Philadelphia churches sweep city with GPS

PHILADELPHIA (BP)--The rustle of plastic door hanger bags was a telltale sound of a windy Philadelphia day and evidence that members of Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church visited neighbors along Chelten Avenue with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

"They have it in their hands," said Christian Cesar, pastor of the church. "If they have it in their hands they are closer to having it in their hearts. That's why we're here."

As part of "God's Plan for Sharing" (GPS), the new Southern Baptist evangelism initiative, a number of Philadelphia-area churches hosted evangelistic outreach efforts April 4 as a means of reaching their communities and exhibiting the effectiveness of certain outreach media on their communities.

The Philadelphia initiative was one of five state roll-outs of NAMB's GPS evangelistic strategy, which is now gathering steam after being introduced at last year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis by NAMB President Geoff Hammond. In addition to Philadelphia, GPS outreach opportunities are being rolled out in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and California, with the national launch slated for 2010.

"Our church recently did a church development survey. And our profile showed that we needed to be more intentional about evangelism," said Brian King, who pastors Ezekiel Baptist Church and serves as moderator for the Baptist Resource Network of Philadelphia. More than 80 members from the African American church participated Saturday. "GPS is piggybacking perfectly with what our church is trying to do," King said. "It has actually invigorated the church. Many of them asked if we could go out next Saturday."

Throughout Philadelphia more than a dozen churches, from Anglo contemporary and African American to Russian, Haitian and Vietnamese congregations, had readied themselves for the April 4 outreach.

Using FindItHere.com materials printed by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) alongside literature in other languages inviting people to church on Easter, church members went door-to-door hanging bags and striking up conversations.

Paired with a citywide ad campaign that included more than 70 bus ads, mobile truck signs, radio commercials and television spots sending people to FindItHere.com and a Gospel presentation, the outreach is bearing fruit and church leaders are noticing a response.

Two women in south Philly accepted Christ and filled out information at NAMB's Evangelism Response Center website. Two additional people saw a mobile ad, walked into New Beginnings Church in Philadelphia and accepted Christ.

"Our churches have, in the last several years, made the weeks leading up to Easter a great opportunity to share the Gospel and invite people to church for special Easter celebrations," said Bob Hylton, director of missions for the Baptist Resource Network of Philadelphia. "What GPS and FindItHere.com offered us is a broader sweeping appeal."

So while individual members are reaching their neighborhoods, the media campaign was reinforcing the messages.

In a town an hour north of Philly, Riverside Community Church was reaching a mostly Anglo suburban area. In northeast Philly, Lifeway Baptist Church reached the Russian-speaking population at a Russian marketplace. Only a few miles away, members of Vietnamese Baptist Church of Philadelphia stationed themselves at local markets. This is only a smattering of the dozens of projects happening in connection with the GPS pilot project in the City of Brotherly Love.

"We just want people to have God in their hearts because God is the way we have joy and peace," said Michelle Nguyen, 9, a member of Vietnamese Baptist, who distributed a FindItHere.com brochure and some materials in Vietnamese to a shopper outside the market.

Pastor Phillip Pham said a prayerwalking excursion two weeks earlier and the literature distribution on April 4 will put an invitation to the Gospel in the hands of more than 1,000 individuals and households through members of the church.

Benjamin Mishin, pastor of Lifeway Baptist Church, a Russian-speaking congregation, said their literature tables caught the eye of hundreds of Russian-speakers including many Jews, atheists and nominal Orthodox people of former Soviet bloc countries.

"Many of these people do not even know what the Bible says about anything," Mishin said. "For me to present them with an alternate view of human existence, to suggest that God created the world in seven days, is to introduce a completely foreign concept. But the lack of knowledge [among those from former communist-bloc countries] gives us an opportunity to teach them about the God who made them and loves them."

"The folks I went with distributed materials to about 700 homes, had six conversations and prayer with two," said Hylton, who joined Paoli Baptist Church in its efforts. "Several people met us at the door and enjoyed the conversation and gladly received the invitation to the church's Easter services. My group had one really in-depth prayer with one person and I truly believe the Lord was present in that conversation in a special way."

While Philadelphia Baptists made their way from neighbor to neighbor, similar outreach efforts were taking place in Lubbock, Texas, Riverside, Calif., and on the outskirts of Atlanta in Stone Mountain.

"We're so pleased about these partnerships and to see Southern Baptists out in their neighborhoods meeting people and sharing the Good News," said Ken Weathersby, NAMB's senior strategist for evangelization. "We will learn much from these efforts so we can adjust and improve the GPS effort even before it officially begins. But mainly, these efforts are about inviting people to church and sharing the Gospel."

Back on Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia, Christian Cesar and about 20 others left door hanger bags full of information about their church on more than 1,000 door knobs. Some members had opportunities to speak with residents and share the Gospel in this low-income, ethnically diverse area.

Every so often a car would pull over to receive a bag or a resident would extend a hand out of a doorway and quickly return inside with the material.

Cesar silently prayed as he walked the neighborhoods and was hopeful about what God would do.

"We never know what God will do with the seeds we've planted."


Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board.

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