Elliott Martin, BJU Alumnus
This summer hasn’t been the easiest summer for our outreach efforts at my church in Detroit. We were in the middle of trying a new evangelistic Bible study when everything started getting cancelled in March. Pastors and professors wrote the studies. Ladies at the church volunteered to bring food. Church members invited lost friends. A surprising amount of new faces showed up. Then, they couldn’t come back because our church stopped gathering together.
After that, we thought we could engage the community by bringing sanitation kits to each house in our neighborhood. That way we could make contact with the lost in our community, demonstrate love for neighbor, and seek opportunities to share the gospel. We calculated the cost, drafted a proposal, found the supplies, started writing a tract to include in each kit. Then we got hit with a stay-at-home order.
Eventually, for our Sunday morning service, our church started meeting in our parking lot and inside with limited, social-distanced seating. But the question remained—how could we be well-known in our community as a place that takes God and His Word seriously and is marked by Christ-like love while communicating the gospel to the lost correctly, clearly, and consistently?
In May, our outreach pastor wrote some articles entitled “Pandemic Evangelism” to try to equip others during “these unprecedented times.” Some people in our church made their best efforts to call lost friends to check in on how they were doing. Some found that people were more willing to talk because of being shaken up by everything going on. Others found that some of their friends had dropped off the face of the earth. Last month, we tried door-to-door evangelism with our Spread the Word interns. Some of them were met with coronavirus-related resistance, but, for the most part, it was profitable.
This month, we were supposed to have Fall Fest, one of our biggest church-wide outreaches of the year. Last year, hundreds of people came. We had a straw maze, corn pit, hayride, cider, and donuts. Many church members connected with people from the community. Many lost people heard the gospel or were invited to Christianity Explored. This year--cancelled.
But despite the discouragement of things getting cancelled, the annoyance of wearing a mask, and the uncertainty of whether someone will act like a normal pre-2020 human being or spray you with hand sanitizer and run away accusing you of not caring about people’s health when you approach them, there really have been good opportunities for evangelism this year.
My favorite is one-to-one Bible reading. This is how I’ve seen redemptive relationships most regularly built. Before Covid, I met with individuals throughout the week to read the Bible together at restaurants, coffeeshops, or my house. After Covid, I meet with people outside, at parks, or on Zoom. The location may change, but coronavirus can’t stop this outreach.
It’s pretty simple but very effective (and fun). When I meet a lost person, I ask them if they have ever read the Bible? If they say no, I ask how they come up with informed opinions about God, life, or truth without reading the Bible, which is the #1 bestseller in the world that claims to be written by God, and invite them to read it with me. If they say they’ve read parts of the Bible, I ask how they come up with informed opinions about God, life, or truth without reading the whole Bible and invite them to read it with me. If they say they have read the whole Bible, I say, “We should read the Bible together then! I love reading the Bible with people! You will have insights that help me understand things I didn’t understand, and I will have insights that help you understand things you didn’t understand.”
One example began the beginning of February. A man named Nick visited Inter-City. I introduced myself, got his phone number, and invited him to study the Bible with me. Three weeks later, he accepted the invitation, and we met at a library. He had recently started reading the Bible himself for the first time, so we read the next chapter he was going to read together. It was 2 Kings 20. Soon, I recommended we read Mark. We would read a passage, ask each other questions, and I’d try to explain concepts like Jesus coming for those who know they are sick, not those who think they are healthy. Over the next 8 weeks, we read through a portion of Mark each week. After reading Mark, we went through 1 John. We are reading Ephesians now. It has been amazing to see Nick’s eyes open as God gave him understanding. Nick went from believing that he wasn’t a bad sinner and not knowing clearly who Jesus was, to saying he wants to follow Jesus because obviously he is the only one who can save!
Coronavirus can’t stop this. God’s Word will powerfully accomplish his purpose whether it’s heard in a church auditorium or over a Zoom call. That’s why regular exposure to the Bible is so important for evangelism. Who could you invite to read the Bible with you? If this kind of redemptive relationship building seems too difficult for you, check out David Helm’s book One-to-One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian, or try reading the Bible with a believing friend first and commit to praying for each other when you try reading the Bible with a lost person. You could also use a booklet that helps you walk through texts of Scripture like Christianity Explored (which now has a free online version for those who can’t meet in person), Uncovering the Life of Jesus by Rebecca Manley Pippert, The God Who Saves by Mark Gilbert, or You, Me, and the Bible by Tony Payne. Anyone can do this. And it can be done any time, even in a pandemic.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.