For the past twenty-five years, Southern Baptists have begun each annual meeting by celebrating hundreds—sometimes thousands—of new souls won for Christ.
This celebration is the result of Crossover, the evangelistic outreach initiative preceding the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each year, NAMB partners with state conventions, associations, and local churches to saturate the host city of the Convention with evangelistic events. Volunteers from across the country arrive in the city a few days prior to the annual convention to participate alongside local church members. This year, Crossover Houston marked the twenty-fifth year of outreach.
In 1983, when messengers approved Las Vegas as the 1989 SBC annual meeting site, they adopted a recommendation to add "a strong evangelistic emphasis in connection with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1989."
The week prior to the Convention's annual meeting in Las Vegas, more than two thousand volunteers participated in door-to-door witnessing campaigns and revival services. They visited over 100,000 homes and led approximately 470 people to Christ.
The following year, the SBC Home Mission Board (HMB) planned a second evangelistic event to coincide with the SBC annual meeting. The annual saturation evangelism initiative became known as Crossover in 1991, when then-SBC president Morris H. Chapman worked with the HMB to expand the one-day outreach into a full week. Crossover Atlanta that year involved door-to-door witnessing, serving meals to the homeless, street evangelism, and prayer throughout the city. Three hundred thirty-three decisions for Christ were recorded.
The name "Crossover" was inspired by an evangelism conference in Australia where Chapman spoke in 1987. The theme of the conference was "Crossover Australia." In an interview with SBC LIFE, Chapman recalled being struck by the dual meaning of the name.
First, he said, picturing the Cross over Australia reminded him of Jesus’ words in John 12:32: As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself. Second, "Crossover Australia" inspired images of believers traveling across the country to spread the Gospel.
Chapman's original vision for "Crossover America" focused on church planting, but the name ultimately found its home with the pre-convention evangelistic thrust we know today.
Throughout its twenty-five year history, Crossover has continued to impact lives and souls long after the volunteers returned home.
Participating in Crossover equips believers to share their faith more effectively, including the next generation of pastors and ministers who are going through seminary training.
Preston Nix, director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has seen Crossover transform the lives of his students, some of whom were already serving as pastors. "It changes students' lives, and it affects and impacts their ministry," he said.
Since Crossover Louisville in 2009, seminaries have offered personal evangelism training courses that coincide with Crossover outreach. Students partner with Intentional Community Evangelism teams or local church members to participate in door-to-door and street evangelism the week before the SBC annual meeting. "We're intentional about verbally communicating our faith to the lost so they can come to faith in Jesus Christ," Nix said. Crossover Louisville resulted in 1,035 recorded salvations.
It may be hard to believe, but some seminary students—including those who are active ministers—have never shared their faith outside a church setting, according to Nix. Crossover allows the students to lead people to Christ one-on-one rather than from behind a pulpit. Nix has had many students who were skeptical about spending a week practicing intentional evangelism, but their lives and ministries were ultimately changed by the experience.
Especially from a student standpoint, Nix said, participants "gain experience, and they're equipped to more effectively share their faith."
Crossover efforts, in partnership with local associational initiatives, have also made an impact on communities through church plants.
Larry Doyle, director of missions for Piedmont Baptist Association in Greensboro, North Carolina, said his community was hugely impacted by Crossover and church planting efforts in 2006. Fifteen new churches were started that year, due in part to Crossover and a church planting initiative called Operation Reach. Twelve of those churches are still active today, he said.
"As a result of both Crossover and Operation Reach, church planting became a passionate priority for the Baptist family," Doyle said. "I believe it was the intentional focus on our community that did it. It helped us turn our focus outward and enabled us to see people and needs we had not seen before."
Keith Hall, pastor of The Journey Church in High Point, North Carolina, was already burdened to reach his community by early 2006. He and another pastor, along with their wives and eight other couples, began meeting as a church that summer.
Hall learned a lot from Crossover Greensboro and other related training events. He saw people from diverse backgrounds and various levels of training all working together to reach the community. Seeing all the volunteers on the "same missional page" was inspiring to Hall. "It inspired me to believe in the mission," he said.
The Journey Church has grown from the initial ten couples to around 250 today. Its focus remains the same—creating a diverse church community, serving locally and globally, and reaching people for Christ.
When Crossover volunteers serve alongside local churches, those churches come out of the experience encouraged.
From a practical standpoint, Crossover teams can assist churches with projects or events that they may not have the manpower to complete on their own. The teams also advertise church events door-to-door, which increases the church's visibility in the community and creates new opportunities for church members to develop relationships.
After Crossover, local church members are emboldened to go out sharing the Gospel on their own. Church members and volunteers learn from each other during outreach events, and once the teams have left, the local church members continue that vision. As a result, churches often see increases in baptisms for years after Crossover.
Nix also sees an opportunity to encourage churches in SBC annual meeting host cities located outside the Bible Belt. Nix participated in the first outreach in Las Vegas, and remembers the effect the event had on the local churches there. "It was an emotional, spiritual boost to them that Southern Baptists were coming in and helping them in a very non-Southern Baptist, very secular, worldly setting," he said. Much like in Las Vegas, he believes there is a unique opportunity to serve churches during Crossover Baltimore in 2014 and Crossover Columbus in 2015.
Since 1989, NAMB has reported more than 30,000 professions of faith in Jesus Christ as a direct result of Crossover activities. Thousands more have been put in contact with local Southern Baptist churches.
When a person is saved, Chapman said, there is incredible joy both for the one who accepts Christ and for the ones who are able to witness their spiritual transformation. "Salvation is a miracle when it happens and Christ has given us the opportunity to experience the joy of a miracle taking place right in front of our eyes," he said.
Crossover volunteers who experience that joy often participate in Crossover year after year. They return to their churches and spread the joy to their congregations.
"What a joy it is for the believer to return to his or her home church and testify that upon witnessing to an unsaved person, the person confessed his or her sin and trusted Jesus Christ as Savior," Chapman said. "What a blessing it will be to the church not only to hear the testimony but to catch the spirit of one upon whom God has poured out His blessings due to that person's faithfulness."
After twenty-five years, it is clear that Crossover is about more than throwing a few block parties before the SBC annual meeting each year. It's about equipping believers. It's about strengthening existing churches and starting new ones. Most importantly, it's about leading lost people to Christ.
Crossover Baltimore 2014
The Baltimore Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, and local churches are already preparing and praying for Crossover Baltimore in 2014. God willing, when the annual meeting convenes next summer, it will begin with a celebration of hundreds—if not thousands—of new salvations.
Reflecting on twenty-five years of Crossover, Chapman said: "Hallelujah, what a Savior! And what a way to begin a Convention!"