When the fire alarm went off just as Roc Collins began reading from Acts 1 to start off his message, the shrieking siren and flashing lights brought the final session of this year’s State Evangelism Conference to a halt.
But with his signature humor, Collins said, “Well I prayed that the Lord would set us on fire, but I didn’t mean like this.”
The sirens soon stopped, as the alarm was the result of a curious child, and Collins, who serves as director of evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, got to preaching with a fire that was undeniable.
“What’s our business? What are we supposed to be about?” Collins asked the audience composed largely of pastors.
Followers of Christ aren’t supposed to be about temporal things, he said, but they are supposed to be about eternal matters. That requires Christians to be empowered by the Spirit of God, to be His witnesses and to literally go share His message.
“Some of us are so full of stuff … that we’ve left no room for the Holy Spirit of God,” Collins said. “We can’t even get to being a witness until we get some stuff out of the way.”
Christians serve a God “who can save from the guttermost to the uttermost,” Collins said, but it requires each person to get in motion and go to the lost.
“Alabama Baptists, I came here to tell you to go. Go and keep going until all have heard that Jesus still saves that which was lost.”
Collins was the final speaker of the conference, held Jan. 22–23 at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery. During the two-day event, six speakers urged state Baptists to position their churches to have effective evangelism strategies.
In between messages, Chip Colee, a worship leader based in Birmingham, and Daniel Crews, a Christian vocalist from Florida, led music. Nathan Lyon, youth minister and music ministry associate at First Baptist Church, Birmingham, provided pre-session piano music each day, and contemporary Christian trio Selah sang at the Tuesday night session.
Sammy Gilbreath, state evangelism director, said the conference, which followed the theme “Evangelism Resurgence,” was “incredible.”
He noted the greatest surprise of the conference was how large the crowd was viewing online this year. Messages streamed live on Facebook and had more than 1,300 unique viewers watching at least some of the broadcast. “We were excited about having so many people involved, even if they weren’t able to be physically present.”
Greg Corbin, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, said that in order to have effective evangelism, churches must have four characteristics — gospel servants doing gospel work sharing the gospel truth and seeing gospel results.
“Every Christian is to be a gospel servant,” he said, preaching from 1 Corinthians 3:5–8. “Where my church is and where your church is, there is a field, and we must plant and water, and plant some more and water some more … then trust God with the harvest.”
Terrence Jones, pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park, Montgomery, said that when Christians unify around that gospel message, amazing things can happen.
Preaching from John 17, Jones said Jesus prayed for His disciples to have unity, but not for a superficial purpose — for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus instructed His disciples to love each other so the world would see their love and know they were different.
That’s why unity is so important, he said.
“What’s riding on unity is not warm, fuzzy feelings when we get in the same room together, it’s about us being able to share with other people about Jesus and prove to others that He really did walk the earth,” he said. “We have an opportunity to convince them simply by loving one another. Wouldn’t you want them to know that Jesus loves them?”
And that gospel is an issue of life and death, said John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas.
“You can’t be rooted on a Bible that says that the gospel is the only way and that Jesus is the only way and live in the middle of people who don’t know it and do nothing,” Meador said.
Christians have to preach the Word and do the work of an evangelist, he said, preaching from 2 Timothy 4:1–5.
“I love to do the preaching part but I am a recovering nonevangelist,” Meador said. “God convicted me that the key person in my church was me, that I was the problem, and if I didn’t lead my church it wouldn’t be evangelistic.”
He challenged pastors to be intentional in leading their churches to active evangelism, training and equipping members to share their faith.
“Pastor, what if you believe that the future of the world depends on the average believer being able to share his faith? What if we began to find a plan to train our people to share Christ? What if the benchmark wasn’t how many come but how many go and share?”
Tom Richter, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cullman, said the call to share goes out to every Christian. And it comes regardless of your past, he said.
“After failing his Lord, Peter had no right to expect to be used of God,” Richter said, preaching from John 21. “Neither do you. Neither do I. But He called us nonetheless.”
Jesus also called us to go regardless of the cost, Richter said. “Jesus told Peter, ‘If you follow Me, it will lead to your crucifixion.’”
It’s unlikely that Christians in America will have to die for their faith, but there is always a cost involved, Richter said.
But for those who accept it, the infinite joy of being a part of God’s story awaits.
“On Good Friday the wrath of God fell not on Peter but on the sinless, spotless Lamb of God,” he said. “The laws of the universe were broken, but they were broken on the back of Jesus Christ. He rose again on the third day to call us to follow Him, and He is still making us fishers of men.”
Kevin Hamm, pastor of Gardendale First Baptist Church, said that Christ redeems us to send us out to those who have no hope.
That truth was recently renewed in Hamm’s heart when the story of the lepers who cried out to Jesus for mercy in Luke 17 “just gripped me.”
“Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem,” he said. “He had an itinerary. He was headed somewhere. He wasn’t just wandering around.”
And then the lepers cried out to Jesus, and it said that He saw them, Hamm said.
“I heard God say to me, ‘Kevin, you’re walking right by people and you never see them.’
“Along the way, Jesus is always alert to the opportunities, and how many of those do I miss on a daily basis?”
Hundreds join in via livestream
The speakers at this year’s State Evangelism Conference heard lots of “amens” from around the sanctuary as they preached the Word, but there are also a lot of “amens” they didn’t hear — the ones made by those watching the live sermons around the state and nation via a livestream option.
By streaming gavel to gavel coverage on Ustream provided by host church Eastmont Baptist, Montgomery, organizers were able to allow more than 200 people to join in. That included the staff of The Alabama Baptist, who reported on the entire conference from Birmingham thanks to this technology.
Over on Facebook, even larger numbers watched different messages, expanding the reach to more than 1,800 additional people who may have never been able to participate otherwise.
These Facebook viewers were an enthusiastic bunch and engaged with the videos 614 times in total. In order to “engage” with a video, the viewers had to either leave a comment, share a video or hit a button to “react” to a video.
Doug Rogers, director of communications and technology services for the State Board of Missions, said, “Options like livestreaming and Facebook Live provide an exciting and viable means for hundreds of people who can’t attend something like the Evangelism Conference to still benefit from the preaching and teaching that takes place.”