As a pastor, you pray, study, and seek to choose the pathways that God has for your church. Sometimes God’s voice is difficult to discern. Sometimes, it is so still and quiet that you feel like you need hearing aids to pick it up!
However, in November, as I sat in the convention center in Ft. Worth, I was a little surprised by the clarity with which God spoke through our new executive director. God’s message, as it filtered through Dr. Everett and my own experience, echoed deep in my soul. “It’s time to get over the controversies of the past and get back to the business of winning our state for Christ.”
Hope 2010 was a call to reach every person in the state of Texas with the Gospel by Easter of next year. As I sat there visiting with the Lord, I thought, “You know, I don’t know what will happen across the whole state over the next 18 months, but First Baptist Kaufman could reach every person that lives within the shadow of our church by next Easter. We could. It would take an unbelievable effort. It would mean reallocating resources. It would mean reprioritizing staff time and energy. It would mean that all the members of our church would have to focus some of their best effort on getting this done, but…God could do this through us.”
In that moment, God said, “This is what I want you to give the best of your time and energy to for the next year and a half. Hell is real, and I care deeply about lost people. Brent, I’m in this. Your church has 18 months to provide a credible Gospel witness to every home within eight miles of the church. Get busy.”
Our staff met the next day and began talking about what it would look like for us to lead our church toward this audacious vision. We shared the vision with our church on the first Sunday of January, and the excitement in the air that day was palpable. It has been quite a first quarter.
To accomplish this goal, we decided that we needed a strategy; we decided that we would be most effective if we found a way to divide and conquer. Therefore, we have split the community into five life stage groupings and given each group eight weeks of the calendar. During those eight weeks, we are focusing the vast majority of our time, volunteer energy and resources on reaching out to this one group.
Our first emphases was on the parents of grade schoolers who live in our area. We preached a 7-week series that was tailored to young families. We invited every youth athletic team in our community to join us on Super Bowl Sunday and then were completely blown away by the inspiring testimony of former Dallas Cowboy and Hall of Fame inductee, Rayfield Wright. We went to the front porches of the poorest 100 unchurched families in our community and provided them with enough food for a month. Our women’s ministry visited in the homes of seventy-five single unchurched mothers who are raising grade school aged children in our community, gave them a gift basket, and prayed for their family. We created our own DVD (we thought we needed an appeal that was grounded in our local context) and mailed it to every family within eight miles of our church building. (Please see www.hopefortexas.com )
We concluded the eight weeks with our Upward Awards Night and an evangelistic crusade. Across those first weeks of 2009, we provided a face to face witness to over 500 families with grade school age children and mailed our DVD to the 7800+ households of all types that live in our area. A huge number of our church members have been directly involved in seeing families come to Christ, and together we have met some important needs in our community in Christ’s name. At the end of the first seventy-five days of the year, over 100 men, women, and children have come to Christ in our church and 41 of those have been baptized. (A decade ago, we would have felt blessed to have seen 30 people baptized in an entire year.) Others will follow.
We’ve now begun our second emphasis. I don’t know if it will be as remarkable as the first, but I do know this: God can only bless our efforts if there are some efforts to bless. Some folks like to say that it isn’t all about numbers, but honestly, at some point the numbers tell a story. We are lying to ourselves if we don’t hear the message of the current numeric narrative. Lost people matter to Christ, and the continuing decline in baptisms across our convention is a spiritual crisis that demands a radical, church revolutionizing, faith-filled response by God’s people.
For our church, Hope 2010 has become a rallying cry and given us a chance to make a faith-filled response to the spiritual crisis of our age. May God bless our efforts as Texas Baptists as we invite people to avoid Hell, know the salvation of Christ, and join us in making this great state more like Heaven while we have breath to do so.
In Spirit and Truth,
Brent Gentzel Ph.D.
Kaufman’s First Baptist Church