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Idaho pastor, congregation discovered that ‘FAITH worked’

BURLEY, Idaho (BP)-–Dennis Stoneman told the search committee from First Baptist Church in Burley, Idaho, he would become their pastor on one condition: The whole committee must commit to two semesters of FAITH.

They agreed.

“This was a church of good people,” Stoneman said. “They cared about their community and wanted to be evangelistic. So many of the church members had come to Christ as broken individuals. They had experienced life without Him and knew how much better their lives were after becoming Christians. They wanted to share that, but just didn’t know how.”

Stoneman went to the church in August 2000. That October he began the first semester of the FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy. As agreed, every member of the search committee, plus several deacons and the pastor created five teams of three people. Each FAITH team planned to visit local homes to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“That first semester, we made 92 visits. From those visits, 27 people came to know Christ,” Stoneman said. “Everyone was so excited to see that. They saw that FAITH worked.”

Success bred growth. The second semester of FAITH drew enough people to have 15 teams.

“At that time, the church ran about 100 in worship and 70 in Sunday school,” Stoneman said. “With 15 teams [45 people], almost all the adults in the church were involved.”

That semester, the FAITH teams made 289 visits, resulting in 89 professions of faith in Christ.

“We saw all these people come to know Christ, and it energized our church,” Stoneman said. “We were baptizing people. New Christians were coming into our Bible Fellowship [Sunday School] classes. People were being discipled. These new Christians didn’t know any better than to say, ‘We got saved. We’re going to Sunday School. Now we do that FAITH thing.’”

Stoneman was a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., when he was introduced to the FAITH strategy.

“One of my professors told me that he didn’t think knocking on doors was an effective way to do evangelism anymore,” Stoneman said. “But, later on when I went through FAITH training in San Diego, the first night we went out knocking on doors and sharing Christ. We led nine people to Christ. That showed me that it does work and that people are still hungry for Christ.”

One important aspect of FAITH that separates it from other evangelism strategies is its tie-in with Sunday School. New Christians are brought into the church’s fellowship through Sunday School involvement. This immediately gives them small-group fellowship and a class of people to love and nurture them in the Christian faith.

First Baptist Church has led the Utah-Idaho state Baptist convention in the number of baptisms three of the four years that Stoneman has been pastor. He eschews credit for the achievement, noting that the church members are the ones who are reaching out to people and growing the church.

“We’ve got a church full of Great Commission Christians,” he said. “Sharing their faith is part of their lifestyle.”

The Burley area is about 50 percent Mormon, Stoneman said, adding that many of those are more “cultural” than “practicing” Mormons.

“When we visit and share Christ with them, for many of them it’s the first time they have ever heard anything like that,” he explained.

“In this area, people are either for or against religion. They say, ‘We don’t want anything to do with religion.’ We say, ‘Great. We don’t want anything to do with religion either. We’re talking about a relationship with Christ.’ Then, they get intrigued.”

Today, First Baptist has about 400 members, making it one of the largest churches in the Utah-Idaho convention. The congregation recently moved into a new multi-purpose worship center, making it possible to have one worship service, instead of two Sunday services that had been necessitated by their FAITH influx.

“While the growth was great, it was hard to have two worship services,” Stoneman said. “Our members couldn’t see all of us together. It’s exciting now to walk into the service and see how we’ve grown.”

Stoneman said he likes what FAITH has done for the people in his congregation.

“We’re always anxious for FAITH to start in the fall,” he said. When they get involved in FAITH, they stop worrying “about the inconsequential things. They get busy on what really matters.”

And busy they are. In just two years, 346 people in the Burley area have come to a saving knowledge of Christ through the FAITH ministry of First Baptist Church. In a town of 9,200, that’s impressive.

“I think the real reason FAITH has worked here is that God wants to show everyone that FAITH will work anywhere,” Stoneman said.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FRUITFUL COMMITMENT and A LOCAL TOUCH.

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  • Polly House