in worship. When Macil first got there, the church had 180 on Sundays. Almost 500 new members have joined since. What happened?
“We immediately opened a prayer room and began praying for lost people,” Macil says. “We’ve trained 296 with ‘People Sharing Jesus’ training. We’ve done door-to-door visitation in 39 different neighborhoods in Charlotte. We actually take off eight Sunday nights a year — cancelling worship services — to go visiting. We call it WIN: ‘Witness in the Neighborhoods.'”
Dean Fulks is lead pastor of LifePoint Church, a church he personally helped plant just north of Columbus, Ohio, back in 2004. The little church plant started with 14, and now runs over 400 each Sunday.
“We want our people to think evangelistically,” Fulks explains. “In fact, new members of LifePoint must create a prayer map listing the names of friends they want to see begin a relationship with Christ. We want them to name the people they’re going to pray for and invest their lives in.
“Our evangelism strategy is to plow, plant and harvest, and we try to teach these three core concepts on every level in our church.”
Unlike Mulberry Baptist in Charlotte, LifePoint chooses not to use door-to-door visitation as a method of evangelism, instead urging its members to win others to Christ at the personal or small-group levels.
Danny Sinquefield, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis, says his church is excited about God’s Plan for Sharing by 2020. Faith Baptist — which runs 2,200 each Sunday in worship and 1,900 in Sunday School — wants to be in on the ground floor of GPS.
“We train our members, from fifth grade up, to share Christ,” Sinquefield said. “To witness, you need confidence and we try to give our members confidence. Sharing your faith is also contagious. A momentum is created, and an expectation is established that every member will share their faith regularly.”
This summer alone, Faith Baptist set a goal of winning 100 people to Christ in 100 days. “At 65 days, we’ve already seen over 120 accept Christ.”
Faith Baptist also employs a somewhat unusual practice of lighting a single “harvest candle” each Sunday during worship services to celebrate that a member has led someone to Christ that very week.
“We ask the new believer and the person who shared with them to go up and light the harvest candle together, sometimes sharing the salvation story,” Sinquefield said. “I’m happy to say that the candle has been lit every Sunday for a long time now.”
Last but certainly not least, Mike Landry has been pastor at Sarasota Baptist Church in Sarasota, Fla., for the past 11 years. The church has two campuses 10 miles apart; 1,400 worship at one and another 460 at the other.
Landry said reaching out to people in the Sarasota community has “just always been in the church’s DNA.” The church has baptized 200 so far in 2008, surpassing the 170 baptized last year. Sarasota Baptist has recorded 100 baptisms a year for the last 22 years.
How do they do it?
“Our mission is to connect people to Jesus Christ in all we do,” Landry said, “whether it’s every time I speak from the pulpit, in committee meetings or special activities ministering to the community. That’s our over-arching strategy.”
Just like the other churches successful at engaging people, Landry’s congregation is committed, well-trained in sharing the Gospel and highly creative.
At Sarasota Baptist, every first-time visitor on Sunday is given a basket of cookies and CDs — a basket that the church delivers with a personal note to the visitor’s doorstep before he or she returns back home after the service!
“Our folks are told not to go in the house, just drop off the basket on the porch and leave. We have another member who is assigned to go back and actually visit them later in the week,” Landry explained. “This is one of the most talked-about and popular things we do.”
Sarasota Baptist undertakes other creative community ministries as well. Last May, “Lovin’ from the Oven” was the theme for an effort to honor Sarasota area nurses by delivering platters of cookies to every floor of local hospitals.
Friends, these are just a few examples of what some outstanding Southern Baptist churches are doing to intentionally and creatively share Jesus Christ. Jesus is asking Johnny Hunt, you — all believers — to look around our neighborhoods. People are ready and ripe for the Gospel. The fields are whiter than ever for the harvest.
Recent research tells us that 78 percent of the population would be willing to listen if anyone wanted to tell them about Jesus Christ. Almost 90 percent of these same people say they have close friends who are Christians.
Vance Havner said it years ago: “The great tragedy of our day is that the situation is desperate but the saints are not.” If we have neighbors who are not Christians and are unchurched — and we all do — that’s desperate. But we need for the saints to get desperate.
Pray that God will put a neighbor on your heart. And then engage your neighbor. Engage them when you’re both taking your garbage cans to the street, when you’re picking up your daily newspaper, when you go to the mailbox, when you’re cutting your grass.
Engage. Sow a seed. God will give the increase.
Johnny Hunt is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. For more information on the God’s Plan for Sharing initiative, visit www.nei2020.org.