FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Fla., Ark. evangelism/missions news; 'I really didn't imagine this thing would explode'

Today's From the States features items from:

Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)

Florida Baptist Witness

Arkansas Baptist News

Challenge to church 'explodes'

By Connie Davis Bushey

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- "I knew God would provide and we would get along but I really didn't imagine this thing would explode," said Joe Thompson.

What "exploded" during 2014 at Southside Baptist Church is phenomenal. Though the church only draws about 130 people to Sunday morning activities, members have seen 350 people make decisions for Christ and have sent out 55 volunteer missionaries to Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, and five states. Of the missions workers, most are short-term but one family is serving long-term in Utah and another is in Nashville working long-term with the Muslim community.

Also, the church has increased giving to local missions, through the Cooperative Program to Tennessee Baptist and Southern Baptist missions, and to the Baptist association, said Thompson, who is pastor.

It all began at the first of 2014 when Thompson felt God leading him to challenge the church in three ways for the year.

"I wanted us to do things right.... I was looking at missions and what God wants us to do."

The three parts of the challenge were to increase giving to Baptist missions efforts outside the church, increase giving to missions work directed by Southside, and see 56 people make decisions for Christ because the church would be 56 years old in 2014.

Then just a few hours after presenting the challenge and even before it was voted upon, several church members asked Thompson what he thought about Acts 2:47 and Acts 16:5 which say members were added to the first century church daily. He had been leading the congregation in a study of the first century church. These members suggested the goal be 365 new Christians -- one a day during 2014 -- rather than 56.

So Southside members took the leap and upped their goal to seeing 365 new Christians during 2014. They also unanimously adopted the amended challenge.

The giving part of the challenge was consequential. Thompson asked the church to increase giving through the Cooperative Program from 5 percent to 10 percent and giving to the New Duck River Baptist Association, based in Shelbyville, from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Amazingly, the church began increasing their giving within several weeks.

To meet the goal of 365 new Christians within 2014, church members needed to go outside of the church a lot more, Thompson and the congregation knew. Over the years the church has sent out many volunteer missions workers in the United States and to other countries, but mainly youth and college students.

This year 24 church members, including many adults, served 14 days in Provo, Utah, helping First Baptist Church there and former member Russ Robinson. Robinson, who grew up at Southside, is now pastor of First Baptist, Provo. Soon Zachary and Courtney Thompson of Southside, who are recent graduates of Union University, Jackson, will begin serving there as NAMB church planting interns.

Also this year, Southside Baptist sent six people to Alaska where they served for 10 days and sent 23 people to Nashville where they served at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Of course, church members also have ministered in Shelbyville doing missions work such as reaching out to homeless people there.

One reason they can report seeing 350 people become new Christians is because of their work in Provo, said Thompson. The area is so lost it is considered an unreached people group, a term used by the Southern Baptists to identify people groups (mostly in other countries) who basically have had no contact with the gospel.

The church is still confident of reaching its monumental goal of seeing 365 people become new Christians in 2014, reported Thompson.

"We are only 15 people away from our goal and I believe in the next few weeks we will see 15 more people make decisions for Christ."

Their efforts outside of the church were made possible by the fact that they had the funds. Members additionally had increased giving weekly to "1-2-3 Missions," Southside's own missions fund, explained Thompson. Some gave $1 a week, others gave $12 or $23 a week and a few gave $123 a week.

All of this effort over the past year has been "a lot of hard work" reported Thompson, and though church members prepared themselves, they have endured attacks from Satan.

"We have faced them head on," he reported.

Some of the attacks have been "very personal," explained Thompson, and some have been against others.

For instance, the church lost some members who didn't agree with its new direction.

"It was real hard, real hard. ... These were painful, painful times."

To be prepared for the three-part challenge and resulting attacks, the church "stepped up our discipleship work."

Through all of this past year, "It has been a joy ... being a part of something that has been amazing in its results. ... He (God) has encouraged and protected us."

