Published August 8, 2013
DULUTH — With a population of about 10 million people and more than 57,000 square miles, how can Georgia Baptists best present the gospel in this state?
Georgia Baptist Convention State Missionary Marcus Merritt contends that one-on-one personal evangelism works best, particularly with the Millennials.
Born between 1980 and 2000, an estimated 96 percent of youth and young adults are lost, having neither a relationship with Jesus Christ nor a biblical worldview. In Georgia, Millennials represent approximately 2.5 million future business, civic, and church leaders.
The Millennials are just the tip of the iceberg of lostness in Georgia, which some researchers estimate has 7 million non-Christians. By comparison, one neighboring state, Alabama, has a total population of about 4.8 million people.
As daunting as the challenge appears, Merritt believes the ratio of lost to saved could change in three minutes. A motorcycle ride to South Dakota convinced him so.
Having served as senior pastor of two churches, one in Georgia and one in Alabama, and on the state Baptist convention evangelism staffs of both, Merritt is familiar with most current evangelism methods, including mass evangelism. Invited by the Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC) in 2008 to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual summer gathering of up to 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts, he deepened his commitment to personal evangelism.
That year in Sturgis, Merritt shared his testimony in a hospitality tent hosted by Southern Baptists. In 2010, the DBC state evangelism director invited him back to train all rally volunteers who worked “under the tent.”
“No one (volunteers) got under the tent unless they took my class,” Merritt said.
Merritt taught the volunteers how to give their testimony in about three minutes, followed by an invitation to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“This is something everyone ought to be able to do, not just people up in Sturgis,” Merritt concluded.
That idea led to iShare, a personal evangelism approach that helps believers grow confidence while overcoming the fear of sharing one’s faith. Based on a minimum of three hours of training, participants learn why, how, and where to engage others in conversations about knowing Christ. The key is how, Merritt said, as Christians learn how to present their personal testimony.
“iShare puts the gospel in the hands of more people,” Merritt continued. “The more people we have sharing one-on-one – relational evangelism – I think that’s how we are going to see a greater impact in our generation.
“A testimony should be a dialogue with someone. It’s not a monologue, not a canned speech.”
That dialogue becomes the platform for sharing one’s story. Oddly, in a media-saturated culture, people hear scores of stories via the television and Internet. But rarely do Americans take the time to hear a story face-to-face from the source. For many Millennials, and even other age groups, that ancient form of communication is rare but effective. Everyone loves stories.
Merritt, who now serves as a state missionary in Church-Minister Relations, realizes how intimidating evangelism is for many Christians.
“We are taught as a society that religion and politics are the two things we never discuss in public,” Merritt observed. “That is diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught us.
“Jesus taught us to be salt and light, which influences everything around us. Jesus taught in the Great Commission to tell every creature the Good News. We must get over this cultural prohibition on sharing the faith and be obedient to Jesus and not culture.”
That obedience will grow as Christians become more competent and confident in sharing the gospel, Merritt added. Those components can grow as a Christian matures in Christ.
Merritt warned against relying on lifestyle evangelism as that “sometimes doesn’t get around to the evangelism part.”
The oral tradition of storytelling merges today with technology. People trained in iShare often put their testimonies on the North American Mission Board (NAMB) website, Most Important Thing (www.mostimportantthing.org). Others receive additional training through NAMB’s Evangelism Response Center (www.erconline.net) and tell their story from their home over the phone to lost people who call.
iShare comes out of the Southern Baptist cooperative mission’s method – exemplified by state conventions supporting one another, NAMB providing national tools, and state conventions producing relevant evangelism methods and training. The Cooperative Program resources these efforts.
Churches can contact Marcus Merritt at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about iShare.
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship in Suwanee.
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