FROM THE STATES: Four states go 'all in' on evangelism/discipleship
Today's From the States features items from:
The Christian Index (Georgia)
The Baptist Message (Louisiana)
The Alabama Baptist
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Ga. churches sign up
for 'The Big Invite'
By Gerald Harris
SMARR, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- Churches are being added daily to The Big Invite challenge. Georgia Baptist Convention President Thomas Hammond is urging Baptist churches throughout the state to join in the effort to visit 1 million homes in Georgia and invite the residents to their respective churches on Easter Sunday, April 16.
More than 700 churches have signed up for The Big Invite so far and many others are planning to be engaged but have not yet indicated their intention to participate.
Brian Moore, pastor of New Providence Baptist Church in Smarr, recently told Hammond that his church was "all in" concerning The Big Invite.
Moore told The Christian Index, "We are promoting the initiative at all gatherings of the church. We have ordered 5,000 invite cards to be handed out by our people."
New Providence typically averages 425 in worship on Sunday, but last Easter had nearly 600 in attendance. Moore stated, "We have set a goal this Easter of 1,000 people. We wanted to set a goal only God could achieve and we are going to depend on Him to do so with the efforts we are putting forth."
Moored added, "Our people are excited that we are able to equip them with resources that will help them invite their family, friends and neighbors.
"We have actually been telling our people for months about the effectiveness of someone being invited by someone they know. I believe this opportunity will help solidify that truth and show them how successful it can be to engage the relationships they already have and invite them to church and share the Gospel with them. We fully expect this Easter to have a lasting impact on the outreach participation of our congregation."
The New Providence worship facility will not sufficiently accommodate 1,000 people in one service, so the staff is stepping out in faith to resolve the potential space crunch.
Moore explained, "In staff meeting three weeks ago, we were discussing The Big Invite and my missions pastor said that if we expect our people to follow through with this and for the community to actually respond, then we need to 'prepare for them.'
"So, we decided with much excitement to have two morning worship services on Easter Sunday and seek to fill the worship center up twice with 1,000 people that day. We will have a service at 9 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. Since we currently have only one service at 11 o'clock this is a step of faith, but we are expecting God to do great things.
"I think it is very helpful to put something in the hands of your people when engaging them in outreach. Our people are much more prone to follow through when they have a card or flier to hand their co-workers, friends and neighbors. Don't underestimate the power of a personal invitation. That is what's going to reach this generation and this culture."
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index.
La. churches ready
for state-wide 'Harvest'
By Will Hall & Brian Blackwell
RUSTON, La. (Baptist Message) -- Wayne Jenkins said in years past his team had tried other convention-wide initiatives, but nothing with the focus of the newly launched Harvest campaign to "pray for every home and share Christ with every person" in the state.
Moreover, the Louisiana Baptist Convention evangelism and church growth director said this cooperative effort is special because he truly believes Louisiana Baptists "have the ability to achieve these goals" -- and he said the harvest of salvations that resulted from Louisiana Baptists 2017 Evangelism Conference is promising.
Ed Newton led a kickoff for Harvest 2017-2018, aimed at youth, during the first day's evening session of ECON 2017.
After a pizza social at Temple Baptist Church in Ruston, Jan. 23, Ed Newton presented a message emphasizing the Gospel to hundreds of young people who were part of a packed worship center.
"Heaven is real," said Newton, pastor of Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas. "Life is short. Jesus is good, and, He desires to save you right where you're at."
Without believing in Christ, Newton said, the future is hopeless. But he emphasized no one had to remain trapped in that spiritual condition.
"Right where you're at, Jesus could step out of heaven and step into your heart," he said. "We're all one step away from eternity. What will you do with Jesus?"
Dozens of individuals came forward for prayer at his invitation, and when the service had concluded 34 spiritual decisions had been made, including 10 individuals who repented for salvation, 13 who repented to restore their fellowship with Christ, 9 others made other commitments and 2 more who declared a call to vocational ministry.
Small church revival
Gary Maroney, president of the Louisiana Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, shared similar news regarding preliminary reports from the several small church revivals that were held simultaneously in the local area as part of the Harvest kickoff.
He said, overall, "this was one of the most powerful and anointed conferences," emphasizing he has been to a lot of these meetings. When the final service ended for ECON 2017, Maroney said "God spoke to my heart."
"Louisiana Baptists need to commit to the Harvest," he implored. "God is giving us favor like never before."