One of the keys to the church's success is that the initial challenge was financial and personal, said Thompson. "It started in their hearts."

This part of the challenge was about giving "the first fruits." Pastors ask their people to tithe off of the top or before they spend the rest of their money so the church should do that also, he explained.

Looking back, he sees that what God has "laid on my heart here" is to follow the pattern of the first century church and is "rooted in our tradition" and what "God is saying from all our leadership," said Thompson, referring to Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist leadership.

"The disciple's business is to make disciples. He goes out to make disciples…

"If we're sending out as many as we're getting, we feel like we would be an effective congregation....

"It's hard to say how excited we are."

Next year, "we don't want to think small," he stated.


This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.

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Evangelistic zeal brings

new life to troubled church

By Barbara Denman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- When Pastor Rodney Keith took the helm of a troubled north Jacksonville congregation he knew only one way to bring it back to life—the tried and true old-fashioned way.

He seized a back-to-basics strategy instilled by Southern Baptist traditionalists Homer Lindsay and Jerry Vines, former pastors of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Keith was a long-time member.

"What I learn from Dr. Lindsay and Dr. Vines was to go out and knock on doors and win souls," said Keith, pastor of Gardenview Baptist Church. "We stuck with the old fashioned way. I saw no reason to reinvent the wheel."

Keith established basic steps of an outreach program through the Sunday school, developing fellowship within the congregation and closing the "back door," of departing members. The church, plagued with congregational splits before he came, grew from 100 members in 2010 to the mid-500s in 2014. And each year, 100-plus new believers are baptized.

Through it all, Keith modeled what he asked the church to do.

"Our pastor is tremendous," said Pam Echols, "He is a great soul winner and has put it in our heart to be soul winners. We love people and we want to see them come to know Christ."

"Our pastor visits 50 homes every week," said church member John Reimer his voice brimming with amazement.

"There is a warmth and welcome here," said Amanda Metter-Hodges. "You feel at home the moment you walk in."

Keith believes the key to developing committed church members is to have a congregation where people love each other and are grounded in the Word of God.

The church provides breakfast each Sunday—a delicious fare of eggs, sausages, grits, biscuits and French toast. The meal provides a little extra time for fellowship and encourages members to get to their Bible study classes on time. Every member wears a name tag for others to get to know them.

When visitors arrive, they are urged to fill out cards in exchange for a goody bag with a jar of homemade jam, information about the church and a refrigerator magnet with the church's service times. Within hours of their visit, the pastor calls them to set up a home visit for Monday night.

Sunday school classes meet each Monday to continue the follow up, calling, visiting and giving each household a pineapple as a sign of hospitality. They contact inactive members and make hospital visits.

"We want to make sure no one is left behind on our outreach ministry. As a result, families are joining our church every week," he said.

Keith contends that visitors come to most churches overcome with stress and loneliness, but no one shakes their hands, speaks to them or reaches out to them. "Many feel shunned or that they don't fit in.

"We are trying to be a different church where no matter what you have been through in life we want to reach out to you. We want to let you know we love you."

On Sundays, Keith, with a larger-than-life personality, roams up and down the sanctuary aisles and hallways, shaking hands and awarding hugs to visitors and members alike.

"I tell everybody in our church that I love them, I appreciate them and I thank God for them," he said. The people—and visitors—respond to his folksy, low-key ways. "Once they find connection, they want to stay here."

The church targets nearby neighborhoods for outreach. This year, the church knocked on doors of every home in the San Mateo area of Jacksonville. As a result of that effort, 25 families began attending the church.

To make an impact in Jacksonville through the school system, the church held Backyard Bible clubs in three nearby public schools. At least 120 children per school attended and relationships were built with the children and their parents. The Gardenview congregation plans to continue to cultivate these relationships.

Prior to becoming pastor of the church, Keith was a full-time evangelist for the past 14 years. With three children and busy schedules, his wife asked him to pray about going back into the pastorate.

