On the national stage, the news is not good. Every day, the number of stories denouncing the Christian belief system and lifestyle increases. Researchers report there is a shrinking number who identify themselves as Christians, and even they are showing signs of erosion and compromise within the faith’s core beliefs. This summer, Southern Baptist churches reported more than a six-percent decrease in the number of people who were baptized last year. By all external forms of measurement, it seems being a follower of Jesus in America has passed its peak and is in rapid decline. Yet, there is evidence that a fresh movement of God’s spirit is at work in Texas.
That movement, characterized by a combination of pastors who are willing to send their people into the community with a focus on growing the Kingdom of God instead of their individual churches, coupled with individuals who are abandoning the comfort of the church house to share their faith with people where they live, work, and play has been like igniting a spark next to gasoline. The result is people seeing the Spirit of God move like they never have before. “If you would have told me a few months ago that we would have two nights a week where you have more than ten people each night going out to randomly knock on doors to share the Gospel, I would have told you that you are on crack,” said Ross Ramsey, minister of education at First Baptist Church of Allen. And yet, that is exactly what is happening, not just at FBC Allen, but across north Texas. “I don’t really know what a revival looks like…but I think this is it!”
Twice a week, a hundred or more members from FBC Allen leave the comfort of the church building to knock on the doors of apartment complexes and neighboring housing developments for the sole purpose of praying for the people they meet, and sharing the Gospel. Ramsey said going out, not to invite people to our church, but to introduce people to Jesus and the Kingdom of God, has created incredible freedom. “It is not ‘come and see’, but ‘go and tell’, and that’s the big difference. We are not necessarily trying to get people to go to church,” he said. “If anything, our goal is to try to start new churches in homes. That’s the win.” The result, he said, is immeasurable. “I have stopped trying to count the number of new discipleship groups that have started as a result of this,” said Ramsey. “Because we see disciples making disciples, there are groups being started that we will never even know about, and the movement is spreading…outside of our area, and even to other countries.”
FBC Allen’s senior pastor Chad Selph said he has seen God drawing church leaders toward a focus on personal evangelism. “It has been cool,” he said. “Though we are all separate from one another, as we talk we find that God has been bringing us to the same spot.” While several of the efforts have been organized campaigns, such as Explore God, or Revive Texas, where hundreds of churches cooperate together in an organized effort to share the Gospel, others have spread organically. Ramsey said they were brought into this movement through a relationship with another ministry, and are now partnering with more than half a dozen local churches whom they have connected with and are now partnering together in discipleship training.
Sam Dennis, recently retired pastor of ParkwayHills Baptist Church in Plano, noted it is easy for pastors to get caught up in the metrics of church growth. What’s harder, Dennis said, is getting laymen to get out and share the Gospel with someone they personally know. “How do you achieve that? You don’t just say go out and do that,” said Dennis. “You have to foster that.” ParkwayHills was one of more than 200 churches in the area who participated with Revive Texas, a partnership of churches, ministries, businesses and schools who are linking arms to advance the Gospel in the DFW Metroplex. But Dennis admitted it was a challenge for many. “Sometimes the only friends they have are the ones in this church,” he said. “Are you kidding me? We are called to be salt and light, and our shakers aren’t even out! We’ve gotta get these shakers out on the street!”
While each church may be utilizing different methods and tools to share, the result is undeniable — people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ in a way these pastors have never experienced before. And while the number of new believers is always an important statistic, Selph, Ramsey, and others are even more amazed at how this movement is not just making converts, but is drawing their congregations deeper into their own relationship with Jesus. “We are seeing people go deeper into their own walk with Christ, and they are sharing that with everyone they know,” said Ramsey, who added every week he hears stories as a result of their focus on personal evangelism. “One woman in my small group came to me after class and started to cry because her kids are coming and sharing the Gospel with them,” he said. “She told me, ‘We’ve never taught them the Gospel. We’ve never even shared the Gospel with them.’ Now the kids are sharing with the parents.”
WHAT BEGAN IN PRAYER…
Those involved with mobilizing and training agree on one thing, what they are experiencing now is in direct response to a season of prayer which preceded this outpouring of God’s spirit as it relates to personal evangelism. Not coincidentally, the past three years have seen a number of significant evangelical leaders from around the country call out for a renewal of our prayer lives. Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas championed an effort to call Southern Baptists back into a spirit of prayer. This effort included adding a specific prayer service to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, Floyd partnered with Dr. Tony Evans, and other evangelical leaders for The Gathering – A Solemn Assembly of Prayer, which had a singular purpose, “to unite the Body of Christ in America – all believers, regardless of race, age, or denomination – in prayer for forgiveness, wisdom, and provision for our nation.” Last year, one of The Gathering events was held in the DFW Metroplex and simulcast to churches across the nation. Pray4EveryHome, an Online tool created by Collin Baptist Association which helps individuals to pray, by name, for their 100 closest neighbors has grown to serve individuals in every state of the nation. Many of the churches who helped launch Pray4EveryHome are now seeing their members engaged in this movement of personal evangelism. “When you spend time with God’s heart, it’s just going to lead you to lost people,” said Selph.
