'Shorty' the church bus: An unlikely evangelism tool
MUSKOGEE, Okla. (BP) -- Many churches now operate a bus ministry which usually involves transportation of members and visitors from the church to their home and vice versa.
"Shorty is a small, old school bus that I kind of had the idea for and shared it with some people in the church," said Kelly Payne, the church's pastor. "The idea was to find a bus that we could equip to pull into a neighborhood and get the church to the community."
Payne explained that "Shorty" operates much like a backyard Bible club. But a dream he shared with members of the church was that when Shorty arrives anywhere, people are also excited for the fun that ensues.
"Shorty" came about when Payne's son told him he saw a bus for sale that sounded like what Payne was looking for. A retired auto mechanic who is a church member then helped a few other men from the congregation restore the bus, which was already made to be a camper on the inside.
"Kelly is walking in the favor of God and men," said Mike Napier, personal evangelism specialist of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "He is an evangelistic pastor who's getting it done. He's thinking outside of the box."
"Shorty" hosts a multitude of evangelism opportunities in the Muskogee community. At most community-wide events it is nearly expected that the short, white bus from Timothy Baptist will be there, serving hot dogs, chili dogs, nachos and all sorts of sweet treats.
Payne said as well as serving at events, during the summertime "Shorty" will make the rounds around town, visiting lower-income neighborhoods and serving lunch, "no questions asked, and everything is always free."
The unique thing about "Shorty" is that wherever the bus goes, a team of people equipped to have Gospel conversations go with it. "Sharing Christ and meeting needs," is how Payne describes the process.
"You've got a church which is outside the walls, which is the first step to evangelism, and they're doing practical ministry, meeting a need, whether it's a sno-cone, hot dog or whatever, and they're taking the time to pray with people and share the love of Jesus, share a clear and concise Gospel presentation," Napier said. "That sounds real similar to what Jesus and His disciples did as they went from town to town. I think it's spot on."
The city used to hold a Fourth of July event with fireworks and food, until eventually the church's event on the third of July became the most popular gathering in town. The city happily conceded and joined efforts with the church, working with them to provide a celebration for the town.
"We gave out 3,500 hot dogs and sandwiches last year at our event," Payne said. All we do is tell people to bring a lawn chair and come, and they show up in droves."
A church member licensed to put on large firework shows organizes a fireworks display, and others host games like trivia time.
During trivia, the first three or four questions are simple questions about the Bible that most people are able to answer correctly.
"Then all of the sudden the next question is 'Do you know for sure if you died right now you'd go to heaven?,'" Payne said. "And we have people there waiting to have a Gospel conversation with them. We've seen many people accept Christ in that way."
Other ways that the church has stepped outside their walls include a coffee shop, just a few blocks from the church, and a "LINC" ministry that partners with Baptist Village Communities at the local assisted living facility near the church.
At the coffee shop, members of the church are encouraged to invite someone to have a Gospel conversation on a more neutral ground than an unbeliever might consider a church building to be.
"It's refreshing to work together with the community, because generally we have always felt like it wasn't an open door," Payne explained.
"I have heard throughout my ministry, and I even said myself that 'people won't work with us; we've just got to find a way,' and I don't think that's true. I think many times we just have to find a way for the community to see that we just want to reach people and make a difference in people's lives, and then they are open to let you."