GPS, for small town's Baptists, 'something we've always needed' for outreach
TYRONE, Pa. (BP)--It's a small dot on a map, a three-hour drive south of Philadelphia and about the same east of Pittsburgh. Many of the 7,000 residents in Tyrone, Pa., are employed in meatpacking, paper milling, chemical manufacturing and rivet making.
Most residents have mainline Christian or Catholic roots, but a handful are Baptists. Roy Garthwait pastors Grace Baptist, the oldest Baptist church in town and one of few in the region.
"We live in what I would call a spiritually disinterested town. [Our church is] pretty unusual up here," Garthwait said. "It's harder in the north to be a Southern Baptist church. People don't know quite what to think about us."
But this hasn't stopped Garthwait from leading his and other SBC churches in the Conemaugh Valley Baptist Association to set aside the three weeks before Easter for outreach through God's Plan for Sharing (GPS), which is part of a 10-year evangelistic thrust by Southern Baptists.
This spring's initiative -- GPS: Across North America -- was developed by the North American Mission Board in conjunction with state convention partners. It includes prayerwalking, door-to-door materials distribution and follow-up for those who accept Christ. In addition, NAMB developed a "Find it Here" advertising campaign and funded $1.2 million in media buys which was coupled with an additional half million dollars from state conventions. In all, more than 24,000 TV spots, more than 7,000 radio spots, print ads, billboards, yard signs and banners were part of the initiative.
On March 20, Grace Baptist and 10 other churches prayerwalked their neighborhoods. On March 27, they hung Find It Here materials on doors along with information about their churches.
"This is something we've always needed," Garthwait said. "I didn't feel I had the methods or the tools to teach and do this."
Over the past few weeks as members of Grace Baptist have prepared for the outreach, one church member led a co-worker to Christ during their carpooling to work.
"He had been asking me questions about how do you know you're saved," said Tim Yaudes, recounting the conversation with his co-worker Mark. "I said, 'If you were saved you'd know it.'"
After a series of questions they arrived at work and didn't speak until the ride home, but the next day when Mark got in the car he had big news for Yaudes.
"He told me he accepted Christ last night," Yaudes said.
Now their rides to work are a series of discussions about how to grow in Christ.
"He still has a lot of questions and I just keep telling him to read his Bible."
More than 100 members of Grace Baptist are signed up to join the GPS outreach work this month. Garthwait hopes to see husbands, wives and their children all participating together.
"What GPS has done in Tyrone is unify efforts to reach an entire Baptist association," said Bob Hylton, state director of evangelism for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
Designed for adaptability and ease, the 10-year GPS effort provides strategy and resources to help churches work together for reaching their communities for Christ. The missional approach to evangelism that fits any context from tundra to tropic, small town to urban context, aims at awakening believers to their role in evangelism and nonbelievers to their need for Christ.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more stories about Southern Baptists' God's Plan for Sharing initiative, go to www.namb.net/GPSstories.