The pastors of FBC Allen said long before they introduced the evangelism training and focus, they began leading their church to purposefully pray for the lost in their community. “It starts with focused prayer,” said Ramsey. “And we did that for a long time. Now, we are seeing people talk to their neighbors. Prayer was obviously the engine for getting this started, and for it to be sustained.” Selph added he has noticed a difference in how the people in his church are praying. “They are praying more passionately, and thinking all the time about people who they know who don’t know Jesus,” he said. “So much of the adventure in Christian life is found in sharing the Gospel, and that is why we have so many ‘bored-again’ Christians. I think the adventure in Christian life is coming into focus for a lot of people.”
And while not every person in the church feels equipped to go out knocking on doors, most say they can feel comfortable praying for those who are out in the community. To that end, Ramsey has created four different prayer teams that meet to pray while others are out knocking on doors. One group meets at the church to pray over the assignments, another group prayer-walks around the community that is being engaged, another is prayer walking around communities we plan to soon engage, and a fourth group of ‘embedded prayers’ go with each of the teams, and their role is to bring up the rear and pray while the group talks with the people they meet. “I don’t see that anyone gets an out over the Great Commission. I don’t see any qualifications or exemptions,” said Ramsey. “So whether you are knocking on doors, or praying for those who do, there is a place for everybody when it comes to going out and sharing the Gospel.”
In folklore, there is a tale about the best way to trap a monkey. As the story goes, you should take a gourd or some similar object and drill a hole just large enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through; adding some extra weight to the gourd with sand or pebbles, then put a nut or some fruit inside and place the gourd where a monkey will find it. According to the story, the monkey will put his hand through the hole to get the food — but with the fruit in its grasp, it cannot get its hand back out because the hole is too small for the monkey’s hand to pass through while also holding the treat, and the gourd is too heavy for the monkey to drag it away. Because the monkey will not let go, it becomes trapped, giving up its freedom to hold on to a small piece of food.
Ramsey admits that churches tend to separate themselves from one another, and to be competitive of one another, especially in terms of bringing new people into the church. However, he noted that when they stopped being focused on the church, and put their focus on introducing people to Jesus, everything changed. “When our focus shifted to introducing people to Christ instead of inviting people to our church we found that to be very freeing,” Ramsey said. “There is great freedom in there, and with that it is like fertilizer. The more we are giving it away, the more we are really seeing people respond to that.”
Selph said that due to a situation in his own family he had to take a hard look at what kind of church they are, which caused a paradigm shift. “There are a lot of people in the community that no one cares about and that no one is trying to reach. If we can care about people that God cares about, then God will take care of whatever needs to happen here at the mothership,” Selph said. “If these people never come to our church, we will create somewhere else for them if that is where they will be more comfortable taking those steps. But in the meantime, we just want to see lost people saved and discipled. Where ever that happens, we just want to grow the Kingdom and not grow our little kingdom.”
ON THE CUSP OF REVIVAL
Those who have experienced this surge in personal evangelism say that while having tools and training to equip people to share there Gospel, it is clear there is no silver bullet. However, each of the churches say is the focus on the Great Commission which seems to make the difference. Kyle Pierson of Plano-based East/West Ministries has helped train FBC Allen and others. “What we are seeing is, for the first time, people are obeying the Great Commission, and when they are doing the Great Commission, they are experiencing Jesus like they have never experienced it before,” Pierson said. “It is experiencing God.”
In August, more than 60 people attended FBC Allen’s fourth open training session. To date, more than 300 people, in eight area churches have been trained through this growing movement. And as with the discipleship groups, Ramsey said he has had trouble keeping up with the number of professions of faith, though he said every time they go out, there are one or two added to that number. Recently, one of the men who gave his life to Jesus asked to be baptized immediately, so the group baptized him in the swimming pool of his apartment complex.
Pierson admits it is unfortunate there is no secret formula, or amount of teaching, or explanation that will change the hearts of the people sitting in the church pews. “We need to bring them with us and say, watch this. We need to let them see the lostness, and let them see God break into the life of someone who is lost,” said Pierson. “When they see that, their eyes will be opened to what God is doing, and that will change their lives forever.”
Dozens of people each week are bringing back stories of how God is connecting people with one another, and how He is bringing the lost of Collin County to himself. Ramsey says those stories become more common and more amazing each week. “That is why this is not just a program, or something we do for a few weeks in the church and then stop. It’s the stories,” Ramsey said. “It is that a real God is touching the lives of real people, and our church members are witnessing this. The more we see it, and the more stories we hear and share with one another, the more this thing grows, and the more it grows beyond our control. I think that maybe, just maybe, we are getting a glimpse of a church planting movement, or the next revival. And it is happening right here.”