Archives For outreach

White common daisy flower isolatedAs warm weather descended on San Francisco that year, so did the hippies, as many as 100,000 of them. The Haight-Ashbury District became ground zero for a festival that lasted for weeks: young people with flowers in their tresses singing and dancing and cavorting in public spaces, doing a little protesting of the Vietnam War, and smoking a lot of what their mothers wouldn’t approve.

They called it the ‘summer of love.’

Ironically, that summer in 1967 was also marked by fear and terror and rioting, as large sections of Detroit went up in flames just as Watts in Los Angeles had two years earlier. In Detroit, the violence that started after police raided an unlicensed bar ended with 2,000 buildings destroyed, more than 7,000 people arrested, over 1,000 injured, and 43 deaths. Free love on the West Coast, and unrestrained hate in the Midwest.

Here, 50 years later, we have witnessed another season of dichotomy, a tense summer of issues—and people—in conflict. The political tensions and threats of nuclear attack were topped by violent marches in Charlottesville that killed one young woman and revealed the breadth of a racial rift in America that few imagined existed.

As is 1967, the summer of 2017 was on some fronts a summer of hate. But from our vantage point, we can say, too, it was a summer of love.

There were stories in our pages that attested that: mission trips around the world where the love of Christ was shared. In downstate Cairo and Brazil and many other places, people received Christ as Savior. We saw children learn about Jesus at IBSA camps and Vacation Bible Schools everywhere.

And to cap it all, the eclipse. Carbondale was epicenter this time as millions from Oregon to South Carolina looked upward, many seeming to search for something beyond themselves. A famed Chicago weatherman wept on air for the beauty of nature. More important, Baptists in southern Illinois shared Christ, and lost people came to faith.

When they look back on the summer of 2017 to give it a name, no one will look at the protests and nuclear threats and political martial arts and call it ‘the summer of love.’ But seeing the totality of our Christian outreach this season, and the genuine outpouring from God’s heart, maybe we will.

-Eric Reed

When the sun goes dark Aug. 21, southern Illinois will be one of the best places to catch the first total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1979. Churches in the region, along with others across the country, are planning to use the event as an opportunity to share the gospel.

Everyone in the contiguous U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, but the 70-mile-wide “path of totality,” in which a total eclipse will be visible, will pass through 14 states, including Illinois. Makanda, Ill., located just south of Carbondale, has been cited as the “greatest point of duration,” or the place where the eclipse will be visible the longest—2 minutes and 38 seconds, according to a city website devoted to sharing eclipse information.

Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale hosted an area-wide prayer and worship rally Aug. 14 to spiritually prepare for the influx of people. And Nine Mile Baptist Association, through a partnership with IBSA, plans to distribute 50,000 gospel tracts during the weekend prior to the eclipse. Additionally, people will be stationed at each of Carbondale’s four entry points to pray over every car that enters the city. “We want to cover our city in prayer,” said Lakeland Pastor Phil Nelson.

Elsewhere in the eclipse’s path, churches are utilizing the unique ministry opportunity to meet spiritual needs in their community—whether it’s inviting eclipse viewers to use their parking lots, or using the event to launch future ministries.

In Casper, Wyo., Mountain View Baptist Church and College Heights Baptist Church have partnered with Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Wyoming to purchase copies of a DVD titled “God of Wonders,” which explains how creation reveals God and how salvation is available through Jesus Christ. Church members will distribute the DVDs during the eclipse along with 3,000 evangelistic bookmarks.

“Additionally,” Mountain View pastor Buddy Hanson said, “if our parking lot is utilized for eclipse watchers, we will take that opportunity to try and share the gospel.”
In Lincoln, Neb., the launch of Hope City, a North American Mission Board church plant, is set to correspond with the eclipse. The congregation’s first service is slated for Aug. 20. That day and during the eclipse, the church will distribute 2,000 “college survival kits” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., will host a gospel concert on Sunday, Aug. 20, and is inviting people to watch the eclipse from their parking lots the next day. “We have already handed out over 4,000 eclipse viewing glasses and have several hundred more for those needing them,” said Executive Pastor Bruce Raley.

Beginning just after 10 a.m. local time in Lincoln Beach, Ore., the total eclipse will take approximately an hour and a half to pass over Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Viewers are strongly encouraged to wear eclipse glasses or other protective eyewear.

– From Baptist Press, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

VBS Concept Metal Letterpress TypeIf you’ve ever planned a big event, you know how it feels when it’s over. All the work and energy and trial and error that went into planning and executing the project can be exhausting, and when it’s finally over, all that energy seems to fly out the window too.

