FROM THE STATES: Kentucky, California, Georgia evangelism/missions news; 'There wasn't going to be anyone who didn't hear the Gospel'
By Mark Maynard
GRAYSON, Ky. (BP) -- Pastor Josh Schmidt and a little more than two dozen members of First Baptist Church in Grayson went out on foot two Sundays ago to start a yearlong initiative of knocking on 1,201 doors.
That's the number of homes that sit within one mile of the church -- and statistics say that an incredible 94 percent of people in those homes are unchurched.
Put another way, the harvest is ripe.
Schmidt, who has been pastor of the Carter County church for two years where his late father previously pastored, said the impetus for the door-to-door effort was birthed from last year's REACH Evangelism Conference.
"Joel Southerland from NAMB said his church had decided that within one mile of his church that was going to be their Jerusalem," Schmidt said. "He talked about how he'd made himself 'mayor' of that area. From one mile out at least, there wasn't going to be anyone who didn't hear the Gospel."
Schmidt said he was burdened because "we weren't doing any outreach. We were doing discipleship stuff, which is very important too, but nothing with outreach. Our leadership was challenged by that."
So they began putting the plan in motion. The first Sunday they decided to go up and down three streets that covered about 60 homes. Most of those they encountered were not attending church anywhere and some didn't know of the church within a mile of them.
"We had three groups of four and another 13-14 out to prayer walk," he said.
Several businesses and churches are also along Main Street in Grayson where the church is located. They sent out letters of encouragement to them.
Schmidt said the Three Circles evangelism program is "in the DNA of our church" and that's the tool they took with them. They had some Gospel conversations but mostly asked residents how they could pray for them and invited them to church.
"The good thing about Three Circles is it's great about transitioning regular conversations to Gospel conversations," he said. "We had some Gospel conversations. Nobody prayed to receive Jesus at the time. We haven't seen any fruit yet, but I guarantee we will be."
When Schmidt looks at the statistics in Carter County, he found of those 1,201 homes that it included 3,100 people within a mile of the church.
"We have all these horror stories about people slamming the door in your face (when visiting) and that's just not the case," he said. "I've knocked on Lord knows how many doors and never once had it slammed in my face. I've had people not be super friendly, but people build on those false narratives.
"It (witnessing) terrifies people, but at the end of the day, you just gotta go. We started bringing people alongside us, people who are terrified, to show them (it's nothing to be scared over)."
Schmidt said the goal of reaching everyone within a mile of the church wasn't his vision but God's vision for First Baptist Grayson. "We were doing this and then the KBC announces getting the Gospel to every single home was the theme for the November meeting. It was God's providential blessing for us."
Of the 60 homes that they visited on Sunday, only three people said they were members of any church. "The statistics show that means there are about 2,900 people within a mile of our church who don't attend church on a Sunday basis," he said.
Schmidt understands it will be a marathon and not a sprint to the finish line and keeping the church engaged in the project is vital. "Two major challenges: How do we make sure we're hitting every home and how do you keep this in the forefront of everybody's mind?"
He said "as soon as we start seeing victories, people will continue to get energized."
Schmidt also said he'd be doing a lot more planning on his knees.
Mark Maynard is managing editor of Kentucky Today (kentuckytoday.com), the news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
California church welcomes all nations
By Karen L. Willoughby
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (BP) -- Reinvention is par for the course at Lincoln Hill Community Church, where Mike (Miguel) Rodriguez has been pastor for 10 years.
He estimates the church essentially has restarted three times in the last 10 years, as the North Bay congregation responds to waves of immigrants from other nations, and as God opens doors.
For the present, Rodriguez preaches in English and Spanish, thought-for-thought in each language:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. De tal manera Dios amo al mundo que dio a su hijo unigenito. That whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Que todo aquel que crea en El no perezca mas tenga vida eterna."
Each restart, reinvention, reworking of the church has been to better fulfill God's purpose for Lincoln Hill in a time of increasing and sometimes overlapping change, Rodriguez said.
"I don't think we purposefully tried to do this (language back and forth) but God showed us what He wanted," Rodriguez explained. "We completely embrace being a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-faceted church that adapts to reaching the people around us.
"That's led us to the place we're willing to pay the cost of stretching ourselves linguistically or however we function week to week, and trying different things to be contextual to reaching people for the Gospel in our area."
The willingness to adapt may have first come in 2003, when First Baptist Church in San Rafael changed its name to Lincoln Hill Community Church. "We're on Lincoln Avenue. We're on a hill, and we're desiring to reach our community," Rodriguez said.
The church had withered by the time Rodriguez, born in Honduras, was called by the aging Anglo congregation in 2010 to his first senior pastorate. His last name attracted some attention, as the congregation had wanted, and the church started to grow, dependent on Sunday and Wednesday services in English and Spanish.
In time, a group of Brazilians joined Lincoln Hill, which led to the church's refocus outward. English as a Second Language classes, a food pantry, prayer and street evangelism were among the ways the church began ministering in its blue-collar community.
But in time, the church's Saturday evening service in Portuguese led to iOrganic Church. Between the start of that congregation in 2015 and the relocation of Golden Gate Baptist Theological (now Gateway) Seminary to southern California in 2016, Lincoln Hill lost 27 key volunteer leaders from its ESL and food pantry ministries.
