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SBC LIFE (ISSN 1081-8189), Volume 26, Number 2, © 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, Executive Committee

May 1997 Issue


Small Deeds Open Big Doors
by Alvin Reid and David Wheeler

You have probably heard about the three pastors who met in an accountability group and decided to tell one another their greatest hidden sin. The first said, "Don't tell my congregation, but I'm an alcoholic." The next confessed, "If my folks knew I am a compulsive gambler, they would fire me." The third said, "I hate to admit it, but I am addicted to gossip, and I can't wait to get out of here!"

Truth be known, most of us appear to gossip more about evangelism than to actually practice it. Surveys show only 3-5% of believers consistently share their faith. It is not due, however, to a lack of viable evangelism training tools: As Southern Baptists, we have CWT, WIN, BWR, PSJ, WD40, ESPN ... well, you get the idea. In reality, while terrific tools are available for teaching various approaches to presenting the gospel, statistics reveal that there is a breakdown in the application phase. It seems that in spite of the training, most people still face the challenge of overcoming their inertia; actually getting off the pews and into the fields. Thus, we are left with the question of how to get people in our churches to actually start witnessing.

At this point you may be thinking, "It's impossible — you don't know my church, they could care less about being involved in evangelism!" My response is, "Hogwash!!!" The truth is, many folks in our churches desire to share their faith, but do not because they are intimidated by the prospect of "in your face" evangelism. In fact, many church leaders may secretly feel the same way!

Actually, personal evangelism doesn't have to be intimidating. Many have discovered new joy in witnessing through an approach known as "Servant Evangelism." Like many profound things, this is so simple it is easily overlooked. Here's the concept: get a group of believers to begin performing simple acts of kindness. Then, go through the resulting open doors and offer the greatest act of kindness a Christian can give: share the gospel.

Several Indiana Baptists applied this principle during a recent evangelism trip to Croatia. They were assigned to minister in a town of 60,000 that had only one evangelical congregation. Through washing windshields at the local outdoor market, playing basketball, providing games and small toys to children, and distributing light bulbs door-to-door, the missionaries reported that over 1,000 individuals were positively impacted, and between 150-200 of them made professions of faith.

In each activity, the visitors gave a card explaining that they were "sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways - no strings attached." In response, the people asked "why?" At that point, they delivered the message of Christ through personal testimonies and a clear, simple gospel presentation.

This concept is also being utilized across America. An Indianapolis pastor handed out cellophane-wrapped cookies door to door with a card that described his church's fellowship as "even sweeter than the cookie." The pastor of a small church in Knightstown, Ind., saturated his church field with bags of microwave popcorn. Each bag had a note attached inviting recipients to "pop in and see us sometime." In both cases, the gospel seed was scattered, people were reborn, and church attendance grew.

"Too gimmicky," you say — I say, "Hardly!" Ask T. B. Smith, the Associational Missionary for Northwest Indiana. He took several Christian youth to wash windshields at a popular parking lot "hangout" one Friday evening, "just to share the love of Christ in practical ways — no strings attached." By the time they left two hours later, six had prayed to receive Christ.

If you're still not convinced, go to Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. You will see students going into their communities, passing out sodas and the gospel at local businesses. Others are going door to door with nine-volt batteries, offering to check residents' smoke detectors. While checking smoke detectors, one student experienced for the first time the joy of leading a person to Christ — was he ever excited! Other groups offer free car washes. If the patrons try to pay for the service, the students refuse. "We're simply showing the love of Christ in a practical way," they would say. A Hindu man was saved at one of these free car washes.

Other students have gone door to door, giving away free light bulbs. "You'll probably have a light bulb go out sometime, so here's one," they would say. "By the way," they added, "Jesus said He is the light of the world." Again, a common response has been, "Why are you doing this?" which has given the opportunity for personal testimony and the gospel presentation. A small gift can open big doors.

If you're still not sold, consider that last Spring, a Southeastern Seminary evangelism class adopted Servant Evangelism as a two-week class project, and saw forty-three professions of faith. "Embarrassing" ... "silly" ... "would never work in my church" you might say. Don't believe it!

This simple approach can help motivate your church in several ways. First, it allows members to witness in a group. There is strength and encouragement in numbers. Second, it allows timid people to participate in outreach while learning from watching those who are more experienced. Almost anyone can provide a smile and a few kind words while washing a car or giving away a light bulb. Third, it doesn't require a great deal of time or money. Think about it — how many windshields can a group of five people wash in two hours at a strategic time and place in your community? Possibly several hundred, and for very little money.

There is another strength to this approach: it is winsomely disarming. A survey of Southeastern Seminary students indicated that unchurched people discussed the gospel more than twice as often using this approach than more traditional methods (door-to-door, prospect-discovery, assignment-visitation, etc.). This does NOT mean that traditional approaches don't work. On the contrary, if properly applied, Servant Evangelism will both enhance traditional approaches and help mobilize the whole church to reach its community.

Of course, anything with potential for good has potential drawbacks. Let me offer two cautions: first, avoid the temptation to neglect verbal evangelism. There are billboards and commercials imploring us to engage in random acts of kindness. That is noble and needed. But this kindness is not random! Jesus' servanthood built relationships and ministered to needs, opening doors to verbally share the gospel message. Servant Evangelism is more than social action or ministry. It is intentional evangelism!

Secondly, guard against the tendency to "go through the motions" without compassion. Participants must be reminded that they are representatives of Christ's love and compassion for the lost. Servant Evangelism is not a "canned" approach. Go prepared with gospel tracts and a brief testimony, but go also with a servant spirit and a genuine concern for lost humanity. If you go out with a desire to serve, God will open big doors in your community!

Alvin Reid is associate professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Wheeler is director of evangelism for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.

New Avenues in Outreach

A church that follows the Lord is a church that goes beyond its walls to reach those who might never consider attending a church service. One harvest field often overlooked is the hotel industry. Joel T. Land, associate director of the Special Ministries Department, Home Missions Board, offers the following suggestions for a variety of ministries to hotel employees and guests:

Parents' Day Out
This ministry provides parents some time together without their children. The hotel may provide space in its facilities or the activity may be conducted at a nearby church.

Worship Services
Obtain permission and space for a nondenominational Christian worship service for Sunday morning. This may be held in a conference room, ballroom, group dining room, lobby, or around a pool.

A coffeehouse located in or near the hotel area can effectively reach teens, families, or young adults. A hotel recreation room, pavilion, tent, pool area, nearby restaurant, or church fellowship hall may be suitable sites.

Day Camp
A day camp at the pool or beach, on the lawn, or in some other designated area can be an effective way to reach children and their parents.

Build relationships with hotel managers and offer a hotel chaplaincy ministry. Be on call for crisis ministry for employees and guests.

Lifeguard Ministry
Where there is a concentration of beach or hotel pool lifeguards, there is potential ministry. Visits on the job with cookies, providing hamburger suppers, and hosting volleyball games might open ministry doors.

International Ministry
The number of international tourists and hotel workers in this country increases every day. Inquire about English-as-a-second-language (ESL) class opportunities and provide Scriptures in other languages. The Church and Community Ministries Department of the Home Mission Board has extensive materials and training available.

Abridged from Developing Hotel Ministries by Joel T. Land. For more ideas and information, contact Home Mission Board Customer Services, 1-800-634-2462.

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