Staying the Course
The year began with high hopes. We had 20/20 vision for 2020! The Shreveport South Seventh-day Adventist Church was planning their strategy to blanket their area with fliers and invitations for an evangelistic campaign planned for the fall. Tony Cash, Arkansas-Louisiana Conference Planned Giving and Trust Services director and elder at Shreveport South, began to spearhead the movement, trying to find the best methods of reaching his community.
Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) School of Evangelism announced it planned to host an evangelism series in the area in late May and early June. The Shreveport South leaders and members were excited, and their first goal was to step up plans to prepare and invite the community.
The Shreveport South, Shreveport First, and Texarkana Seventh-day Adventist Church district joined together, pooling their resources, for a big evangelism push. Cash hoped to reach the community as quickly and affordably as possible. Ordering fliers would normally set them back one to two months. “That’s how we found SermonView Evangelism Marketing,” says Cash. SermonView is an Adventist-based media ministry focused on helping churches reach their communities to grow their congregations.
By the first week of February, SermonView had set up a Facebook advertising campaign offering Bible studies to various age groups and demographics in the Arkansas-Louisiana area. Within the first month, they had generated so many Bible study requests that they had to pause the campaign until they could catch up with them all. Each of the three churches were overwhelmed with the response.
“All of the volunteers from the congregations were thinking they’d get maybe one to two requests a week. But we actually had so many in the first month that it was overwhelming,” said Cash. “After a week, we decided to pause the campaign so the interests wouldn’t go cold before we could respond to them, but a week later our volunteers and congregations were so excited about the responses they were getting, they said to keep going!”
“There were too many requests for one person to do,” says Loretta Johnson, Texarkana Seventh-day Adventist Church member. “I sent a message to the church board to update them on what we were doing and asked for help. The whole church board volunteered and even some who are not on the board pitched in. I was really moved by this.”
Eddie and Terri Nugent are first generation Adventists who volunteered to follow up on interest leads by going door-to-door. “Not all visits are positive. We have some who still don’t know what Adventists are, so they turn the studies away. But that doesn’t discourage us. We’re just happy to share the truth and get people interested in the Bible. We want to get them interested in seeking out the truth,” says Eddie Nugent.
Sometimes, God leads you to visit the wrong house on purpose! The Nugents didn’t realize they were knocking on the wrong door until they began talking with the woman who had answered. But in happy coincidence, through their conversation, she signed up for Bible studies. After saying farewell, they managed to find the right home and signed that family up too!
Continuing with happy coincidences, on another occasion, as the Nugents were on their way to a home, they struck up a conversation with a mother and daughter who were sitting in front of an apartment. The mother was so interested in what they were doing that she signed up for the Bible studies right there.
Social distancing and quarantine orders were put in place by the first part of March. Evangelism seemed to be forced to a standstill. However, despite the new challenges, the churches continued how they could: through mail and online studies. Bible lessons are offered online or through the mail, so recipients can choose how to receive them. Alvin Astrup soon took over mailing leads for the Shreveport First church; in one week he sent out 351 lessons with about 15 percent responding. “I’ve been so swamped that I’ve had to order 3-4 times from the Voice of Prophecy to get more Discover Bible lessons. I’ve done this for many years and I’ve never seen such a high response as this outreach has been,” says Astrup. “I’m happy to be planting a seed. When this pandemic settles, I hope we’ll be able to go visit and connect with these people in person.”
By late May, the campaign had over 580 requests for Bible studies, with each interest receiving an email inviting them to choose between online or mailed correspondence. Three months into the four-month evangelism outreach campaign, things looked very different. Due to coronavirus COVID-19, the SWAU School of Evangelism had to cancel their evangelism meetings. And where once volunteers and Bible workers knocked on their neighbors’ doors, they now worked hard to best support their community through correspondence and online Bible study. Many people continue to respond to the lessons and the invitation for studies.
“We won’t drop the ball and let the Lord down—despite the shutdown,” says Johnson. “We have two boys in prison who’ve been faithful about doing their Bible lessons and even though they are more unreachable in a physical sense, there are many people that we can witness to in other ways.”
Because of the canceled meetings and almost 600 responses to Bible study offers, the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference is working on ways to host an online evangelistic meeting targeting the Texarkana and the Shreveport communities.
“Even though we’re not able to meet people in person and the meetings have been canceled, we intend to visit when this pandemic comes to an end and I believe people will make decisions because of this effort,” says Cash.
By Katie Fellows. Fellows is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Photography by Tony Cash.