Back in 1981 when Wesleyan Heritage Church of Rock Island, Illinois numbered 80 people they began focusing on the importance of seeing people coming to know Jesus.
They embarked on an evangelism program that saw 17 people receive Jesus as Saviour in the first four months. Every one of them already had a connection with the church in some way it was just that they had never been asked. Today, just over 20 years later, the church numbers over 2,800 people across four locations.
Four years ago their pastor John Bray challenged the church to never go another week without someone coming to Christ through the activity of the church or its members. They installed lights on crosses at all four locations and lit them when someone comes to faith. They have now been lit for 188 consecutive weeks.
Beginning in 1973 with a church of just 24 Bray says, “Our growth was slow for a long time, it took 20 years to get to 200. Nobody in town really knew we were here but we just kept focusing on reaching people for Jesus. I’m convinced that every church is surrounded by people who need Christ, so every church can grow… We’re a large church and should have regular professions of faith but that challenge sharpened our focus. Smaller churches might not be able to celebrate a decision every week but why not every month? Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus.”
“Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus
That’s what’s behind our Reach One strategy at Hobart Baptist. It aims to encourage each one of us, no matter how young or how old, to befriend at least one person who does not know Jesus and reach out to them in love, service, and prayer. It is not a program but a journey, where we each develop a relationship with them as we pray that they may receive a chance to hear the good news about Jesus.
It is not a new idea. It’s been at the centre of church life from the beginning, as recorded in Luke’s story of the early church we call the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Then when writing to the Corinthian church Paul reminds them, “God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, The Message).
It’s encouraging to hear what happened at Heritage Church when they accepted the challenge to take evangelism seriously. I wonder what we would see if we did the same here at Hobart Baptist, or even what you would see with you and those in your fellowship.
I’m sure we all know someone, or there is someone in our wider networks of friends, neighbours, family or acquaintances that we could pray for and could get to know with the hope that we’ll be able to share our personal experience of Jesus. Ultimately, whether a person accepts Jesus is out of our hands – it’s in God’s hands and theirs. And while there are no magic formulas or special techniques that ensures church growth, a commitment to share Jesus with others is critical not only because we are called to but because many people have never been asked.
If you have already begun praying for a person as you seek to Reach One, let me encourage you to continue in patience and perseverance. If you have not started yet, I encourage you to ask God whom you could be praying for and start now.
Stephen L Baxter