But for church leaders, the end of an outreach event is only the beginning.

This is heavy on my heart as we enter Vacation Bible School season, and I’m reminded how crucial a church’s follow-up process is to their overall VBS strategy. That’s why I advise churches to recruit a follow-up director. His or her only job is to connect people from VBS or any other outreach with other people and opportunities at the church. Encourage the director to have their follow-up strategy before the first person ever walks in the door, including:

Effective registration. The follow-up director will likely work with other VBS leaders to accomplish this. The truth is, you can’t follow up with someone you can’t find. Make sure you have the full name and contact information for every person who attends your VBS. It’s important to know these things not only for follow-up, but in case you need to get in touch during VBS with someone related to the child.

Follow-up teams. Ask the director to recruit pairs or small groups of people who can make personal visits to families. The church I previously served sent our deacons two-by-two to follow up after VBS. We found in-person visits to be most effective, but some of our teams felt more comfortable making a call first to set up a time to visit.

Connection points. When our follow-up teams made their visits, they made it a point to take something that would forge a connection with the family. For example, one year the children decorated frames during VBS and we attached a calendar of church events for the deacons to deliver.

Above all, remember that a follow-up strategy doesn’t have to be complicated; it just needs to allow you to make significant contacts with people who otherwise may only encounter your church through one event. The goal of any VBS or outreach effort should be to connect unchurched people with the church for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom. We can’t do that if we don’t follow up.

Jack Lucas is IBSA’s director of next generation ministry.

Lifetree CafeHEARTLAND | Morgan Jackson

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, First Baptist Church in Waterloo hosts what Pastor Steve Neill calls “a scheduled hour of stories and conversations to feed the soul.” The weekly meeting around coffee and discussion, called Lifetree Café, resulted from the church’s dedication to use a new building to reach their community.

“Whether you go to a church or not, you’re always welcome at Lifetree,” said Cyndi Antry, a member of the team responsible for setting up the café each week.

The ministry probably wasn’t on anyone’s radar nearly three years ago, when an official press release announced the church’s plans to begin construction on “The Beacon.” The congregation had been envisioning the new building for quite some time, with an original goal to build an extra 8,000-square-feet onto their pre-existing building to accommodate more space for classrooms and activities.

The congregation had spent a year on the planning, development, and funding of the proposed building, when they realized a former nursing home connected to the church’s property was just sitting there…vacant.

The church purchased the 24,000- square-foot space at an unbelievably low price, said Lisa Dean, co-leader of The Beacon’s logistics planning team. And after 15 months, more than 80,000 hours of work, and help from over 700 volunteers from 40 churches across 18 states, The Beacon was finally completed.

The new building contains a fellowship hall, kitchen and dining room, entertainment stage, café, children’s education center, youth wing, recreation area, basketball court, and a capacity of 400 people. And its presence on Market Street offers great access to and for the community.

The Beacon is now home to a number of outreach programs for children and adults, and Lifetree Café has especially captured the community’s attention. The “conversation café” is a nationwide ministry with multiple sites in the United States and Canada. It is designed to be a safe place for people to explore their spiritual questions and to share their stories.

Discussion revolves around a specific topic each week—usually something spiritually and culturally relevant like prayer, loneliness, health, ADHD, guilt, life after death, justice, race, immigration, relationships, other world religions, stem cell research, and countless others.

A host team and friendship team run each session; the friendship team is in charge of setting up coffee and snacks, and one of six hosts leads the conversation.

Each Lifetree meeting lasts an hour and typically includes a short film, as well as small and large group discussion. People are also given helpful tips and applications they can take home and practice in their everyday lives—often printed handouts containing information on the week’s topic, as well as online links to learn even more.

No two meetings are the same, Antry said. “Some are very emotional. Some are very lighthearted.” It just depends on the week, the topic, and who God brings through the door.

FBC Waterloo’s Facebook page advertises “food for thought” as the main entrée at LTC. Pastor Neill says Lifetree is “sort of like a live, local talk show—with an inspirational twist.”

The ministry’s ultimate purpose is to help those who attend grow closer to God, but no one there is trying to “sell” people on a certain church or religion. Rather, the goal is to offer a place where individuals can come and ask questions, talk freely, and explore life. If God wants to work during a discussion and convict someone’s heart, he will, Antry said.

Lifetree just helps create a space where people can experience the Lord’s power.

“Here at Lifetree we have certain things we value,” said David Batts, chairman of the building committee for The Beacon. “Your thoughts are welcome, and your doubts are welcome. We’re all in this together.”