MADISONVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Kevin Maples, the pastor of Madisonville First Baptist Church, has a burden for his community. And he’s determined to find new and creative ways to share the gospel with them and any other non-believer.
He cites an example from Johnny Hunt he heard several years ago when Hunt was pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, a 14,000-member church in Georgia.
“It was on a Sunday morning and the place is packed,” Maples said. “He asked, ‘How many people here were saved because of a media ministry?’ About three people stood in that massive church. He said, ‘Praise for the Lord for that.’ Then he asked, ‘How many of you were saved because somebody came to your house and made a presentation?’ He said about 15 people stood up. Then he said, ‘Now, how many were saved because a friend, neighbor, or relative invited you to church?’ It looked like the whole church stood up.”
The moral of the story, says Maples, is that God uses relationships of people.
“We’re trying to figure out how to be creative” in evangelistic efforts, Maples said. “We have to find a way to do it that’s responsible and safe.”
Maples wants to combine the safety of technology, which churches have begun to master during the pandemic, with the crucial relationships of friends, family, and neighbors who have the most influence in the life of friends, co-workers, or family members who are unbelievers.
“Even here in Madisonville, Kentucky, the average person doesn’t know the gospel,” Maples said. “They know the name of Jesus but ask them why he had to die and they don’t have a clue. They’re really rejecting their perception of church and Christianity and haven’t heard the gospel. We need to be diligent about communicating the gospel.”
Maples has invited Dr. Todd Gray, the executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention who has a heart for evangelism, to come and deliver an evangelistic message at Madisonville FBC next month. His live broadcast will be shown over the church website and Facebook.
Maples isn’t necessarily asking for a big turnout at the church for Dr. Gray, although the doors will be open, he is asking church members and other Christians to host watch parties in their homes and do so with a friend or couple who may not understand or have heard the gospel.
“We want to make contact and invite them and get a verbal commitment to join and watch,” he said. “People need to hear the gospel and we have to figure out ways to be creative about it.”
Gray was more than happy to collaborate with Maples, who he said has a similar burning desire for evangelism.
“Evangelistic leaders will always find a way to share the gospel, even when it requires creative approaches,” he said. “Dr. Maples operates out of a conviction that there is an urgency for us to deliver the good news to those who are lost. It will only be good news to them if it arrives on time.”
Maples said it was important the service be live from the church because people tend to react better to live events than prerecorded or delayed broadcasts. The live broadcast will be on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. central time.
“My experience has been, if it’s prerecorded, it loses some urgency about when it needs to be watched,” he said. “It’s important that it’s live. We can broadcast the gospel anytime we want to, but we need people to speak to their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances and ask them to join them to watch. When they have questions after it’s over, somebody is there to answer them.”
The Madisonville pastor said the pandemic has churches scrambling and wondering about long-term strategies.
“It has forced us all to think about what we’re supposed to be doing and what we can effectively do in context right now. We got comfortable,” he said. “We forget a lot of the things that Billy Graham did were cutting edge in his day. Instead of perpetuating older methods, we need to look at who lives in the community and what resources we have.”
Gray said it’s important that churches and Christians remember their mission.
“It's easy for us to lose focus while dealing with COVID, navigating a political season, and addressing other important matters,” Gray said. “However, Jesus gave us the mission of making disciples of all the nations and that mission begins with evangelism. We must not lose focus.”
Maples said the days of going to a conference, hearing someone else's success story, and then trying to replicate it often falls short because of context.
“Years ago, when Rick Warren was on the cutting edge, he said, ‘I wouldn’t do the things I’m doing if I wasn’t ministering here in California.’ When you look at somebody’s success, instead of thinking about what to do, consider what are the principles I can learn from and create success in my own context?”
For example, Maples said, there is a vast difference in urban Louisville and rural western Kentucky. “We all have very different contexts,” he said. “Everybody needs to be their own mission strategist.”
Maples is one of several western Kentucky pastors who have been meeting and sharing evangelistic ideas with Kenny Rager of the KBC during the pandemic. “We brainstorm every few weeks,” Maples said. “Kenny has called us evangelism cohorts. We’ve taken on several issues.”
Rager said he was thrilled that such an innovative idea has emerged from the evangelism cohorts that were formed.
"Iron truly sharpens iron. I encourage all pastors to be connected with each other. We are better together," he said.