Jesus Tent offers ‘servant evangelism’ to Bonnaroo attendees
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
MANCHESTER — Although the final numbers are still being calculated, the final assessment can already be made: Jesus Tent was a massive success. Again.
“It was phenomenal,” said David Evans, director of evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Located amid the sprawling campgrounds at the Bonnaroo music festival at Great Stage Park, Jesus Tent is an outreach ministry of First Baptist Church, Manchester, and is supported through a team of churches from Duck River Baptist Association and several other associations.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board also supports Jesus Tent, which is funded by gifts through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Through the years, Jesus Tent has become one of the most proficient gospel-sharing events in the state. And this year, the tradition continued, with an estimated 16,000-plus Bonnaroo attendees streaming into the tent.
“It’s the largest evangelistic event in Tennessee across denominations,” said Evans. “There’s not another event in the state where we come in contact with 15,000 to 17,000 people.
“Even an event like YEC, for example — and we have a great YEC in Tennessee, with roughly 8,500 to 9,000 kids — that’s still only about half as many people as Jesus Tent,” said Evans. “So, it’s just an absolutely awesome opportunity for us.”
The total number of attendees at Jesus Tent was slightly lessened this year due to traffic tie-ups — caused by stricter security checks and fewer entry points into the park — on the first day of the festival.
But once the crowds arrived, the attendees once again flocked to Jesus Tent, where they received a series of free items — including fruit, water, shampoo, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, etc. — along with something far more important: A chance to learn about Jesus.
Hundreds of professions of faith have been made at Jesus Tent since its start more than a dozen years ago. The total number of professions at this year’s event are currently being tabulated by Jake Dorak, associate pastor at FBC Manchester, who serves as the coordinator of the event.
“When Bonnaroo ends, Jake secures all the decision cards, puts them in a bag and takes them home,” Evans said. “Then, usually the following week or so, the decision numbers will be finalized. As it stands, I’m confident in saying that we had probably between 16,000 and 17,000 come through the tent. Once everyone was able to finally get in the park after the traffic and stuff, man, Jesus Tent just exploded.”
Evans’ passion for the ministry at Bonnaroo radiates whenever he talks about it.
“It is the funnest thing that I do,” he said. “But more than that, it’s also the most rewarding and the most effective. I mean, just all across the board, Jesus Tent hits every single cylinder for evangelism.
“I can talk all day about it,” said Evans. “I love it. And the people who work at Jesus Tent love it, too. They literally don’t want it to end.”
Evans said Jesus Tent is a terrific example of “servant evangelism” because Bonnaroo attendees can come into the tent and have many of their needs met in a true “no-strings attached” environment.
“That’s the great thing about servant evangelism — it disarms people,” said Evans. “Any preconceived notions, any stigma that people have about the church, those will often dissolve when they see that we’re serving them. That’s what Jesus Tent is all about. It drops barriers.
“And when people have their barriers dropped, one of the greatest needs they have is a spiritual hunger for something they may not be able to identify,” Evan added.
For the past three years, Jesus Tent has hosted a worship service on Sunday morning, with Evans delivering a sermon.
Evans preached from Mark 8 this year, and said he used the phrase “Jesus loves the mess out of you” — which became an unofficial motto for this year’s Jesus Tent.
“That (phrase) seemed to really connect with some folks,” he said.
Evans believes Jesus Tent represents one of the easiest platforms in which to share the gospel. He said the reason for that is because Bonnaroo attendees are thirsty, both physically and spiritually.
“Over and over again, some of the (attendees) will be going through the line, and getting their free stuff, and they’ll ask, ‘Hey, why are y’all doing this?’ ” said Evans.
“And that really opens a lot of doors because I will get to say, ‘Listen, we’re giving away all this free stuff, but we are here — and I will point to Jesus’ name on the sign outside the tent — to remind you that Jesus loves the mess out of you.’ ”