Although exact information had not been collected, Maroney shared that evangelists like Bill Britt and Lyndon Longoria made similar observations about revival events that lasted from one to multiple days.
"All of our evangelists are reporting that people came forward during the invitations," Maroney said, saying each man described "people pouring out of the pews."
"This time of Harvest was nothing less than a fresh, sweet encounter with the Lord," he declared.
Harvest hits home
"We decided to make Monday night more of a model of an evangelistic event," Jenkins said, elaborating about youth night at ECON 2017. "It was a Monday night, a school night and probably not the best time to do it. But we wanted to schedule something to reach our youth, one of our weakest baptism groups."
Jenkins shared how LBC President Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, saw two of his congregation's teens being counseled after that kickoff event.
"Here's Gevan putting his heart into this, working hard as president of our convention," Jenkins offered, "and he reaped benefits."
Jenkins also learned his personal efforts to draw in others reaped a harvest for his own family.
David Denton, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in New Iberia, and Jenkins' son-in-law, shared the details with the Baptist Message.
Denton said he and his wife brought their two sons to ECON 2017 just so they could see what their grandfather did, and underscored he was not expecting either to respond.
But he also said 10-year-old Nate had been asking questions for some time and that they had been "talking a bit, and had gone through a couple of books that talk about salvation and what it means to have a relationship with the Lord."
Denton said he was delighted when Nate responded and that he was blessed to counsel him about his decision.
"As a dad, I'm thrilled," he exclaimed.
Jenkins was delighted as well, saying Nate's decision was "icing on the cake" for his work on ECON 2017.
He also used this example to emphasize the need for evangelists in Louisiana Baptist churches.
"David's church is a good church, and his congregation hears the Gospel all the time," Jenkins said. "But in many cases it's a special evangelism event that draws the net."
"Evangelists are gifted in drawing the net," he said, making the point that it takes a cooperative effort among pastors, evangelists and members. "It takes, prayer, hard work, working the plan and trusting God to bring the increase, and He will."
The Harvest has begun!
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Will Hall is editor of the Baptist Message and Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the paper.
Ala. conf. teaches
discipleship the Jesus way
By Grace Thornton
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- He was strung up by his arms in an Asian prison when the man came up to him and asked to know about his Jesus.
"If I tell you, they will beat me even more," the Christian -- who'd been beaten and electrocuted repeatedly -- replied.
But the man told him the coast was clear -- he'd put something in the drinks of the other guards to knock them out for a little while. He had to know about Jesus, he said -- because earlier when the guards had beaten the Christian, his face glowed.
Spirit of urgency
"That disciple was filled with a closeness with God and a spirit of urgency, and as a result, thousands of house churches were started. It's like Acts all over again," said Craig Etheredge, a Texas pastor who leads the FlashPoint Disciple-Making Conference. "Do you have that urgency? Because if you don't, what you have will never go further than you."
Etheredge, who also is founder of discipleFIRST, was one of eight speakers at the recent FlashPoint conference held at Samford University in Birmingham on Jan. 13–14.
The conference was aimed at encouraging churches to get back to making disciples the way Jesus intended for it to be done, said Daniel Edmonds, director of the office of Sunday School and discipleship for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, which co-sponsored the event with Samford's Ministry Training Institute n(MTI).
About 200 people from around the state participated.
"It's a good size for the conference -- that's about the number they want so that it can be interactive and can start a movement," Edmonds said.
Kevin Blackwell, executive director of MTI, which also hosted the event, said he's "excited" about what God is doing through FlashPoint.
"You're empowered with the greatest force in the universe -- the Holy Spirit," he told conference participants during the kickoff session Jan. 13. "We've got all the tools and the resources and Jesus gave us a model to use — now we've just got to go do it."
Robby Gallaty, pastor of Longhollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., and one of the conference speakers, said the church suffers from one major challenge when it comes to discipleship.
"We've taught people how to share their faith, but we haven't taught them to share their life," he said. "We invite people to come to Christ, yes — but we also have to invest in those we invite."
'Catch and consume' culture
The church today is a "catch and consume" culture, not a "develop disciples and deploy" culture, Gallaty said.
The resounding answer to all of the world's problems -- from abortion to nuclear weapons to millennials leaving the church -- is discipleship, he said. "If we make disciples, we are going to enact change."
