By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Evangelism leaders for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board agree COVID-19 has impacted personal evangelism, but they also strongly affirm that Christians should not use it as an excuse to not witness.
“The fact social distancing has been in place for months has certainly impacted our ability to communicate with others,” said Roc Collins, director of strategic objectives for the TBMB.
It is hard to create relationships and even communicate with social distancing. Plus, he added, people are leery of everybody and afraid they may catch this virus.”
Jay Barbier, youth evangelism specialist for the TBMB, noted there is “no doubt that personal evangelism has been impacted because of COVID.
“We as a people like to find excuses and I think this pandemic has entertained us in a way like never before to give in to evangelistic laziness. We need to stop saying why we can’t tell others about Jesus because of COVID and look at all the new, old and amazing opportunities we have to communicate the greatest news ever, the gospel of Jesus,” he said.
Steve Pearson, evangelism specialist for the TBMB, agreed that the pandemic has affected personal witnessing. “Our circle of influence and our circle of intimacy have tightened. With that said, if you were already gospel centered (read the gospel, believe the gospel, share the gospel) and because of your prayer life the Lord opened your eyes to the spiritually lost around you, I think nothing has really changed. The unfortunate truth is so few of us are engaged in gospel conversation on a regular basis because of excuses we have generated, COVID-19 just gets added to that list.”
Masks are hindrance
Collins said he believes wearing masks also has been a hindrance to gospel conversation. “Wearing a mask has further complicated our ability to communicate with others,” Collins observed. In addition, masks prohibit a lot of non-verbal communication and makes it hard to understand words,” he added.
“Combined with social distancing, masks have created an obstacle to communication of the gospel,” he said.
Barbier agreed that masks create a barrier to communication, but “we must do what is necessary for the safety of others.”
Still the best way
Even with the inconvenience of COVID, the TBMB evangelism leaders are adamant that personal evangelism is still the best way to reach people.
“As crowds are limited and church worship and small groups are scaled back, our ministries will move from a macro emphasis to a micro emphasis,” Pearson said.
“Instead of helping our people gather in large crowds to make an impact for the gospel, it will be individual believers sharing one on one with those who are in the (SAFE) circle of influence. The church must equip and provide the tools needed to help members see not the church’s mission field but to see their mission field,” he said.
Pearson noted that one of the those tools is the website pray4tn.com. “An individual can become a light to see and pray for their 100 closest neighbors. Point: Before we talk to people about God we must first talk to God about people,” he said.
Barbier added that relationships matter. “People are willing to engage in conversations with friends and acquaintances. The Word of God models this for us, as we go we are to make disciples. The way we make disciples is by telling and teaching about Jesus, personal witnessing must be at the forefront of a disciple,” he stressed.
Collins agreed with his co-workers and noted Scripture makes it clear. “We just have to work harder to overcome the obstacles. The Word of God is still true, ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’ (Romans 10:17).
Tips for pastors, churches
Barbier encouraged pastors and churches to “tell the stories of how they are engaging in gospel conversations. Overcommunicate the necessity of this with your congregations,” he urged.
“Enlist others in the church that are influencers to tell their stories of how and who their leading to Jesus.
“This is contagious, it’s more caught than taught. Christian leaders need to be mentoring and modeling this with others,” Collins said.
Pearson agreed. “Speak about opportunities you have had to engage in gospel conversations from the pulpit. The people will follow and mimic what they see their leaders doing on a regular basis,” he observed. He also noted the importance of sharing the successes and the failures. “Be real! Take opportunities to equip the members to pray for spiritually lost friends and neighbors by name.”
Pearson also encouraged ministers to share with their congregations simple tools for sharing their faith and using gospel tracts. The TBMB provides two tracts “JN316” and “More Life” (over 1,000,000 distributed), he said. Pearson stressed that even mass/event evangelism is personal evangelism because one person invited another person to attend.”
Collins encouraged Tennessee Baptists to “keep on attempting to share the gospel in person, but also use social media, text, e-mails, Zoom calls and whatever you have at your disposal.”
Barbier agreed that Zoom can still be an important tool for evangelism.
“Screen fatigue and Zoom wear out has been a huge topic in student ministry but people are spending even more time on phones, computers, and TV than ever before,” he observed. “We need to stop with the excuses of why not and look for ways to do now.
“Creating Zoom hangouts with intentional Bible Study, gospel conversations that are led by students is the key, creating environments that are peer driven. Essentially as ministers we need to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. This is the first step,” Barbier said. B&R