Gospel ‘scatters’ even in time of pandemic ‘shelter,’ panelists agree
A pandemic poses unique challenges to evangelism, but it can also be a means to bring about an awakening in Christ, panelists agreed during a May 14 conference on “Evangelism Engagement” hosted by The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Church Revitalization.
The online conference brought together pastors and other ministers to explore a fresh approach to evangelism, outreach, and Gospel invitations in the midst of social distancing due to COVID-19. The panelists included Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Seminary; Matt Queen, L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism; and Kenneth Priest, interim director of the Center for Church Revitalization, who also served as the conference’s moderator.
Outreach is “near and dear to my heart,” said Greenway, because Southwestern Seminary was founded by a pastor-theologian. “Because of B.H Carroll, we are committed to the local church, and training people for the service of the church,” he said.
During the coronavirus pandemic, “we are looking for the new normal, and how to reach people,” Greenway continued. “The Center for Church Revitalization exists to provide training and resources for the real world. Helping churches is our heartbeat. That’s who we are.
“All of us have the opportunity now to have a worldwide influence, a worldwide impact. God is using you during this pandemic to open hearts and minds and spirits and souls.”
Queen, who also serves as associate dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern, said, “The Gospel does not shelter; it scatters.”
One means of scattering includes inquiring of social media contacts if they are struggling, and then inviting them to reach out for help, Queen said. “Put that hook in the water and have people reach out to you that way.”
“Or do a Facebook Live,” Queen continued. “Share your testimony, and invite people to follow up. Or, reach out to someone you’ve not seen in a while or have never shared the Gospel with.”
Queen said that while “some people may unfriend you” for sharing the Gospel on social media, “some people may follow you. If some of you have never evangelized before, now is the time to put your foot in the water. People are searching for things to do. Leverage this time for the Gospel. God has given you the opportunity to step up. People are looking for hope—and you have it.”
Greenway added that, through social media, “there are likely more people able to access your ministry today than ever before. People will stumble on your site and find you. Don’t just assume they know the plan of salvation. Let them know what steps they need to follow, and articulate how to do it.”
Regarding how to continue reach out to those who have been virtually visiting a church, Greenway said, “Give them something tangible to connect with you. It can be as simple as an email address or Facebook messenger.”
Greenway encouraged ministers to keep reaching out—”keep it personal, relational, and intentional to connect with people who may be isolated and feeling hopelessness.”
As for how to minister to those who respond to a Gospel invitation during this time of social distancing, Priest suggested scheduling a Zoom call for “decision-call consultations” and finding a way to engage.
Greenway said, “Be smart, use your facilities well to accommodate social distancing, and make sure people have something to take with them after the fact, some kind of resource. They should walk away with something in their hands to let them know what to do now.”
Before churches resume gathering completely in-person, Queen recommended that, when giving an invitation, pastors look directly into the camera, not at their notes.
“Make it personal,” he continued. “Look into people’s eyes. Rather than sitting with arms folded, indicate that you’re ready to receive them.”
Greenway agreed, “Emphatically urge the personal side. It’s important for me to look at you and say, ‘God loves you,’” while explaining how sin separates people from God and that salvation is possible.
“Be praying about those persons online and with you,” he added. “I always give a public call for response to the preaching of the Word of God.”
Greenway concluded that intentionality in planning outreach “is so important.”
“If the Word is going out, there will always be decision, and I’m always going to be ready,” he said. “Be praying now for people who are going to respond when churches begin to open again. I’m praying for a harvest of souls.”
To view a video of the conference, see here.