Southern Baptists are mobilizing to share the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ in northern Utah June 5-12 through Crossover Salt Lake City. The Crossover outreach is the annual evangelistic blitz held before and during the SBC annual meeting.
It is an effort that has taken on much broader focus and heightened urgency this year because of the convention's location on the home turf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But national coordinators say the events have the same ultimate objectives as always — reaching all people in need of salvation.
"While Mormons own the culture in Salt Lake City, there are more than 500,000 people living in the Wasatch Front who have no religious affiliation of any kind," said Don Smith, evangelism associate at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) who is coordinating the Crossover effort on a national level. The Wasatch Front, stretching from beyond Ogden in the north to Provo in the South, encompasses the vast majority of Utah's population.
"We're developing our witnessing approach in such a way that it addresses the Mormon issues, but it is not confrontational in the sense that it looks like we're picking on Mormons," he added. "It will be couched in general terms that anyone who is without Christ would need to understand in order to receive the gospel. But a person who is a Mormon would be able to see, 'Well, that's different from what I believe.'"
LDS members make up about half of Salt Lake City's population, and the percentage rises to more than 75 percent in some suburbs and outlying cities, according to several recent estimates. Southern Baptists, meanwhile, had less than one percent of the population of Salt Lake County in one 1990 survey.
Crossover has been part of the SBC annual meeting since 1989, when Southern Baptists mobilized to share the gospel in Las Vegas. As in the past, Crossover will include events such as block parties, door-to-door visits, and personal evangelism. In addition to the primary objective of leading people to faith in Christ, the events also teach and model effective evangelistic methods and provide the groundwork for starting new churches.
"We are trusting and believing that out of Crossover '98 we are going to launch at least five new churches … and possibly more," said Herb Stoneman, evangelism director for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention.
The actual number of activities and participants this year is down from 1997, particularly because of the hundreds of churches in Dallas that were able to locally sponsor the events. There are about forty-two Southern Baptist churches in the area that are helping sponsor Crossover events.
But the scope of the event in some ways is larger than last year. All Salt Lake City outreach activities — which also encompass a seminar on Mormonism for seminary students and an area-wide media and direct-mail campaign — are being coordinated at the national level through a special NAMB task force designed to focus efforts of the entire agency. Also, many Southern Baptists nationally have been learning about LDS teachings through materials such as NAMB's The Mormon Puzzle video, and the SBC's presence has prompted several doctrinal discussions involving Southern Baptist leaders and LDS theologians.
"This convention could be a huge platform for future interfaith kinds of evangelism," said Phil Roberts, director of the NAMB interfaith witness team and chairman of the task force, noting it will help make Southern Baptists more sensitive to the needs of Mormons and their missionaries.
Smith said this year's Crossover was also opened up to include a variety of events suggested by local leaders. Most events are held the Friday evening and Saturday before the June 9-11 convention, while others continue throughout the week.
"We went to the churches and said, 'What are some of the activities you'd like to do?,'" Smith said. "… So what has happened is instead of it just being a Saturday event, Crossover is going to be about a week-long event that will focus on evangelistic activities all through the convention."
Crossover is also getting a boost this year from two large student groups. Five hundred college students were recruited from across the country by the North American Mission Board, and more than 200 high school students will participate as part of Southern Baptist evangelist Kelly Green's Frontliners mission action program. Students will participate in regular Crossover activities and take advantage of other opportunities to share their faith, including talking with students on college campuses.
Other scheduled events include:
Eighteen block parties
In these events, neighborhood residents are invited to a central location for a cookout, entertainment, and a public gospel presentation. The bulk of the evangelism often comes as individual participants strike up conversation with residents and talk about their relationship with Jesus Christ.
A special survey is being developed that will help determine spiritual needs and religious beliefs in neighborhoods, and lead to a presentation of the gospel if an individual shows an interest. The information also will be valuable in starting new churches.
Musical groups, magicians, and other entertainers at about fifteen sites throughout the area will share the gospel through their performances.
Specially trained teams will be sent out throughout the city to share the gospel and share tracts with individuals on the streets. Throughout the week, convention participants will be encouraged to witness to people they meet.
About sixteen basketball and soccer clinics will be offered throughout the week in neighborhood parks, giving high school and college students an opportunity to share their skills and faith in Christ with children and youth who attend.
An area-wide crusade for Hispanics will be held immediately following the convention in a 13,000-seat arena.
There will also be immediate follow-up in the two weeks following the Saturday blitz. Fifty of the college students are assigned each day for an initial visit with those who have made decisions.
Smith said there is still plenty of room for more people to be involved.
"We need as many people as we can get, because our goal … is to utilize Crossover to achieve the goals of Celebrate Jesus 2000 and get the gospel in every home in the Wasatch Front," he said. Celebrate Jesus 2000 is an interdenominational initiative for praying for and sharing the gospel with the entire nation by the end of the year 2000.
For further information or to register for participation as an individual or a group, contact the NAMB office of direct evangelism at (770) 410-6302. The deadline is May 15.
Mission Projects: A Step Beyond Crossover
by James Dotson
The Crossover Salt Lake City evangelism initiative is not the only means through which Southern Baptists will impact the area during this year's SBC annual meeting. A number of churches have responded to the Utah-Idaho Convention of Southern Baptists' invitation to be a part of mission projects before, during, and after the convention.
"More Than A Meeting: It's a Mission" is the theme of the special emphasis.
"We realize the SBC probably isn't going to be back here in our lifetime for a meeting, so we want to maximize the opportunity," said Jim Harding, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He added mission trips will allow the SBC to make a difference in both Utah and Idaho, rather than just the northern Utah area where Crossover events will be focused.
"A lot of the churches in the Deep South live in an area where they have huge resources," Harding said. "Some of the associations we've been talking with have as many churches as we have in our entire convention. The resources available to them are constant … whereas for us this is a one-time shot."
Projects planned in the weeks surrounding the convention include many of the projects normally planned for mission trips — just in higher numbers than usual. Those already scheduled include Vacation Bible Schools, sports clinics, revivals, building projects, and even an "Experiencing God" weekend.
First Baptist Church of Artesia, N.M., for instance, will be assisting First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah, with a variety of projects, including a Vacation Bible School, four backyard Bible studies, four sports clinics, and maintenance on the church. The team, which includes individuals from other churches in the association as well as other church staff members, also will help lead a revival in Payson, Utah.
Richard Cody, associate pastor and minister of education at the church, said about forty to fifty youth and adults will make the trip. "We do something like this every year," he said.
In another event not directly tied with either Crossover Salt Lake City or the "More Than A Meeting" emphasis, the entire Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is planning its own Crossover Idaho Falls in Idaho.
Shane Spannagel, an Oklahoma convention evangelism associate, said the June 5-7 event will include four block parties, door-to-door evangelism, a large worship service in the city's convention center, and a youth concert featuring The Kry. Modeled after the larger SBC events, Spannagel said the Idaho Falls Crossover also will serve as a training ground for Oklahoma leaders to conduct Crossover events in their own state.
For more information on mission project opportunities through the "More Than A Meeting: It's A Mission" emphasis, contact Harding or Martha Wilson at the Utah-Idaho Convention of Southern Baptists, (801) 572-5350.