TIFTON — If numbers are any measure of success, this year’s two GO Georgia training sessions are catching on as a way of bringing the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to churches in an innovative format.
A record breaking – no, record shattering – 1,519 pastors, laity, and church staff registered for both of this year’s two gatherings – more than double from last year’s 797 initial session in one location, Athens. The popularity of this year’s decision to hold one session in North Georgia and the other in South Georgia attracted participants whose commute was cut in half.W.E. Fogarty, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Tifton, registers for a youth breakout session at the GO Georgia gathering at First Church in Tifton. This is Fogarty’s first time at a GO Georgia event. His church has no youth and he is looking for ways to remedy that situation. JOE WESTBURY/Index[/caption]
To show the amount of increase, 777 registered for last week’s Marietta session, just a tad below the 797 registration for last year’s single Athens meeting. Another 742 are registered for this weekend’s session in Tifton.
At yesterday’s opening meeting at First Baptist Church of Tifton, session goers chose between offerings such as Reaching and Keeping Students, Church Safety and Disaster Preparedness, and How to Get Increased Giving and Not Sabotage Legacy Gifts for Your Church. The topics were the same for both locations.
The concept is simple: rather than expecting church staff to drive to Mission Board headquarters in greater Atlanta, take the Mission Board to the local churches to ease their travel time and provide network opportunities among local pastors. Training in a variety of topics is provided by state missionaries as well as pastors or other professionals speaking in their field of experience.
For example, in a Friday afternoon breakout presentation in the First Baptist chapel, 58 individuals listened to Bethlehem (GA) Baptist Church Student Pastor Joe Payton speak on Reaching and Keeping Students.
In his rapid-fire style of presentation, Payton checked off a lengthy list of shortcuts he has learned from years in student ministry. He talked about the importance of celebrating the return of a young person to the youth group regardless of how many times the individual has strayed from the flock.
“Seize that moment whenever a young boy or girl makes that decision to return to the fellowship of youth in your church. Celebrate that prodigal moment and affirm that youth for his or her search for truth,” he stated.
On another note, he stressed the importance of telling stories about life changes among church youth.
“We use a lot of time, resources, and money capturing those exciting stories of changed lives in our church and in our youth. Those stories are so encouraging and inspirational because they are real; they are about people you see in church every day. Don’t expect every person to be comfortable with telling their story in a church service. They may not be ready for that level of speaking, but you can take a video of them sharing their story and post it on the church website or Facebook page,” he said.
Payton then touched on the importance of prayer.
“Pray constantly. It’s easy to get caught up in doing ministry and forget the most important part of who we are … dependent on God for his blessings. Pray with your leaders. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your youth. Pray, pray, pray,” he challenged.
And don’t forget to have fun.
“Kids need more preaching to challenge them to grow spiritually. I get that. But the church misses a big opportunity to teach them what it means to have a good time in life. When we get to heaven it will be one big party. We read that there is rejoicing, or a party, every time someone comes to faith in Christ.
“We need to be sure our youth see the fun side of being a Christian because they don’t get that impression from the world,” Payton noted.
He then said youth pastors should walk with youth … and their parents … through all the major transitions which the young person is passing through. The shift from 5th to 6th grade – from elementary school to middle school – can be traumatic because they don’t know what to expect. It’s the same for the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade, from middle school to high school.
Then Payton discussed the importance of being a blessing to schools “with no strings attached. Just go to the school administrator and ask how you can bless them. What kind of needs do they have that the church may be able to help them with?
He gave the admittedly unusual example when a school said it needed a second defibrillator. It was required by law to have two but there were funds for only one. It greatly concerned the school administrator.
The church was able to raise the $2,500 for the instrument which the school placed in the band room. Shortly after its installation the band director had a heart attack and a student grabbed the device and applied it to the teacher, saving his life.
“I can’t tell you the joy we felt for meeting that need, and the goodwill it brought us from the school,” he added.
It doesn’t have to be an expensive blessing for a church to meet. It can be anything within its budget. But do it with no strings attached, he stressed.
In conclusion, he stated the need for follow up.
“We lose too many students because we don’t stay in touch with them and know their struggles. We need to be tuned into what is happening in their lives. Follow up, follow up, follow up,” he said.
State Missionary Randy Mullinax spoke on the topic of how to increase baptisms. He used the Reach Strategy and walked his conference goers through the 8 steps of the Reach Strategy. He then said that his video presentation of the approach is available online at 6strategy.com for follow up viewing or sharing with others.
He covered a variety of topics that lead to increased baptism through effective evangelism. He lamented that more than 600 Georgia Baptist churches reported they did not baptize one individual last year. He acknowledged that there are season in every church and every pastor’s life where baptisms may slump, but not baptizing anyone on a regular basis is a different matter.
He cited Cascade Hills Baptist Church in Columbus and its record number of 438 baptisms last year, leading the entire Georgia Baptist Convention.
“They have baptized, on average, one person for each day of the year for the past three years. They only missed three days last year because their baptistery was being repaired.
"They are a church for the unchurched. Pastor Bill Purvis is often asked what they do to reach so many people, and he is quick to say that first and foremost it is the power of prayer ... God answering the prayer of His people makes all the difference in the world,” he told the group.
Mullinax also stressed the importance of “turning your Sunday School into what it was designed to be … an evangelistic outreach tool of the church." Quoting Archbishop William Temple, he reminded his listeners that "The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it."
Sunday School missions outreach into the community is important because that is how you meet people, befriend them, and invite them to attend your fellowship. He concluded by stressing the need to look at visitors as guests, not as visitors.
“Thousands of people tour the White House every week and leave with a souvenir. But they are treated far differently if they are a guest of the White House.
“Every person who enters the door of your church should be viewed as a guest, not as a visitor.”
This second session of GO Georgia/Tifton will end at 4 p.m. today, August 26.