LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When Lisa Dohoney began training for last April’s Kentucky Derby mini-marathon, she didn’t know it would ultimately lead her to accept Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.
But looking back, she can see how God directed her to “Trekos” — a training team for runners and walkers at Melbourne Heights Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. — and later into the church.
“I didn’t understand God’s plan in my life,” said Dohoney recently. “But putting it in a timeline and telling people this is how my life was changed … there was a point in me being there.”
Lisa and her husband, Scott, started investigating a personal relationship with God after forming relationships with the pastor and other team members.
Seeing a peace in the pastor and the children’s minister that they didn’t have sparked their interest. They accepted pastor Bill Shoulta’s invitation to a May service, a step that led to their baptism in July.
“He did a message paralleling running to a relationship with God,” Mrs. Dohoney said of that first sermon. “He did such an elegant job; it hit me so hard. This running became a running to find God in my life.”
Shoulta said that Trekos organizers initially expected about a dozen people to respond last winter. Instead, 53 runners and walkers signed up, and about half of those came from outside the church.
In addition to the Dohoneys’ conversions, two other runners now attend Melbourne Heights.
Referring to a book published by LifeWay Christian Resources, Shoulta called it a “Share Jesus Without Fear” approach, getting to know people before telling them about Christ.
“We didn’t do devotions on Saturday mornings,” he said. “We wanted to develop a good relationship and draw them into church. Once they saw we weren’t pouncing on them, they became more trusting.”
On Jan. 26, Melbourne Heights hosted its first training run for this year’s race. Of the 75 people who expressed interest this year, about two-thirds are not church members, Shoulta said: “There are prospects in this group as well.”
Dan Garland, leader of the evangelism growth team for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, calls this an example of a growing number of marketplace ministries.
Other Southern Baptist churches are sponsoring fishing tournaments, wild game dinners, skeet shoots, and community barbecues as new methods of evangelism, he said.
He applauds the unusual outreach efforts, saying congregations are only limited by their imaginations.
“We’ve gotten stuck in a rut,” Garland said. “For the last 100 years, we’ve been teaching the way you do evangelism is getting people to come to church. In reality, the New Testament teaches you go to the people.
“We have to develop a missions mindset. Missionaries go and build relationships with people through medicine, digging wells or teaching them. A lot of times, buildings in and of themselves are barriers.”
An awareness of popular activities is a key to reaching unchurched people, Garland said. By utilizing members’ skills and interests, congregations can help their communities, he said.
For example, last year members of Four Rivers Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., offered free oil changes for senior adults and single mothers. Another church offers an annual golf tournament as a way to interact with non-believers, Garland said.
In various SBC churches, those who have gotten involved in community action say the rewards are long-lasting.
As director of Baptist Men at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, Ky., Curtis Gibson led the group to get involved in helping others. Using the name Christians In Action, he had special T-shirts designed for crews to wear.
But it wasn’t just the group’s unusual CIA acronym that attracted attention.
Thanks to their efforts, five Murray residents have wheelchair ramps at their homes. A Boy Scout camp near Land Between the Lakes has a refurbished outdoor chapel. Children in the church’s neighborhood enjoy a large playground the group completed last year.
“I can’t sit on the pew any more,” Gibson said. “Now God’s given me a desire to build relationships with guys who want to go out and do things to help people.”
Relationship-building was Charlie Davis’s motivation for joining an over-30 baseball league in Louisville, Ky. last summer.
As pastor of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church, he didn’t have many opportunities to rub elbows with non-Christians. But aside from the team’s manager, he was the only Christian on the 14-man roster.
While his efforts didn’t win any converts, he prayed with several players and invited them to last June’s Billy Graham Crusade.
“I initiated prayer with smaller groups and they all said yes to the offer,” said Davis, who played baseball in college. “It was more one-on-one discussions with guys, talking about their relationship with Christ as we’re stretching or warming up in batting practice.”
Corinth Baptist Church in McQuady, Ky. became active in its area by forming a servant evangelism team two years ago.
Dressed in orange T-shirts with “It’s all about God’s love” on the back, the group has handed out ice water at an American Cancer Society walk-a-thon, given away goodies at Easter, and sponsored a free community barbecue. At Christmas they hand out free coffee and hot chocolate to shoppers at Wal-Mart.
While these efforts haven’t attracted new members or sparked conversions, the pastor of the Western Kentucky church said that isn’t the point.
“That’s not the goal of servant evangelism,” Jake Huffman said. “It’s to till the ground. We try to anticipate what’s happening in the community and how you can meet a need by serving them.
“With the event at Wal-Mart, we didn’t spend more than $50, but 200 people are favorably disposed towards the church,” Huffman said. “A lot of people are alienated to the church. The only way to build that trust back up is to do something. You can’t just talk.”
That action may touch someone searching for spiritual meaning, like the Dohoneys.
Angry at God after her mother suffered disabling injuries in an auto accident 10 years ago, Lisa Dohoney now enjoys peace, a better marriage and a new perspective on life’s important issues.
“I’m like a new babe in understanding this relationship with God,” she said. “I had shut God out of my life, but this has opened so many doors. It’s exciting to learn more and more about how God works in our lives.”