Friday, April 1, 2016

Evangelism initiative keyed to small groups

The call to biblical evangelism is becoming a person-to-person, small group initiative in Oklahoma as well as a dozen other states.
The Connect>1 Evangelism Campaign, created by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, aims to "take the Gospel to every corner of our state by engaging Sunday School classes and small groups in personal evangelism," said Bob Mayfield, BGCO Sunday School specialist.
Sunday School or small groups, as the single largest organization in most churches, are integral to the mission of the church, Mayfield said.
"By using the church's small group organization, the church will be able to engage greater involvement in evangelism from its members than by any other means," he said. "They will not have to create a new organization that will need additional leadership, budget and space on the church calendar."
Bible studies by LifeWay Christian Resources will support the Connect>1 initiative's first six weeks starting in September, with the Bible Studies for Life curriculum teaching specifically on the Gospel. Blake Gideon, pastor of First Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., authored the six-session study titled, "The Unvarnished Truth."
Michael Kelley, LifeWay's director of groups ministry, said, "When we learned of the opportunity to align our most popular curriculum series with a strong evangelism plan, we decided God was in this and wanted to make it work.
"The six Bible Studies for Life lessons will support Oklahoma's plan, while providing an excellent study on sharing the Gospel for the 140,000 groups that will discuss them beyond Oklahoma and other Connect>1 participating states.
"It is our hope that the seeds of the Gospel will produce a spiritual harvest this fall and beyond," Kelley said.
The Oklahoma convention is promoting Soulwinning Commitment Day on Oct. 2 to its 1,800 churches, aiming for the state's Baptists to make a minimum of 100,000 Gospel presentations to Oklahomans in the ensuing weeks.
"On Oct. 2, Oklahoma Baptists will be asked to take the '3151 Challenge' as the engagement phase of the campaign begins," said Mayfield, who has partnered with BGCO evangelism leader Mike Napier in the Connect>1 initiative.
The 3151 Challenge, Mayfield said, is an opportunity for every Oklahoma Baptist to do the following during the month of October: 3) Pray for three lost friends by name, 1) learn one Gospel presentation, 5) invite five people to your group and 1) share the Gospel at least one time."
As envisioned by the BGCO: "Imagine a plan to equip and engage every church member to be a fisher of souls," the Connect>1 online resource pages state. "A simple plan that any follower of Christ can do. A basic plan that is organized through the church's Sunday School or small groups strategy to disciple members to become exactly what Jesus called His small group of disciples to be: soulwinners!"
The Gospel message undergirding the evangelism initiative is titled "One Great Hope." As described on the Connect>1 resource pages, it focuses on four points of conversation -- "One Great God, One Great Problem, One Great Hope and One Great Decision" -- drawn from Romans 5:8, which states: "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!"
Mayfield added that "One Great Hope," in addition to a version for mass distribution, also is available as a "k2k" (kid to kid) tract "so that a 9-year-old can share the Gospel with a friend. It definitely has the 'cool' factor."
BGCO leaders mailed Connect>1 resource kits to every Oklahoma Baptist church the first week of March.
One Oklahoma Baptist church, however, already had taken up the 3151 Challenge.
"First Baptist Church of Rosedale decided to try the 3151 Challenge in January. They did not have any resources, but the pastor [Mike Ridgway] understood the plan well enough to challenge the church to try it," Ridgway said. "One month later, they had more than 20 first-time guests and five professions of faith. This is a rural church with an attendance of about 100 people."
Yet Oklahoma is not alone in the Connect>1 initiative, as Baptists in other states also are participating with a similar evangelism campaign adapted to their respective conventions. Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi Baptists were among the first states to tap into the Connect>1 resources. Mayfield said nine other state conventions also are utilizing the resources.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, affirmed the 3151 Challenge and the BGCO's development of the Connect>1 evangelism initiative.
"We borrowed this idea from our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma. They saw fruit from the emphasis, and we pray we will as well," Lance wrote in an article titled "Easy Arithmetic" on his blog at www.RickLance.com.
Lance praised the concept of inviting five people "to come to church. This may sound old-fashioned, but relational touches like personal invitations to church are needed now more than ever. We live in an increasingly disconnected society in terms of personal relationships. Inviting people to church is a warmhearted way of reaching others."
BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony L. Jordan said Oklahoma pastors are "excited to see the SBC partner like this. Our state conventions, associations and LifeWay have partnered together to provide evangelistic resources to the local church.
"Because of the contributions of Oklahoma Baptists to the Cooperative Program," Jordan added, "we are able to provide these resources to our churches at no cost, making all of the Connect>1 resources available to other state conventions to customize for their state."
Across the SBC, meanwhile, Mayfield said LifeWay's involvement is saving "hundreds of thousands of Cooperative Program dollars that would have otherwise been spent on developing curriculum by Oklahoma and other state conventions."
For more information about the BGCO's resources for Connect>1, visit www.bgco.org/connect1. Materials include teaching materials, leader guides, Gospel tracts and other materials suitable for mass use.