SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. (BP) – Ryan Schneider serves as pastor of Saranac Lake Baptist Church in upstate New York near Lake Placid, home to the Olympic Training Center where elite athletes come to train as they pursue their Olympic dreams.
When he prepares for an event, whether it’s training in the summer or an actual competition in the winter, he searches for different ways to share the love of Christ with the many athletes who will arrive from all over the world.
Schneider said he’s now “part of the system.” When the new athletes arrive, he remains “like a fixture on a wall” to form relationships and share the Gospel.
“I’m always looking for great ways to engage people and athletes with the Gospel because our Bible study crowd often changes year to year, and there’s a lot of ebb and flow,” he said. “Sometimes it looks like apologetics. Other times, we will have a solid group of believers digging into the Word.”
The goal, he explains, is to remain outreach-oriented and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. “And so, I’m using the 3 Circles method, and the one piece that sticks out in there … is the second circle, which is brokenness.”
The 3 Circles method uses three circles to represent God’s Design, Brokenness and the Gospel. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has produced a variety of resources for pastors and ministry leaders who want to train their churches to use 3 Circles.
There is also a children’s version, which includes an instructional parent/leader guide on how to equip children to use the resource. The 3 Circles tool is centered on mobilizing believers for the mission of God.
Schneider said while most people tend to talk about their brokenness, many athletes don’t.
“I ran into a block because I’ve used it in other places with people who seemed more open to talking about their needs,” he said.
With determination, he reached out to Jimmy Scroggins, who developed the 3 Circles method, and asked him what he could do to reach athletes.
Scroggins’ sports background gave Schneider insight he could use. It was simply a matter of setting the stage with the right questions.
Since his conversation with Scroggins, Schneider has trained the bobsled and skeleton athletes as well as his church family.
“I sat down with an Olympian who had returned from the games in China,” he said. “He shared about the brokenness he felt of making the team and it not being the experience he thought it would be, which marked the entrance point in sharing the Gospel with him.”
Lake Placid is one of the least Bible-saturated areas in America. The people in the community don’t have a reference point for Jesus, and they don’t have much knowledge of the Bible, Schneider said.
“We have 60-year-old infants in Christ that have just come to faith,” he said. “When you share the Gospel with 3 Circles, you share God’s design. It may be the first time they’ve heard we have a Creator and that He had a perfect plan. It boggles my mind because they have never heard that before. So, can they be held accountable for it when nobody shared the Gospel with them?”
To mobilize others to use the 3 Circles, Schneider includes it in his preaching.
“We taught all our small groups and created a two-week intensive on 3 Circles,” he said. Last year, they did the training, and a Christian woman who had never received discipleship to share the Gospel started coming to church.
“She gravitated toward the 3 Circles that Sunday,” Schneider said. “She heard me preach, and she realized you could see all three circles in my teaching, regardless of where we are in Scripture.”
“On any Sunday morning, the three circles idea remains there in the preaching. In the Gospel presentation, at the end of the sermon and depending on the topic, you will see the three circles there, in varying degrees of intensity. She said to me, ‘Wait, this is like, a biblical model.’”
The goal is for the trainees to feel empowered to do in on their own.
“I think of another church member who attended the class on 3 Circles or a small group last year,” Schneider said. “He called me recently. He had received a late-night call from a suicidal buddy. He didn’t call me to come and lead his friend to Jesus; he called me for advice on how to navigate it.”
Schneider reminded the man about 3 Circles and told him that because of brokenness, his suicidal friend needed Jesus.
“I think the fact that he felt mobilized to do this himself and share the Gospel with his suicidal buddy using 3 Circles was key.”
As pastors, “I think that’s our job,” he said, “To prepare others as they prepare to go and do the work of the ministry and share the love of Christ with the many who don’t know Jesus.”
Find more 3 Circles resources here: namb.net/3circles