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Saturday outreach is key to GPS

PELHAM, Ala. (BP)–Baptists have stepped forward to forego their normal Saturdays in March in order to blanket their communities with the Gospel and an invitation to be in church this coming Easter Sunday.

In Pelham, Ala., some 80 members of First Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala., gathered for a pancake breakfast before meeting with administrative pastor Robert Heard to receive 5,000 plastic door-hangers for 43 of the subdivisions and neighborhoods in the Pelham area, just south of Birmingham.

Earlier in the week, an obscure city ordinance almost threw a monkey wrench into the church’s plans, which are part of the nationwide evangelistic initiative by Southern Baptists, “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS). Local officials had alerted Heard that the church might not be allowed to leave unsolicited GPS materials on the front doors of area homes, but by Saturday (March 27), the issue was resolved in the church’s favor.

Mike Shaw, the church’s pastor for the past 31 years, said Shelby County — which includes Pelham — is the fastest-growing area in Alabama, “so we have a lot of prospects. According to the numbers, 70-80 percent of Shelby County is unchurched.

“GPS really dovetailed well with our existing plans,” Shaw said. “We’ve always believed in doing door-to-door evangelism. When ‘Across Alabama’ [the Alabama Baptist Convention’s state theme for GPS] came along, we thought it was tailor-made for us. Not only are we going to give out 5,000 packages today, we’re giving another 500 Spanish-language bags to a nearby Hispanic mission for their use.”

Shaw said FBC Pelham, which has 2,500 members, has been working on GPS for three consecutive weeks and hopes to see the fruits of their labor Easter Sunday, April 4. “We have three services and hope we need chairs in the aisles for an overflow crowd because of GPS. I’ve asked our members to not look funny at folks who may be sitting in their usual pews!” Shaw joked.

Steven Maharrey, one of FBC Pelham’s younger deacons, gave up his Saturday morning to hoof it through one Pelham subdivision with fellow members Rick Weigant and Phil Cochran.

“My prayer is that just one of these packages we hang on a door will change the life of one person,” said Maharrey, a local Office Max training manager. “If that happens, passing out all 5,000 will be worth it. There’s no doubt in this day and age, we need a holy desire for God’s Word and for people to come to Christ. We’ve been praying for this for three months. We think God is going to do a mighty work through GPS.”

Another FBC Pelham member, Houston Byrd, brought his entire family — wife Jill, son Houston and daughters Gabrielle and Meredith — out to canvass local homes. Why?

“Because people need to know Jesus,” said Byrd, bravely wearing his blue Florida Gator T-shirt despite venturing to the doors of scores of University of Alabama and Auburn faithful.

In smaller churches like Union Grove Baptist Church, GPS and Across Alabama has led to new believers and baptisms since the effort launched on Feb. 28, according to the church’s pastor, Zach Richards.

Citing salvations of several young people and adults in the church over the past four weeks, Richards said, “We were blessed to see such results before the work actually began. I had a gentleman ask me why I thought we were already seeing this many decisions. I told him I thought it was because God still longs for people to be saved and is moved to act when people are moved to pray and fast for the lost in their community.”

Sammy Gilbreath, director of evangelism for the Alabama State Board of Missions in Montgomery, reflected, “When we started this, I thought it might be something special. But when churches started ordering the materials, I knew God was all over this.

“The best we can tell, Baptists delivered 980,000 packets in Alabama last Saturday. Highland Baptist in Florence alone hand-delivered 10,000 packets.

“It’s shown me that evangelism is not dead or dying in Alabama,” Gilbreath said. “There is a great passion and concern in our churches for the lost. It shows me if you’ll put together a program our people can do and get their minds around, they’ll rally to the cause.”

Gilbreath added, “For the first time in many years, churches went outside their buildings and got re-acquainted with their communities. We’ll be measuring the effects for weeks and months to come. But for Alabama Baptists to cover 1 million residences on one Saturday is mind-boggling.”

In Mississippi, Wade Steelman, director of missions for the X-Tended Missions Network in Hernando, 26 miles south of Memphis, said some 40 of the 70 churches in the association were among the first in the Mississippi Baptist Convention to sign up for GPS.

“We have from 180,000-200,000 people in our two-county association,” Steelman said. “We expected to give out 40,000-45,000 brochures, hitting each home in Desoto and Tate counties.”

