Churches take Gospel to 'Biggest Little City'
RENO, Nev. (BP)--In the shadow of the Sierra Mountains, the "Biggest Little City in the World" -- Reno, Nevada -- comes to life when the sun sets. The downtown casinos light up the Nevada sky. But peel away the glitz of Reno's nightlife and you'll find a city spiritually asleep, with at least 96 percent of the population unchurched.
For that reason, pastors in the Sierra Baptist Association decided to participate in "GPS: Across North America," part of a 10-year evangelism effort by Southern Baptists, developed by the North American Mission Board in conjunction with state convention partners.
GPS includes prayerwalking, Gospel distribution, an invitation to church on Easter 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 contributed by state Baptist conventions. In all, more than 24,000 TV spots, 7,000 radio spots, print ads, billboards, yard signs and banners were part of the initiative.
"The churches of Sierra Baptist Association saw this as a great opportunity to capitalize on the TV commercials that are airing on the channels here in Northern Nevada," said Eddie Miller, director of missions of the Sierra Baptist Association. "It's exciting to hear stories from churches in the association about how their members have responded to this effort. We've had families adopt entire neighborhoods."
Families like Richard and Tina Santos, who live in the Spanish Springs area of Reno. Members of Filipino International Christian Fellowship, the couple stuffed almost 500 bags with the "Find it Here" material and two church fliers -- one for Filipino Fellowship and the other for Crosspoint, an English-speaking congregation. On Saturday, March 27, Richard, Tina and their three sons -- Kai, Kaden and Keno -- walked up and down the streets of their neighborhood. They stopped at each house, hanging a bag on the doorknob.
"When we heard about Find it Here, we were excited," said Richard Santos. "We wanted to be a part of it and getting the name of Jesus Christ known all over."
Santos is a volunteer telephone encourager for the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center. When someone calls the number on the "Find it Here" brochures or commercials, the call is forwarded to a volunteer like Santos. An increase in calls has been registered since the Find it Here advertising campaign started two weeks ago.
"Without a doubt, I think many lives will be changed through this," Santos said. "Curiosity will kick in, people will go to the website, make phone calls and ask questions. It's going to be a great thing."
The Sierra Baptist Association has trained more than 50 telephone encouragers in the area and another 20 trainers to help others become a part of the ERC ministry.
"Our churches are excited about this evangelistic effort as it has potential for months of outreach impact here in the area," Miller said.
As morning light filters into a converted office building, members of Crosspoint Community Church gather early Saturday morning for prayer before taking to the streets. Fueled by coffee and donuts, they go out two-by-two, each team equipped with a grocery sack filled with plastic bags and Find It Here material.
Among the teams were Doug and Debbie Vaughan. Doug Vaughan, the founding pastor of the 14-year-old church, liked the ease of participating in an outreach that was already planned.
"Our involvement was a no-brainer," Vaughan said. "We realized our mission and goals fit right into the 10-year GPS strategy. It's just something we wanted to be a part of."
Vaughan has been teaching his members that the church is not a building but a group of people who are out living in the community and showing Christ to those who don't know Him.
"This outreach effort is getting us outside our comfort zone," Vaughan said. "And we"re able to get out and reach the people around us."
Vaughan also liked the idea of partnering other churches throughout the convention. "It's great to be a part of something bigger than ourselves," he said.
Throughout the Sierra Baptist Association, churches distributed more than 25,000 bags prior to Easter.
Members of South Reno Baptist Church have caught the spirit of GPS.
"The first week of this emphasis, our members gave out over 4,000 bags," said Tim Patton, associate pastor of South Reno Baptist. "And we expect them to give out another 6,000 before Easter."
One of their members, a man who is deaf, has distributed 400 bags, according to Patton.
"He says this is one of the greatest things he's done, because he feels like he can actually be involved, when in a lot of ministries he isn't able to participate."
South Reno Baptist is an Evangelism Response Center "covenant church." When the ERC gets calls or emails from someone in the Reno area, the information is automatically sent to the church.
"We're already getting information from the ERC about people in our area who have seen the "Find it Here" commercials and want more information about a local church," Patton said. "We're hoping we have standing room only on Easter Sunday."
Eddie Miller understands the difficulties of reaching a place like Reno. He's served the association for almost 20 years.
"Living in a pre-Christian, post-modern culture makes the seed-sowing ministry of "Find it Here" a great support for us as we attempt to reach one of the most unreached places in the U.S.," Miller said. "We want to reach every person in our area through whatever means necessary."
Carol Pipes is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more on the GPS campaign, visit www.gps2020.net or www.findithere.com. For more on what other churches are doing related to GPS, visit www.namb.net/gpsstories.