Evangelism: Putting It On the Line
Christians who want to share their faith can now do it without ever leaving their own homes.
"I have been amazed at the response I've received," said Sergio Arce of Fort Worth, Texas, a volunteer phone "encourager" for NAMB's evangelism response center (ERC). "I would get fifteen to twenty-five calls, and about 80 percent made decisions for Christ."
Through the Evangelism Response Center, callers to a toll-free number often linked to the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic effort are routed to trained volunteers like Arce who answer the calls from their home.
"The Holy Spirit has already been at work in these people's lives, and it's up to you to tell them about Christ," he said.
One afternoon Arce received a call from a man in the Midwest. After beginning the conversation with, 'Thank you for calling Jesus 2000. How may I help you?" the man came right to the point: "If I commit suicide, will I go to hell?"
The caller was 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who revealed that his 32-year-old daughter and 30-year-old son had died, and he had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. He was at the end of his rope.
After talking a while, Arce asked if the man would like to accept Christ.
"Man, that's exactly what I need," he replied. "Why haven't I heard this before? I live in an area with lots of churches, but I've never heard this in my life. I finally feel like I have hope."
Arce says the Center "has helped me realize that it's not my responsibility to save the lost - just be available. These phone calls come from people who already have the Holy Spirit working in their lives. They are hurting; they are searching. I am the human contact to help bring them to Christ.
"This is a great way new Christians with training can learn to share their faith. You're sitting in the comfort of your home, there is no face-to-face intimidation, and the fear of rejection is greatly reduced. The phone rings and an individual begins asking about spiritual matters or how to be saved. It doesn't get any easier than that."
The ERC uses a publicized national or regional telephone number in conjunction with an evangelistic media campaign. Individuals who want to know more call the number and talk to a trained volunteer.
Current technology allows calls to be routed to volunteers anywhere in the nation, though most calls are directed to volunteers in the area code closest to the caller, says Toby Frost, manager of event evangelism at NAMB.
Telephone calls go through a national center and to volunteers logged on. A caller from a pay phone in Canada could be routed to a volunteer in San Diego, or a person calling from St. Louis home could talk to a volunteer next door.
Decision registrations are then referred to a local partner in a national network of churches for follow-up.
For more information on becoming a telephone encourager or having your church become a part of the follow-up network for the Evangelism Response Center, contact state evangelism directors or NAMB decision counselors Joy Neal or Darrel Robertson at (817) 737-4011. Information is also available at www.namb.net.
Big City Harvest Fields
Lewis Clarkson has a passion for seeing people come to faith in Christ. "I've always loved to witness and win souls," said the eighty-year-old retiree. "I've been doing that for years and years."
And with the help of the Strategic Focus Cities/Celebrate Jesus 2000 effort focused on nearby Chicago, Clarkson's passion is being used to help plant a new Southern Baptist mission in his home town of Ottawa.
Each Monday night since October, Clarkson and his wife, Lucy, have hosted a Bible study in their home, an effort that thus far has resulted in several professions of faith in Christ and about fifty prospective members for the town's only Southern Baptist congregation.
The Clarksons are among about 275 individuals involved in "Calling out the Called," a strategy for mobilizing laity for church planting in the Three Rivers Baptist Association - located southwest of Chicago.
Through Strategic Focus Cities - coordinated by the North American Mission Board in cooperation with local churches and associations - Southern Baptists are directing resources and volunteer efforts toward church planting and evangelism in two major cities yearly, beginning this year in Chicago and Phoenix.
The Clarksons got involved when the challenge was placed before them at their home church, Erven Avenue Baptist Church in Streator - about twenty miles away. The church recently has experienced renewed passion for evangelism through participation in FAITH evangelism training.
"Things really were moving, and the church was just ready to go and do something," said Don Evans, pastor of the congregation, which serves as the "mentoring church" for the mission in Ottawa.
The Clarksons were an ideal choice to host the Bible study - held in the family room of their small 1940's-era home.
Calling out the Called "is asking people to develop the ministry that God has called them to do, or to discover the ministry God has for them," Evans said. "And I felt like Brother Lewis has already discovered his ministry - and it is soul-winning."
The Ottawa mission got a jump-start last summer when a group of about twenty youth from Gainesville, Texas, helped by knocking on 1,500 doors surveying residents about their interest in a new church or Bible study.
One of those visits was to the home of a young woman who had accepted Christ in a Southern Baptist church years ago, and began attending the study. Through the course of several visits, Clarkson was able to lead her boyfriend to Christ.
Evans added, "When you get the wagon rolling, a lot of people see it and say, 'we want to put our money where something is happening' - and that has been a blessing to us."
The North American Mission Board - Three Years Later
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) turned three this past summer, and its president, Robert (Bob) E. Reccord, says he's pleased with what Southern Baptists' newest agency has been able to accomplish in its infancy.
Called the centerpiece of the denomination's restructuring program, NAMB combined three former agencies; the Brotherhood Commission, Home Mission Board, and Radio and TV Commission. The new mission agency was intended to be more effective in helping Southern Baptists evangelize and congregationalize the United States and Canada. And, that effectiveness was to result in more efficiency as well.
Reccord claims success on both counts, and easily cites facts and figures to illustrate the point. Regarding effectiveness he points to:
• More home missionaries on the field than ever before (5,025 in 1999) and unprecedented numbers of missionary applications are being processed.
• A record number of new Southern Baptist churches started last year (1,700) and projections indicate as many as 2,000 this year.
• Baptisms by SBC churches exceeded 400,000 three years in a row, and last year adult baptisms reached an all time high.
• Student responses to God's on-mission call which are exploding with semester missionaries up 73 percent and participation in World Changers increasing 30 percent this past summer.
• NAMB's most ambitious challenge, reaching North America's largest cities, is beginning to show tangible results with participating churches in Phoenix experiencing 21 percent increase in attendance, and 4,300 professions of faith in participating Chicago churches so far this year.
Reccord also cites record mission volunteers, unprecedented giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, a passionate interest in starting new SBC churches, and increasing numbers of African-American, ethnic, and multi-cultural churches.
He also points to increased efficiency. "Thanks to the Lord's guidance and the dedicated work of our missionaries, mission partners, and staff, NAMB has been responsible for more ministries than the three former agencies, but with less administrative overhead," Reccord explained.
"More than three years after the implementation, we still have approximately one hundred less employees than the total of our predecessor agencies, and we've reduced administrative overhead from 20 percent to less than 11.8 percent," he said.
Reccord says that efficiency has allowed $14 million more to go to front line missions than would have been possible with the former agencies. "And, by the end of this year, that cumulative total will be more than $20 million," he said.
The only thing more plentiful for NAMB than accomplishments, according to Reccord, are present and future challenges.
"I'm thrilled and thankful that we're further along after three years than I thought we would be, but NAMB has so much to do to help Southern Baptists reach this lost continent for Christ," Reccord said. He cited a number of immediate and future challenges for the agency:
• Continue strengthening and nurturing relationships with church, associational, state, and national mission partners.
• Renew challenges for every Southern Baptist to effectively share their faith using cutting-edge resources like FAITH and the Net. "North America will only be won one person at a time no matter what technology we use," he said.
• Reach a new level of quality in family programming through FamilyNet.
• See far greater mobilization of Baptists on misson to our Strategic Focus Cities.
• And, a more passionate focus on planting healthy churches, and reaching the next generation, ethnics, and Canada with the gospel.
"After three years, all of us at NAMB are blessed to part of something that touches so many areas of ministry. Our daily challenge is to question whether the myriad of things we're doing are effective, and if we're doing them in the most efficient way."