For three weeks straight, they’ve conducted prayerwalking, prayer time in churches and for pastors and evangelism training. For additional “air cover,” they used the North American Mission Board’s Evangelism Response Center (ERC) for follow-up.

“As we approach Easter, most of our brochures have been distributed,” Steelman said. “We will probably reach the 75 percent penetration point. This is easily the best thing I’ve ever seen NAMB do in a long time. The timing was perfect, especially for some of our churches who’ve been holding extended revivals.”

In Louisiana, Wayne Dubose, director of missions for the Northwest Baptist Association in Shreveport, was at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008 when NAMB announced GPS.

“I was excited then and I’m excited and proud now that we have some folks who are really fired up about GPS,” Dubose said. The Louisiana Baptist Convention tweaked the GPS name to include a state theme of “Sharing the Peace of Jesus.”

The Northwest association, which covers Caddo and Bossier parishes, includes 120 churches and missions and is the largest association in Louisiana. While Dubose ordered 6,000 door-hangers for the association, many local pastors ordered their own materials. Louisiana churches — large or small — customized the GPS program for their particular church’s use.

Lighthouse Church in Shreveport, pastored by Tommy Allen, may only runs 70-80 on a good Sunday, but that didn’t stop the church from jumping on the GPS bandwagon.

“We’ve been considering GPS since the first of the year,” Allen said. “We were convicted that it’s what we should do. We’ve been prayerwalking every Saturday during March and will start knocking on doors the Sunday after Easter.

“Our conviction is that God placed us in this area for a reason — to make a difference. We want to show our neighborhoods we care about them.” Allen said the church’s community includes six-figure-income households, middle-class homes and one of the poorest neighborhoods in Caddo Parish.

“For 30 years we sat here, arms crossed, and said, ‘Here we are, neighborhoods. If you want Jesus, come see us.’ But that doesn’t work anymore. We’re God’s missionaries here,” Allen said. “I’m now more excited than I’ve been in a number of years. I see God beginning to do some things and open folks’ hearts and eyes. Our folks are catching on to the fact that there’s work to be done. Until GPS, we just hadn’t been doing it.”

Lonnie Wascom, director missions for the North Shores Baptist Association in Hammond, La., said 43 churches there signed up to participate in the Louisiana outreach via GPS.

“We have 175,000 residences with 475,000 people in North Shores, and these churches have covered half of them,” Wascom said. North Shores association takes in the eastern half of Livingston Parish, Tangipahoa Parish (Hammond) and all of St. Tammany Parish (Covington, Mandeville and Slidell).

Reflecting the flexibility of the 2010 GPS campaign, one brand-new church plant in Metairie, La., Crescent City Rock Church, is utilizing GPS as part of the fuel for their launch.

Crescent City Rock, which meets in the Metairie YMCA just off Interstate 10, is slated to hold its official “grand opening” Easter Sunday, said pastor Jim Louviere, who is praying for 500 to attend, an ambitious goal for a new congregation of 40.

“We used GPS as the tool to launch our pilot church,” he said. “Starting March 15, we had as many as four mission teams of 100 people who came in from Alabama and Texas and helped us distribute 15,000 door-hangers and Easter service invitations in the Metairie area. On April 2, we’ll have 50 mission teams of college students to put out 10,000 more packages for a total of 25,000.”

Louviere said Metairie in Jefferson Parish — just west of New Orleans – encompasses 450,000 people — “200,000 of them are not part of any church at all, and 180,000 are Catholics. A lot of people in this area are lost. There is an acceptance of religion and religious culture but no relationship with Jesus. People don’t understand what it means to be born again. A big challenge for us as a church is to get past religion.”

The 2010 GPS initiative was developed by NAMB in conjunction with state convention partners. Using 15 million printed pieces, the GPS campaign included prayerwalking, Gospel distribution and follow-up for those who accepted Christ.

In addition, NAMB developed a “Find it Here” advertising campaign and funded $1.2 million in media buys which was coupled with an additional $500,000 from state conventions. In all, more than 24,000 TV spots and 7,000 radio spots on 500 stations, print ads, billboards, yard signs and banners — in some 130 U.S. markets — were part of GPS 2010.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more on the campaign, visit www.gps2020.net or www.findithere.com. For more on what other churches are doing related to GPS, visit www.namb.net/gpsstories.

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  • Mickey Noah