Sometimes the church glamorizes Jesus' disciples when really they were just ordinary men who knew Jesus and invested their lives in others, Gallaty said.
"We are the result of them -- that legacy is why we're here today. What could happen if you got serious about leaving a lasting legacy? What could happen in your staff, your church, your neighborhood, your community? I wonder what God could do if you went all in," Gallaty said. "I think we'd see a New Testament church."
When Christians really know Christ, what happens in the body of Christ will begin to spill out into the world — that's why Ken Adams, pastor of Crossroads Church in Newnan, Ga., told conference participants it's critical for believers to act in love toward each other.
"If we don't really have love for one another, all these other things we're doing in Christ's name are really a bunch of noise," Adams said. "People ought to look at disciples and go, 'I want what you've got.' When the family of God can't get along, why would anyone want to be a part of it?"
West Brazelton, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Houston, Texas, said in order for Christians to really make disciples, it has to be what their whole lives are about.
"It's not about fitting discipleship into our busy schedules -- God's work shouldn't be just shoehorned in there," he said. "It's about making everything in our life about discipleship. For example, our jobs aren't about making money -- they're about making disciples."
Etheredge said when he trains disciples to be disciple-makers, he focuses on the four "fields" of their life where they can invest in others — where you live, where you learn, where you work and where you play.
"Every one of us has these fields, and we have to train ourselves and our disciples to be intentional to cultivate relationships there," he said. "You have to have an urgency. You have to be a friend of sinners like Jesus was and live life on life with other people."
It's not about having an evangelism program to get people fired up, he said -- "it starts with you."
Set the example by your action and share stories with your church about your own work in your own fields, Etheredge said. "Befriend people who don't know Christ, care about them and encourage them to explore, connect, grow and multiply as they walk down the road of discipleship with you."
Discipleship starts pre-conversion, he said, and Christians don't have the luxury of picking which phases they like better.
Etheredge recounted the story of a pastor who approached him after a conference and asked if it was OK for him to continue the ministry the way he had been doing.
"He said, 'Can I just meet with a few guys and pray and preach the Word?' I think in that question he verbalized what a lot of us think. But God is calling us to be intentional about reaching those who aren't on the path to life. We have to develop that urgency."
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
N.C. churches expand
By Chad Austin
CARY, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) will expand its focus of engaging high concentrations of non-Christians across North Carolina in 2017 as part of the convention's "impacting lostness through disciple-making" strategy. These high concentrations of non-Christians are referred to as "pockets of lostness."
Speaking to members of the convention's Board of Directors at the group's first meeting of the year, BSC Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr. said staff will be working with associations, congregations, pastors and church leaders in the coming year to develop local partnerships and strategies to reach and disciple unbelievers located in 250 identified pockets of lostness across the state.
Hollifield's report to the board reflects an expansion of the convention's strategy adopted in 2013 that initially focused on 100 concentrated pockets of lostness in and around eight large population centers.
The next 150 pockets expand into the rural communities of the state.
Prior to Hollifield's address, Michael Sowers, BSC strategy coordinator for the Triad region of the state, gave board members an overview of the process used to engage a pocket of lostness.
"We have to work together," he said. "We have to work together with our associations, we have to work together as churches and we have to work together as people all throughout the spectrum of our churches coming together, developing a strategy so that we can impact lostness through disciple-making."
Sowers explained that pockets of lostness are geographic regions ranging from a half-mile to 2 miles in radius where up to 70 percent of the population do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In the eight population centers, pockets are often marked by high degrees of ethnic and cultural diversity.
Following Sowers' presentation, board members divided into smaller groups with each of the convention's eight strategy coordinators to learn more about pockets of lostness in areas where they live and how they can lead the effort to impact lostness.
"As we identify population segments that need to be reached in all of our pockets of lostness, we are asking God to raise up leaders who are called to reach them and build strong disciples," Hollifield said. "The strategy is working."
Hollifield reminded board members of the convention's vision statement: "To become the strongest force in the history of this convention for reaching people with the message of the gospel."
Hollfield described the vision as "bold" and "audacious," but also attainable through humble dependence upon the Lord.
"What we do in Kingdom advancement, we do it for Him because we love Christ, and we want to please Him," Hollifield said. "In 2017, will you as a group commit to becoming a board of directors that is filled with disciples who are making disciples?"
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Chad Austin is communications coordinator for the convention.
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 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.