Evangelist's vehicle giveaway attracts 10,300; 3,200 make professions of faith
CUMMING, Ga. (BP)--Last fall, when Carol Gray entered the drawing to win a new vehicle at www.threeminutestory.com, she said she prayed "selfishly" to win before confessing her selfishness to God.
Gray's prayer was answered -- and then some.
Before evangelist Ronnie Hill handed Gray the keys to a new Chrysler 300 LX, more than a dozen people professed their faith in Christ in response to Hill's invitation after preaching at First Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga.
"That's the whole thing right there," said Gray, a member of Alpharetta (Ga.) First United Methodist Church. "The car is secondary."
Hill's year-long evangelistic campaign via the Internet -- which he's offering again this year -- resulted in more than 10,300 people watching his three-minute Gospel presentation and registering for the free vehicle drawing. More than 3,200 people recorded professions of faith in Christ after watching the video.
People from all 50 states and 29 countries entered the online drawing. And Gray, a 65-year-old prayer group leader from Cumming, Ga., was randomly selected as the winner. But she almost forfeited her prize by hanging up the phone when Hill called her around 10:30 p.m. in December to tell her she was the winner.
"I thought this was someone talking crazy and was concerned that he knew my name, so in my fright I hung up on him," Gray recounted.
On Hill's third call-back attempt, Gray stayed on the line. The Grays' new car will replace her husband's 1986 Cadillac sedan, which they donated to a local ministry.
"God dropped this car right into my lap," she said. "What an awesome provider and awesome answer to prayer."
Hill arranged to present the new car following worship services at First Baptist Cumming on Jan. 25 because the church had promoted the Internet evangelism campaign locally. Gray was encouraged to enter the online drawing by her son-in-law, Tracy, who is a deacon at the church.
First Baptist Cumming, whose motto is "The Church That Gives Itself Away," began promoting the threeminutestory.com website in August as an evangelistic outreach by posting a link on its website and asking members to distribute small website cards and e-mail links directing people to the site.
Church members distributed more than 7,000 website cards at a free face-painting booth during the 10-day Cumming Country Fair & Festival and included the cards in Halloween treat bags containing candy and Gospel tracts.
Bob Jolly, pastor of First Baptist Cumming, said Hill's Internet evangelism strategy helped energize and mobilize nearly the entire congregation in evangelistic outreach.
"After witnessing the curiosity of a car giveaway and the results of Ronnie's evangelistic preaching, God has given me a vision for what He can do when we use our God-given creativity to fish for men," Jolly said. "After hearing Ronnie's preaching, any questions about a car giveaway as a gimmick were erased and the ministry was enthusiastically embraced."
About 60 churches across the country partnered with Hill to promote the vehicle giveaway at county fairs, music festivals, block parties and football games. Optional expenses incurred for participating churches included costs for promotional banners, website cards and registration tickets.
Information for churches interested in partnering with Hill's giveaway this year is available at www.threeminutestory.com/church.php.
Hill purchased the vehicle with donations by individual donors and funds from his nonprofit ministry. After shopping for the best deal, Hill bought the vehicle from Family Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep in Cleveland, Ga., following a referral by a staff member at First Baptist Cumming. The dealership sold the vehicle to Hill for $3,700 less than the closest competitor, a savings that nearly equaled the amount Hill lacked for the purchase from another auto dealership.
For Kelly Chadwick, general sales manager at the north Georgia dealership, Hill was an answer to his prayer as well. Chadwick, who attends Airline Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., said that while praying during his drive to work he asked God to help the dealership sell a vehicle the same day Hill called to buy the vehicle for the giveaway.
"It shows you that there's nothing God can't do," Chadwick said. "There's nothing that He can't handle."
Hill, of Fort Worth, Texas, quickly dismisses criticism that coupling the Gospel with giving away a new vehicle is a manipulative gimmick.
"I don't care what people's motives are for signing up for the car, just that they hear the truth," Hill said. "People came to Jesus in the Bible for the wrong reasons, such as to be healed, for free food or to be entertained. But Jesus still told them the truth."
Jolly said the free vehicle giveaway "proved to be a creative and effective way" to share the Gospel to many who wouldn't listen otherwise.
"One car is a small investment to reach thousands for Christ," Jolly said. "Many churches spend much more than that on church fellowships, which amount to little more than Christian entertainment and reach no one for Jesus."
Hill, an evangelist for 21 years, travels about 40 weeks each year preaching revivals across the United States and Canada, as well as leading mission trips to Africa, Europe and Central and South America. He also does evangelism training and leads evangelistic outreach events at youth camps, NASCAR races, rodeos and motorcycle rallies.
Hill said the online drawing for the vehicle giveaway enables him to multiply the reach of his evangelistic ministry while providing Christians and churches an opportunity to help share the Gospel with those who aren't likely to attend a church event.
"All you have to say is, 'Hey, you want to win a brand new car?'" Hill said.
This year, Hill has expanded the website to include five additional video clips from which to choose a testimony, including that of an African American male, a Hispanic woman, a NASA engineer, a country music Grammy award winner and a woman who was a victim of sexual abuse.
Hill partnered with the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center so that those responding to his video testimony could speak with a spiritual encourager if they so desired. ERC volunteers referred callers wanting additional contact to Hill's partnering churches based on the zip codes of callers and those who completed online information.
Lee Weeks is a freelance writer and associate pastor for evangelism and missions at First Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga. To learn more about the 2009 campaign, visit www.threeminutestory.com.