But his evangelistic zeal remained intact.

Each Sunday in worship, Keith uses a large-size EvangeCube witnessing tool to share the plan of salvation with the congregation. Decisions are made weekly. Baptism is held weekly as the death, cross and resurrection is symbolized by colored lights. Those who are baptized receive lit candles and salt in their hands, as a reminder to be a light to the world and salt of the earth. Although the presentation is dramatic, it is also compelling.

All new members are asked to take the "Gardenview Challenge" by coming for three consecutive weeks to Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night services. They are placed in a new member class so they don't slip through the proverbial cracks and are assigned to a Sunday school.

"If they do this, 99.9 percent will never leave," said Keith. If they get in Sunday school they are going to stick. If they don't, they will be gone six months later."

David Drake, director of missions for the Northeast Baptist Association called the church's approach, "refreshing. Most churches today can't stop fighting or focusing on problems long enough to see the lost person next door."

The church's growth "proves that the old methods, like visitation with soul winning at the center, Sunday school, and expository preaching still work today.

"Not everyone is a Rodney Keith," Drake allowed, "just like there was one Homer Lindsay. They are both charismatic personalities that won't be deterred from witnessing and soul winning."

For Gardenview Church, Keith's driven personality and a passion to return to the basics has brought new days of growth and glory for God's Kingdom.


This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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1,800 serve during

Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip

By Jessica Vanderpool

EL DORADO, Ark, (Arkansas Baptist News) -- More than 1,800 people served during the 2014 Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip Oct. 4 in El Dorado and surrounding areas in Liberty Baptist Association – and when the day ended, 63 salvations were reported.

More than 160 Arkansas churches and two dozen associations, along with several Baptist Collegiate Ministry groups, participated in the event, which was sponsored by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) and Liberty Baptist Association. In addition to Arkansas, volunteers came from Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Louisiana.

After prayer, worship and words of encouragement at the kick-off gathering that morning, the missionaries dispersed to more than 130 ministry sites.

Ministry sites took numerous forms, including home repair, cowboy events, medical clinics, fishing derbies, sports camps, nursing home visits, prayer walking, block parties and more.

More than 4,000 volunteers and community members were fed throughout the course of the day, and 175 patients were seen at the medical and dental clinics – the largest number seen at any Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip.

Breck Freeman, ABSC missions team member, called it a "great day in the life of ABSC churches across the state."

"Many lives were changed and (there was) a great servant spirit among all the people throughout the entire day," he said.

Robert Fitts, member of Trinity Baptist Church, Searcy, served at a block party location.

"I want to serve by bringing people to Christ. You want to be the tool, the instrument that the Lord uses for salvations," he said.

He noted how block parties act as a ministry.

"The block party is one of the easiest things you can do to be successful in simply showing people that you love them, that you care, that you want to reach out to them. And doing that, it just magnifies what Matthew 28 tells us to do," he said.

Seth Tucker, student pastor at Bear Creek Springs Baptist Church, Harrison, coordinated sports camps for the mission day.

"We want to see … children and/or teenagers show up and hear the gospel and respond to it, and we'll see lives changed because of this through Christ," he said, noting that events like basketball clinics provide "a reason to get children and teenagers into a gym to where we can present the gospel" and that they "allow them to open up."

"As they're having fun, they're more willing to talk," he said.

While Tucker hailed from Harrison, Marilyn and Bubba Bradham didn't have nearly as far to travel. The mission day took place right in their backyard. They are members of West Side Baptist Church, El Dorado, and participated in prayer walking. They noted the friendliness of the people they encountered and said they were able to pray with lots of families.

"Our city needs the Lord," Marilyn Bradham observed.

"We hope to see many people saved. We hope to see many people touched," she said in regard to the mission trip. "We hope this is something people talk about for years to come."


This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

Compiled by Baptist Press Operations Coordinator Laura Erlanson.
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