Baptisms alter church's culture
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (BP)--An initiative to baptize "100 Souls in 100 Days" has spawned an atmosphere of evangelism at Blackshear Place Baptist Church that has become the Atlanta-area congregation's new culture.
Lives have been changed, including a couple who had been addicted to methamphetamine and were searching for hope. Stumbling upon the sprawling church in Flowery Branch, Ga., they heard the Gospel message and prayed to receive Christ.
"God radically changed their lives," Jason Nave, a missions pastor at Blackshear Place, told Baptist Press. "Only God could do something like that. It was really cool to watch them be transformed and to continue to see them grow."
And there was an elderly couple who had been married 50 years. They came forward one Sunday to rededicate their lives, and after talking with a deacon they realized they didn't have a salvation story. They had attended church over the years but had never received Christ as Savior.
"They both came to faith in Christ and were baptized that night," Nave said. "I had the opportunity to baptize both of them. There are so many stories like that."
The stories began accumulating in 2006 when the church's pastor, Jeff Crook, realized that in the midst of $17 million construction project, the congregation needed an emphasis that would keep them from turning inward while their building was in disarray.
Crook launched 100 Souls in 100 Days that summer, challenging the congregation to share the Gospel with people they encountered outside the church, motivated by a goal to see at least 100 people commit to follow Jesus in believer's baptism. On Day 100, the church baptized 189 people.
Blackshear Place, with 2,800 in average attendance on Sundays, repeated the evangelism emphasis last year and saw 191 people baptized within 100 days. The church celebrated the culmination by baptizing the remaining new believers in nearby Lake Lanier during an evening worship service, just like they did after the end of the first emphasis two years earlier.
"The way that we set this thing up and the reason we say anybody can do this is because whether your goal is 100 or 10 in 100 days, the main thing that we focused on is equipping our people to share their faith and to create an atmosphere of evangelism in the church," Nave said. "It's kind of an electrifying thing when people see other people coming to Christ."
During the 100-day emphasis, the church scheduled one night each month between July and September when its members gathered for a meal and then heard a short presentation on how to witness using the EvangeCube, the Romans Road or other evangelistic tool. Then people divided into teams and went out into their rapidly growing community. The church also began offering in-depth classes on evangelism for those who wanted to learn more.
"It just creates an atmosphere where people are doing what Jesus said to do by fulfilling the Great Commission," Nave said. "That brings a blessing to your life when you're obedient in that regard. It seems like our people just really caught on fire and just began to tell people and began to bring people."
In 2008, Blackshear Place baptized 322 people, and the excitement over 100 Souls in 100 Days spread to other churches that heard the news. About 20 churches have contacted Blackshear Place, Nave said, to ask how they can implement a similar strategy, and a seminary expressed interest in using the model in their evangelism school.
"God has definitely helped us to create an atmosphere of evangelism, and it's like every service we're baptizing," Nave said. "The people are absolutely ecstatic when we baptize. They just go crazy. They're clapping and just real excited about what God's doing. I think that's why we're continuing to see God's hand and God's blessing in the area of evangelism."
When other churches have asked for help, Blackshear Place has sent a packet that includes a 100-day prayer guide developed by the church as well as some tracts they designed specifically for church members to give to waitresses and other people they might encounter during an average day.
Also, the church gives guidance on how to have one of the major emphasis nights where people are trained and then go out to share what they've learned. Nave said Blackshear Place has encouraged inquiring churches to call if they have any additional questions, glad to share the evangelism model that has worked for them.
This year, rather than repeating 100 Souls in 100 Days, Blackshear Place will emphasize certain events such as a Sunday when everyone is encouraged to bring a friend to the worship service.
"We really encouraged accountability and prayer support for this day, and we had about 300 cards turned in last night for prayer needs of people that they're inviting to bring with them that are lost," Nave said. "I bet we got about 450 names of people that we're praying for all this week."
Now that the church has caught a vision of seeing hundreds of people find salvation in Jesus, the momentum continues.
"We don't ever let up. We do a big Easter baptism. We do a big Christmas Eve baptism, and we really just encourage people to give their heart to Christ and follow the Lord in baptism," Nave said. "It's all about seeing people saved and going through the waters of baptism."
The church is scheduled to host Georgia's state evangelism conference in February with speakers including Geoff Hammond, Ken Hemphill, Fred Luter and Bobby Welch. But they're also looking at how they can grow strong disciples from the hundreds of souls who have been harvested in the past two years.
"It's the year of growth," Nave said. "We're growing our faith, growing our witnessing, growing in every area of our lives."
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information about 100 Souls in 100 Days, e-mail email@example.com.