SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (BP)–How do you reach them?
They may be teens who haven’t had a religious upbringing. Teens who think churchgoers lead boring lives. Teens bombarded by the secular “gospel” that there are many paths to God and, for now, it’s OK to do whatever you want.
How do you get them to hear an explanation of sin and why it’s destructive? Or how do you talk about salvation and why they need it?
And how do you describe how a perfect man died and yet lives, and how He can make a difference in their lives?
Former professional motocross racer Brad Bennett knows what it’s like to be a teenager who didn’t grow up in church.
“I was in a good family, but I wasn’t exposed to the Gospel growing up,” Bennett said. “My passion, more than anything since I was 12, was racing motocross.” He spent hours practicing every day, forgoing many of the extracurricular activities of his peers.
Bennett’s family recognized his potential and supported him in his dream by taking him to competitions. He graduated early from high school to get his professional racing license. Yamaha sponsored him, and he began racing across the United States.
Bennett was 19 when he first met one of his motocross heroes, Steve Wise, whom Bennett had admired for years on Wide World of Sports. Bennett recalls having just a normal conversation with Wise a few hours later – normal until Wise said to him, “I know the only thing you think of is motocross — it was for me for a long time too. But if you died today, where do you think you would go?”
Bennett replied, “I think I would go to heaven.”
Wise asked him, “Why?’
“Because I’m basically a good person,” Bennett said.
Wise then shared that without a personal relationship with Christ, there is no hope of going to heaven. That conversation resulted in Bennett turning his life over to Christ.
“I’ve always been the kind of person that, no matter what I’ve done, I’ve thrown myself into it 110 percent,” Bennett said. “I raced a few more years, and as life went on I realized it wasn’t all there was. I quit racing in 1990 and started getting grounded in my faith.”
By 1996, Bennett knew that God was calling him to fulltime ministry. He became a youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Salem, Mo., but his growing desire to share the Gospel led to sense there was more to God’s plan. He began doing small outreach events, and God began to give him a vision.
“When I first started out, I wasn’t using motorcycles and didn’t even own one. I was doing character-based positive school assemblies and it was just me and the mic,” he said. Then God gave him the idea to use drama, and he later incorporated a band. Then the idea to use extreme sports came. Bennett prayed about that, and when someone donated a $5,000 motorcycle to his Real Ministry outreach organization, he took that as confirmation. Gas Gas USA motorcycles in Kansas City, Mo., currently sponsors Bennett and his ministry, supplying him with bikes and parts.
The drama, the music, the lights, the stunts –- all are geared toward leading unsaved youth to a real encounter with God. “Without a real encounter, nothing changes,” said Bennett, who plays a lead role in the teen-oriented Real Encounter Youth Crusades pioneered in conjunction with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
“When I got saved, it was real. God changed my life. That’s how it is supposed to be. We don’t just do this to see people walk the aisle and pray. We do it so that they will take hold of God and so that God can take hold of them.”
At the Real Encounter Crusades, music by several quality Christian bands helps prepare the hearts of lost students. The song lyrics, while not overtly Christian or evangelistic, make a connection with students by verbalizing the difficult questions they ask, often without finding satisfying answers.
Bennett then speaks to those struggles, such as rejection, loneliness, family breakups, and he conveys how Jesus is the answer for those struggles. He uses the drama team to provide visual illustrations of what he presents directly from Scripture. In the Real Encounter promotional DVD, quoting from John 10:10, Bennett says, “The thief — the thief being Satan — comes to steal, kill and destroy. Is Satan destroying your life?”
One drama, set to haunting and sometimes intense music, shows how a young teenage girl walked away from Jesus to listen to the enticements of Satan. Satan shows her things he can give her that excite her and create desire in her. But at some point, Satan’s hand passes before her face, and she is spellbound. Satan begins to control her like a puppet, gently at first but his control of her life becomes increasingly violent. The hatred he has for her is obvious, but she is powerless to free herself from his control.
Then Jesus begins calling to her. He contends with Satan for her life. He clears the way for her safe return and then empowers her to defeat her enemy.
“It all points to the moment that I stand on the stage. I talk about the dramas and it all fits like a glove. By the time I get up, they’ve seen the Gospel in several ways and when I speak it, the soil has been prepared and they are ready to receive the seed,” Bennett said.
The Real Encounter Crusade targets smaller rural communities where professional events are far from commonplace. The crusade team conducts high-energy, quality, character-based school assemblies to make a connection with students. Bennett speaks to students about the hard work and commitment it took to allow him the experiences he has had, and he encourages students to set goals, work hard and make right choices to achieve their own dreams.
On a large mat brought to protect the floor of the high school gym, Bennett performs some smaller freestyle stunts in the assembly, with the promise of an “extreme” event that evening. Bennett promises a totally free, totally cool, X-Games type demonstration rarely seen in smaller towns — stunts like burnouts, splatters (climbing straight up an eight-foot wall), and freestyle jumps over cars.
On the average, 50 percent of those at the assemblies will return for the evening event to see and hear and experience a solid and to-the-point Gospel presentation, and then be invited to respond.
But it isn’t just about seeing them walk the aisle, Bennett noted. “One thing we don’t want to miss is the evangelism training part. Every church is required to go through the evangelism training — four weeks before the crusade and four weeks after. We want to see a lasting impact on the community, not just a blow-in, blow-out event.”
Heath Clower, youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Clinton, Ark., admits that follow-up is still the biggest struggle. However, his church is still witnessing fruit from the crusade held on the county fairgrounds last October. “We baptized a young girl just a few weeks ago who made a decision at Real Encounter. Her family has started coming to church as well,” he said.
Clower said he believes so many lost youth turned out for the events, first of all, because the school assemblies gave them a taste of what they would see at the nightly events. “That and free food are why a lot of lost people came,” he said. The sponsoring churches of several denominations served hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza while the crowd watched about 25 minutes of jumps and stunts.
“Then everyone was encouraged to go inside the hall at the fairgrounds, where they had a stage and a light show with smoke, the drama team and the band. We had so many kids one night, we couldn’t fit everyone in — it was jam-packed,” Clower said.
Of about 500 who attended the Clinton event each night, 81 youth and adults made salvation decisions and 53 renewed their commitment to Christ — numbers that closely parallel results at each Real Encounter event.
Bennett is amazed at the way God has used his skills and abilities to create this ministry and get the Gospel to so many. Besides his motorcycle skills, God has also gifted him with administration and organization abilities. The promotional packet for a Real Encounter weekend contains all the information that churches and school officials will need to know about what they will experience in a Real Encounter Crusade, and what their own responsibilities will be. “I’m a neat-freak,” Bennett joked. “God has given me the gifts of administration and discernment — being able to see what works and what doesn’t. He gets the credit for all of this.”
From the initial Real Encounter crusade in Arkansas three years ago, the ministry has stretched into six states. In 2004, Real Encounter events took place in 15 cities, sharing Christ with over 75,000 students and adults. Nearly 2,500 students and adults entered a new relationship with Christ during those events.
“The message is the same,” Bennett said in regard to what Christians have proclaimed throughout the ages, “but our methods must change.”
For more information about Real Encounter Crusades, visit www.realencounter.org or call 1-866-823-7325 (1-866-U-BE-REAL).