This is their story; this is the time

An evangelism initiative being introduced at next week’s Georgia Baptist annual meeting may be geared toward students, but its value goes much further in reminding those of all ages the impact of a personal encounter with the gospel.   “This is My Story” keeps things simple, and therein lies its strength. Current Georgia Baptist Convention President Mike Stone led in its development. The motivation, he said, came from hearing “sobering statistics about evangelism” among students in GBC churches.   “Georgia Baptists are baptizing, on average, 1 per year among middle school and high school students,” Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, pointed out. “A more careful study of the numbers is even more troubling. Half of our churches did not reach even one student for Christ in an entire year.” That led in the development of a platform giving four lessons. Those sessions cover the basics of the gospel while developing confidence in telling your testimony. They are:
  • What is the Gospel?
  • The Gospel and Your Story
  • Confirming Your Story
  • How to Share Your Story
Each lesson begins with a short video tutorial by Jonathon Duke, student pastor at Ephesus Baptist Church in Villa Rica. Another section offers resources such as presentation backgrounds, additional evangelism training, and social media images. Individuals will be prompted at to sign up their church. After doing so, that person will receive an email from Scott Smith, Georgia Baptist Mission Board Evangelism Ministries state missionary, with further instructions on confirming their signup. After that step, another email will provide a link to that church’s startup page to quickly access materials. A welcome from Stone can be found there.

Begin with a confirmation

The results will continue well beyond the student ministry, Stone told The Index. “’This is My Story’ is designed to help move students from being scared to being prepared. That will work for adult volunteers and staff members too! As we focus on training an army of student missionaries, God will strengthen, anoint, and bless the efforts of our leaders.” Smith explained how the curriculum for “This is My Story” was built out from similar steps taken at Emmanuel Baptist Church. The goal, he added, was to have a month of training followed by a month of intentional sharing of your faith. “It’s not a replacement for the typical student ‘personal evangelism training,’” he said. “Rather, it's a less intimidating, yet significant, step in helping students share their faith.”  It begins with a student’s confirmation of his or her salvation, or story, Smith pointed out. “They will be allowed to really examine themselves and make sure they have actually had a bona fide conversion to Christ. Second, whether they were saved very young or more recently, it affirms the value and importance of their personal experience with Jesus and that it's worth sharing.” Stone pointed to experiences both anecdotally and in research to back that up. “As we lament the percentages of teenagers raised ‘in the church’ who leave the church after high school graduation, we have to face a painful fact. Many of them are leaving because they have never been saved. “We can complain about the moral and social trends in the culture at large, but we are not even reaching our own children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends.”

A message that overcomes barriers

While big events geared toward attracting crowds for evangelistic purposes have their place, Stone hopes churches will look at taking a more personal approach. “The biblical model is one-on-one, personal evangelism that spreads the gospel through existing relationships. When students share Jesus with their peers it immediately overcomes generational, cultural, and personal barriers. I do not think there is a more powerful witness than one friend telling another, “Here’s what Jesus has done in my life.” Ricky Smith, lead state missionary in Georgia Baptist Student Groups and Faith Development, agreed that a student presenting the gospel in tandem with his or her testimony can have a tremendous effect on a peer. “We wanted to give the tools for them to clearly understand that,” he said. Many young people’s salvation stories, he added, begin with an emotional response or from a traumatic event. While not dismissing those elements of a person’s testimony, he stressed the importance of a thorough understanding of Christ’s atonement for sin. “That’s why we wrote the lessons in the order they appear. We don’t begin talking about sharing your faith until lesson three. It was important for students to affirm their salvation first.” And even though the story being told come from that student, it revolves around the story of Jesus, said the GBC president. “’My story’ only has gospel power if ‘my story’ is the story of ‘His story,’” Stone emphasized. “If anyone is to be saved by my personal testimony, the star of the story must be Jesus and the focus of the story must be His death, burial, and resurrection.”

Telling on video, sharing with others

When students complete the sessions, they’ll get the opportunity to tell their story on video to be sent out through social media. That step is intuitive when it comes to how their generation connects, said Scott Smith. “For Generation Z, information and data overload has left them craving ‘story.’ It's time for their Christian peers to step into that vacuum with the story of Jesus and how He changes a life. Plus, it's hard to argue with one's story. And the story itself will lead to the deeper conversation around the Gospel. “Our dream would be to see videos coming out all over the state, stacking up into the hundreds, maybe thousands. All would have a call-to-action at the end to visit a single web site having a clear, full gospel presentation with a way of registering a response if the viewer converts to Christ and allows for follow up as well. This way Georgia Baptists will be able to ensure that every video testimony points the viewer to a complete gospel presentation.  “It would be the highest and best use of user-generated evangelistic content on a wide scale we've ever seen.”

Rooted in the gospel

Ricky Smith echoed that, saying one’s testimony provides a natural opening for today’s students. “We’re dealing with a pre-churched generation. But, we also know they seem to be open to spiritual conversations. The key is for students to not just be rooted in their experience, but the gospel. It’s life-changing and by us walking through the gospel, we’re telling His story. “That’s the heart of the matter. If students can clearly articulate the fullness of the gospel, we can trust what Jesus said in that he would draw all people to Him. Stone can also foresee “This is My Story” having a cumulative effect on a church. “I do not mean to sound needlessly harsh. But one of the biggest hurdles in leaders teaching their students evangelistic practices is that too many leaders are not engaged in evangelistic practices themselves. Again, facts are our friends and the statistics bear out this truth. In God’s economy, all creatures reproduce after their own kind. Non-evangelistic leaders will not reproduce evangelistic students in their churches.  “You teach what you know. You reproduce what you are.”
discipleship, evangelism, ReachingNextGen, students