"That was really hard on our church," Rodriguez acknowledged.
Then came Lincoln Hill's third "restart" with "a new influx of families," he said. They're coming from San Rafael, Novato, Hercules and even El Sobrante, on the east side of the Oakland Bay Bridge. They're coming from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Korea, China, Ukraine, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
"We're now training new people to respond to their calling," Rodriguez noted. "We're training our people to being good disciples of Jesus and good neighbors. Now we are focusing on our Koinonia groups. They are the focal point to influence the people around us. We say, 'Come and share life in Christ.'"
In addition to the in-home weekday Koinonia groups, Lincoln Hill emphasizes Sunday morning Bible study, which involves going through the Bible systematically, covering foundational doctrines.
"With Koinonia groups, doctrinal Bible study and reforming our base, hopefully we can do evangelism on the street again," Rodriguez said.
The preaching in two languages during the same sermon was a request of the congregation.
"People were so excited for all of us to hear the sermon," Rodriguez explained. "They said, 'We all want to be together even though we are from different countries.'
"Our church tried to do two separate services and it just wasn't going well," but the congregation liked it when he juxtaposed languages one Sunday when the translation equipment failed and he translated for a guest speaker. When the equipment failed, the next two weeks Rodriguez translated himself and never went back.
"When I think about it, it does seem pretty crazy," he admitted. "We have a lot of people touched by it. They feel more unified by doing it that way, like we're all together; and some people learn some of the other languages."
The pastor's mother, Agueda Carbajal, now teaches a Sunday morning class in Spanish as a Second Language.
There's more to the story of Lincoln Hill Community Church. They have started two missions -- Thai-Lao Baptist Church and Vietnamese Community Church -- which both meet at the mother church.
Thai-Lao Baptist, started 33 years ago and still led by Savang Lin, meets Sunday afternoons. Vietnamese Community Church, a restart two years ago of Love and Hope Church, led by Andrew Nguyen, meets Saturday evenings.
"We make it work for sure," Rodriguez said, including all three pastors in his "we." The key is addressing minor issues before they grow, such as reminders to turn off lights when not needed.
"It takes a lot of communication, a lot of being willing to text, making phone calls and meeting in person when necessary," Rodriguez said. "Everybody has their own way of doing things. It takes respecting everybody's space and not infringing on anybody's space or identity."
Lincoln Hill doesn't stop with outreach in its multi-cultural community. The congregation contributes 7 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in state conventions, North America and across the world to fund missions and ministries. It also gives 3 percent of offerings to Redwood Empire Baptist Association.
"Ultimately, biblically, the throne of God will be surrounded by all people, all nations, all tongues," Rodriguez said. "We need to be welcoming. We need to remember He loves the nations."
Karen Willoughby is a freelance writer in Utah. This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist (csbc.com/news), newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention.
Georgia church helps school children hear the Good News
By Amanda Hayes
NAHUNTA, Ga. (BP) -- Pastor Andee Courson of Southside Baptist Church in Nahunta remembers Mrs. June calling for the neighborhood children to come into her living room. The occasion was for an after-school hearty helping of Little Debbie snack cakes, but also Bible stories.
Courson admits he was there mostly for the snack cakes. But he now knows it as where he was introduced to the idea of teaching the Bible to children after school, and outside the walls of the local church.
The Good News Club is one of the primary children's evangelism programs of Child Evangelism Fellowship, founded in 1937. According to their website, "The Good News Club and 5-Day Club ministries take place in neighborhood settings such as homes, backyards, schools, and community centers all over the world. These fast-paced, one-hour programs are designed to bring the Gospel of Christ to children on their level in their environment." Child Evangelism Fellowship estimates that last year, between these two primary children's programs, approximately 25.4 million children heard the Good News.
In southeast Georgia, Southside Baptist Church sits adjacent to the Nahunta Pre-Kindergarten, Elementary, and Primary school campus. With this many elementary- and middle school-aged children ranging from pre-K all the way through sixth grade literally within view of the church, Courson prayed that God would open the door for an after-school Good News Club program. He had seen it happen before in other areas prior to moving back to his home, Brantley County.
Courson turned to his own childhood classmate and School Superintendent, Kim Morgan. It took the entire summer of 2019 for the school board to decide about the club meeting on school grounds, with Courson becoming discouraged. However, two weeks prior to the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the pastor received notice that his request had been approved.
An overwhelming response greeted Courson and others when an information table at the school's open house, word of mouth and fliers brought 209 registered students for the program. The Good News Club now meets at Nahunta Primary and Elementary School each Tuesday, averaging 85 each week. Students are divided into three groups and enjoy a program that includes snacks, prayer, music, memory verses, Bible stories and missionary stories.
The feedback and results have been nothing short of miraculous. Parents, grandparents and caretakers of participating students have praised the program and its volunteers for their work. To date, 24 children have made decisions to accept Christ as their Savior.
Courson is grateful for the partnerships and support he has received from the principal and staff at Nahunta Elementary and Primary School, but he states that there is much more work to be done.
"Many more churches need to sponsor elementary schools and start Good News Clubs in the counties in which they are located," he said.
To start a Good News Club in your county, or get involved with an existing program, go to www.cefonline.com and click on "Get Involved."
Amanda Hayes writes for the Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.