EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the second in a five-part series marking the five-year point since the 1997 creation of the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–America in the 21st century can be an intimidating place for a Christian to live, much less try to have an impact. Recognizing the challenges of an increasingly non-Christian continent, North American Mission Board has been helping Southern Baptist churches make a difference.
“We no longer live in a ‘come and see’ society in which non-Christians are going to walk in the doors of our churches and ask how they can get right with God,” said John Yarbrough, vice president of evangelization at the entity created five years ago in a restructuring of the Southern Baptist Convention. “In our ‘as you are going’ society, Christians have to connect in the places where life is lived and tell about the real ways Jesus is making a difference in their lives.”
Many of NAMB’s evangelism resources are geared toward helping churches and individual Christians build bridges to people who need to hear the gospel. Resources like “The NET” help churches train their members to share their faith in a natural, personal way that’s effective in today’s society. “Family to Family” shows parents how their home can be an outreach center to other families.
Knowing that not all Christians are the same and not all non-Christians will respond to the same approach, NAMB has developed diverse faith-sharing ideas, resources and opportunities that help show Christians all of the new and different ways they can have an impact for Christ.
“When Christians respond to God’s call to learn the ‘fullness’ of salvation by actively sharing their faith, several key challenges in North America can be tackled,” Yarbrough added.
One of NAMB’s top priorities has been the cities, which have experienced staggering growth over the past three decades to the point that nearly 60 percent of all North American residents live in the 50 largest cities.
In many ways, city life can create barriers that separate people from the gospel. But at the same time, America’s cities offer opportunities and possibilities for Christians who want to have an impact for Christ.
“As New Yorkers demonstrated after their city was attacked, there’s a human dimension to cities that reveals the same needs, desires and search for meaning and significance that ultimately draw so many people to Christ,” said Randy Singer, NAMB’s executive vice president.
So far NAMB has focused efforts on six cities — Phoenix and Chicago in 2000, Boston and Las Vegas in 2001 and Philadelphia and Seattle this year. Next year, efforts will focus on Miami, and — with implementation beginning in the fall of 2003 — New York.
“This special effort brings the focused resources such as prayer, finances, volunteers and media muscle to churches and Southern Baptist associations already at work in the area,” said Gary Frost, vice president of strategic partnerships at NAMB.
As the prayers of thousands descend on a city, Christians in the area begin their efforts that may include television, radio and newspaper ads. Churches often plan special outreach events such as block parties, Vacation Bible Schools and backyard Bible clubs. Each strategy is tailor-made for the city in which it will be carried out.
Initial results from these efforts have been exciting, with more than 34,000 professions of faith recorded and 236 new churches established through July of this year.
Spreading hope far and wide
The merger of the former SBC Radio and Television Commission into NAMB also brought the opportunity for coordinating Southern Baptists’ gospel witness over the airwaves with other evangelism efforts. A medium that is often seen as a contributor to cultural decay has been used instead to broadcast a message of hope and salvation.
“Christians are stepping into this media world with increased technology and media know-how so that the message of rebirth that once resided primarily in churches can penetrate individual homes and hearts,” said David Clark, vice president of Broadcast Communications at NAMB.
NAMB’s television network, FamilyNet, now produces several of its own television programs, including a live daily program called “At Home-Live!,” and has the potential of reaching nearly 30 million households. FamilyNet’s radio audience has grown to 3.7 million adult listeners, making it one of the largest radio ministries in the United States. Each program includes a phone number for listeners interested in talking with someone about Christ.
To deal with those callers, NAMB’s Evangelism Response Center (ERC) allows trained volunteers across the continent to serve as “telephone encouragers,” taking calls made to the central response number from their own homes.
“I had the opportunity to share Christ with a young woman from Mississippi the very first time I volunteered as a telephone encourager,” recounted Tom Grieco, who receives calls at his home in Stafford, Va. “After talking to her for a few minutes, I was able to tell her about God’s plan of salvation. She accepted Christ and prayed to accept him right over the phone.”
Since its beginning in October 1999, more than 126,000 callers have been directed to the ERC’s Fellowship of Encouragers.
A similar response network is in place for eight NAMB websites that tell people how to have a personal relationship with Christ. People who respond by email — as many as 25-50 per day — are matched with Internet encouragers. NAMB’s evangelistic websites draw about 82,000 visitor sessions each month of at least nine to 10 minutes, said Mike Day, vice president of organizational development, the group that manages NAMB’s technical operations. Hundreds register decisions for Christ.
“One of the common questions that arrives via e-mail in response to a gospel website is: ‘Who is Jesus? Tell me about him,'” Day said.
Whether by phone or email, all who accept Christ are referred to the Evangelism Response Center, which contacts local Southern Baptist churches to follow up with the respondents. One woman in Arizona met the church representative sent to discuss her decision for Christ by waiting eagerly at the door. “Where have you been?” she wanted to know. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Sometimes the physical needs in life take precedence over every other concern — even the spiritual. Meeting such needs requires readiness, training, resources and volunteers who are willing to leave their life routines at a moment’s notice to deploy where the need is greatest.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units in 35 states — coordinated nationally by NAMB — stand ready for just such unwelcome occasions. Every year Southern Baptist volunteers serve more meals in disaster settings than any other entity.
Ministering to women experiencing crisis pregnancies is another method of evangelism, because these often are unchurched women. NAMB partners with 74 pregnancy care centers that served 31,000 people last year, a thousand of whom accepted Christ after 12,000 presentations of the gospel.
Research shows that once a person leaves his or her teen years, the chances of becoming a Christian decrease dramatically. That fact adds an urgency to efforts to reach students with the gospel.
The student population has increased dramatically in the past 10 years from 19 million to 31 million. But as the number of teens grows, so do the number of barriers to reaching them.
To more effectively build a bridge to today’s teens, NAMB established an evangelism team focused specifically on students. The group designed FiSH!, a strategy Christian students can use to reach their peers for Christ in middle school and senior high. The program then links the new Christians to a local church. More than 4,000 school campuses now have FiSH! programs.
Through NAMB’s campus missionary strategy, local churches commission students to reach their campuses for Christ. These students agree to focus their evangelistic efforts on at least five unbelievers during the school year. This strategy is effective because it encourages students to exercise their influence as peers.
Thekristo.com is a website NAMB designed to share the gospel in a compelling, cutting-edge way to students. Students can either send the website link to a friend or download the presentation and e-mail it. Visitors can respond and indicate whether they have chosen to accept Christ.
“If we don’t reach the next generation and give them a passion for sharing Christ, Southern Baptists might lose the cutting edge they have always had in evangelism and missions,” said Len Taylor, NAMB’s director of student evangelism.
Adapted with permission from On Mission magazine, www.onmission.com. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CAMPUS SURVEY and CAMPUS OUTREACH.