Published November 8, 2007
NEWMAN — In order to lead members of Northside Baptist Church to reach into the community, pastor Brian Carroll encouraged them to not show up for church one Sunday.
It’s not the epitome of sacrilege it sounds like, as members were given the opportunity to take part in the church’s first InsideOut event Sept. 30. On that day, small teams went into Newnan and surrounding communities during “church time” to witness and invite others to an outdoor worship service later that afternoon.
“Effectiveness in ministry is something God has impressed on me,” said the 28-year-old Carroll. “[The Church] puts a lot of time and resources into events that either aren’t evangelistic or are more for fellowship.”
Still, everyone knows that Sunday mornings, 9:30-ish to noon, is reserved for being in church, right? Visitation is done sometime during the week.
“What we found in our [weekday] visitation ministry was that lot of people were already members of other churches. We’re interested in reaching those not in church. We don’t want to steal sheep.”
The logic held that the best time to talk with people who weren’t active in church was, well, while church was going on. Carroll said the point was to take people inside the church walls and put them to work on the outside, leading to the event’s name.
“The largest concentration of lost people would be outside the church while church is going on,” he added.
With that in mind, about 50 (in a church that averages 140 in Sunday School) spread out among 11 groups set out to laundromats, low-income housing developments, neighborhoods, and shopping centers to find witnessing opportunities. At noon teams met back for lunch at the church. A worship service that included testimonials from participants was then held in front of the church building.
The event was part of the church’s involvement in the Acts 1:8 Challenge, a comprehensive missions strategy among Southern Baptist churches that includes partnering with the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, state conventions, and associations to become a worldwide mission center.
Reactions on this Sunday morning were mixed, stated those who took part.
“People were apprehensive at first, but received us fairly well,” said Deedee Smith, who went to a laundromat frequented by Hispanic customers. A language barrier proved to be the biggest problem for her group.
“We had no fear going and talking to people but it could be frustrating to try and communicate,” she admitted.
Alan Hall had moved with his family to Cave Spring three weeks prior to InsideOut, but as a former chairman of deacons who had seen the development of the event, he wanted to see the project through.
Already having moved, Hall, his wife Donna, and the couple’s 13-year-old son, Andrew, stayed in a camper behind the church. The next day they went out to witness door-to-door.
“We were received very well,” said Hall, whose wholesale roofing business also provided the stage for the outdoor worship service. “We talked to several people and prayed with them over concerns they had.”
“A lot of people said they attended church and believed in God but were skipping that particular Sunday,” said Haley, a junior at nearby Northgate High School in Coweta County. “A few said they were busy and had plans and couldn’t listen. Others seemed to be caught off guard by us being there at that time of day.”
The top priority was to plant seeds and see others saved. However, Mark Runyans, a layman who serves the church as missions strategy team leader, said another goal was to see a change in church members’ mindset when it came to witnessing and serving the community.
“We really wanted to see people get saved and for it to open the eyes of the congregation to the needs around us,” said Runyans, who led a team in Palmetto. “Some have said they want to go to the same areas during the week and witness.
“The feedback from church members has been very positive. Several have ideas on reaching the particular area they visited that day.”
The thought for such an event had been in Carroll’s head for “three or four years,” he said, but was first mentioned at Northside during a Wednesday night prayer meeting before summer.
“I contacted David Harrill [with Evangelism Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention] and told him our vision. It was the first time he’d heard of it. The evangelism office provided a lot of assistance through tracts and training.
Carroll led a six-week study on characteristics of an InsideOut church leading up to the event. On Sept. 29 Harrill led an evangelism workshop for participants.
Host it and they will come … maybe
Carroll references a popular baseball movie to point out the main weakness in typical church outreach.
“We continue to do the ‘Field of Dreams’ approach and that works a little, but it’s nowhere near as effective as believers meeting people in their everyday life,” he said.
“Whenever churches have an event, the majority of families that show up are Christian. It’s not altogether wrong, just not accomplishing the desired task as much as you’d like.”
Staying on the Hollywood theme, Carroll uses another film to explain where his church is since InsideOut.
“There are a lot of people excited who previously were lukewarm about [evangelism],” he said. “It’s like at the end of Twister when the tornado chasers have all the information after Dorothy goes up into the tornado. We’re getting a lot of information and need time to process it.”
He added that the event may have resulted in a complete revamping of Northside’s outreach strategy.
“We’re rejoicing in victory knowing there’s a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. Church members are constantly asking for tracts and looking for ways to witness to others. We’re going to be sending out teams on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to some target areas in the community.”
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