'The Net' to help individuals blend personal testimony with gospel witness

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Linda had been to only a few sessions of "The Net" -- the North American Mission Board's new strategy for personal evangelism -- when a friend called and asked about her newfound Christian faith.

She was nonetheless able to weave her testimony of how Christ had changed her life with the biblical basis for salvation, recounted her pastor, Mike Landry of Sarasota (Fla.) Baptist Church. By the end of the call, her friend had prayed to accept Christ.

Landry shared the story during an introductory reception for "The Net" June 13 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando. The Sarasota church was one of several churches participating in field tests of the strategy earlier this year.

The first major personal evangelism training tool for churches introduced by the North American Mission Board since its organization in 1997, "The Net" helps individuals merge a gospel presentation with personal testimony, said Ray Jones, manager of NAMB's personal evangelism unit.

"A postmodern culture is very receptive to the idea of story, and so 'The Net' approach is you tell your story," Jones said. "The one thing you can get a hearing on is your personal experience."

"The Net" also helps Christians develop the skills to build relationships with unbelievers -- a prerequisite in many cases for winning the opportunity to share one's faith, Jones said.

The program also is designed to be flexible enough to be integrated into existing church structures, he said. Its eight sessions of training can be customized in formats varying from a single weekend to eight weekly sessions. No certification is required, he added, and the cost -- $59.95 for the basic kit at introduction -- is low enough that every church should be able to participate.

"The Net" is designed to be just one of the tools available to churches to equip members to share their faith, Jones said. It grew out of an effort to update the Continuing Witness Training (CWT) resource developed in the late 1970s. The agency soon realized, however, that a completely different approach was needed.

"'The Net' was birthed out of a desire to create a tool that could easily be used to reach postmoderns," he said, noting CWT will continue to be available and supported by the agency through the end of 2001.

John Avant, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., said the last thing his church was looking for was "another program." But "The Net" met a need for equipping individuals to share their faith who often are not comfortable with traditional evangelism training programs.

"I have in my church, as you have, an army of people who have a story to tell, and they have relationships with people with whom they can tell that story," Avant said. "I need a way to mobilize those people.

"Many of them think that unless they are evangelism professionals that they can't do it," he added.

Mike Phillips, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Braselton, Ga., said 15-20 people accepted Christ during the pilot phase at his church. One young man, he said, shared the process with a fellow Christian who then used it to lead several individuals to Christ.

The program is effective because "the average Christian can implement it in their lives," Phillips said. "I think it's the perfect evangelism strategy for the average believer, because it's simple and it's theirs. It's their story, with the gospel mixed in."

"It's practical, it's personal and it's powerful," added Bucky Kennedy, pastor of River Bend Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga.

For more information on "The Net," visit www.namb.net/thenet.

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