MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–On Easter weekend, more than 300 volunteers saturated 12 of inner-city Memphis’ toughest neighborhoods with the Gospel in the culmination of Impact Memphis.
The outreach, a partnership of the North American Mission Board, the Mid-South Baptist Association and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, was preceded by an urban evangelism symposium to train pastors and laypeople from local churches to share the Gospel and evangelize their neighborhoods as well as disciple new believers. Following the Feb. 9 symposium, participants engaged in 40 days of prayer from March 1 to the Easter weekend evangelism blitz.
On Thursday, April 9, the evangelism initiative opened with a charge from Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, to take the Gospel to the streets and win souls for Christ, with 12 participating churches in various urban areas of the city serving as launching pads for the weekend’s evangelism efforts.
“I was thrilled to see students and faculty alike at Mid-America sharing their faith by participating in the Impact Memphis event,” Hammond said. “I particularly enjoyed the chance to be on the streets of Memphis with Dr. [Michael] Spradlin [Mid-America’s president] and in partnership with the International Baptist Church prayer-walking and sowing down the Gospel.”
Memphis ranks second in the nation in violent crime, with the neighborhoods targeted by the evangelism teams being some of the highest crime and lowest income areas of the city. But as Mid-America Seminary student Shun Abrams noted, to impact young people in the neighborhoods it is important “to reach out to them and not be afraid of them.”
“The kids we work with, they are just that — kids,” Abrams said. “Even though they do some of the things they do, they’re just kids who haven’t grown up to enjoy the value of life.” For Abrams, one of the goals of urban ministry is to help individuals “not be trapped in the lifestyles they’re in.”
Church members who were trained at the evangelism symposium, along with volunteers from churches of several denominations across Memphis, worked together to develop evangelism strategies specific to the demographics of each of the 12 neighborhoods.
For example, in Binghampton, a high-crime, low-income neighborhood where Binghampton Community Church, a church plant, hosted its first Sunday morning worship service, an Easter egg hunt, block party and basketball shoot-out were among the events to draw local residents.
A key component to urban evangelism, Abrams said, is meeting residents’ physical as well as spiritual needs. “You have to meet the whole person,” he said. Canvassers in the area handed out literature to direct those in need to appropriate resources, such as rent assistance, help with utilities, medical ministries and clothing.
The church auditorium, which can hold approximately 60 people, was filled nearly to capacity on Easter Sunday for the inaugural service, and three new believers were baptized in what Eric Watkins, who helped Abrams in founding Impact Memphis, described as “a visual picture of the Gospel presentation.”
Similarly, other locations also utilized strategies specific to their surrounding demographics in addition to door-to-door canvassing.
Organizers described the results of the weekend blitz as dramatic. On Sunday morning, each church reported a larger than expected increase in attendance and, overall, more than 130 professions of faith were reported and an estimated 2,500 contacts were made.
“All we can attribute [the success] to was that God’s hand was on this weekend,” said Willie Jacobs, a national church planting missionary with the North American Mission Board. “It was a God moment.”
Participating pastors have shared testimonies with the Mid-South Baptist Association of encounter after encounter in which God prepared divine evangelistic appointments for local residents to recognize their need for a new life in Christ and accept Him.
“It was not just an event but a life-changing transformational experience that impacted individuals’ lives with eternal value,” Watkins said.
Over the summer, NAMB plans to assign missionaries to each of the 12 participating churches to help continue outreach efforts and discipleship training, and each of the sites also will become an approved practical missions site at Mid-America, allowing students to earn hours toward their hands-on missions requirement. In addition, plans are underway for another Impact Memphis symposium in the coming months, targeting new churches in different areas of the city. As news of the success of the effort has spread, churches have begun contacting Impact Mission leaders to ask how they can become involved in future projects.
“We are experiencing and sensing an unusual spiritual momentum in our city,” said Mike Day, director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association. “We don’t know all the hows, the whys, the whens, and the whats of it, but we know God is at work and there is a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
Hannah Johnson is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn.