Month: December 2004

New DVD cultural resource for churches

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is offering churches a tool to encourage, educate and instruct Southern Baptists to engage their culture.

A new DVD available to all SBTC churches introduces the concept of a Culture Impact Committee that can lead a church or association to be aware of moral, social, religious liberty, legislative and public policy issues, sharing ways that Christians can make a difference in their communities by standing for biblical values.

“The transformation of our society is available to us if we will step up and hold fast to the godly principles and values upon which our great society was built,” said Keet Lewis, SBTC legislative consultant.

The SBTC offers resources to help committees take practical steps to lead their congregations or associations to be “salt and light” in their communities.

The Baptist Faith and Message affirms a call to involvement with the world, stating, “Every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in his own life and in human society.”

The Southern Baptist doctrinal statement also says Christians “should oppose in the spirit of Christ every form of greed, selfishness and vice, and should seek to bring industry, government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth and brotherly love.”

The CIC material states, “We must realize there is not a dichotomy between revival and reformation. Rather, the Bible is full of admonitions and examples of both. No one contends that reforms imposed by government are sufficient alone,” citing King Josiah’s reforms that proved temporary because the peoples’ hearts were not changed.

Material provided with the DVD clarifies the misunderstanding that often exists in churches fearing loss of tax-exempt status when confronting laws and public policy. It also answers those confused about the claims of some Baptists that involvement in government by Christians through a local body of believers violates the First Amendment’s free exercise and establishment clauses.

The CIC manual includes information on the function of a Cultural Impact Committee, a description of Southern Baptist ministries that deal with alternatives to abortion ministries, hunger relief efforts, and a review of 29 organizations and ministries that provide resources on the state and national level.

For more information, call Gary Ledbetter at 817-552-2500 or 877-953-SBTC. A link to the Texas Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee is provided on SBTC’s home page at www.sbtexas.com.

Empower Evangelism Conference featuring Merritt, Baucham, Velasquez

The Empower Evangelism Conference Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at First Baptist Church of Euless will feature renowned speakers such as James Merritt, Junior Hill, Voddie Baucham and Mac Brunson and award-winning musicians Jaci Velasquez and Larnelle Harris.

The theme for the annual conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, is “Jesus?Hope of Glory.”

Bible teacher and frequent conference speaker Jerry Pipes and Vonette Bright, wife of the late Campus Crusade for Christ founder, Bill Bright, will also appear.

“I urge churches from across Texas to bring buses and vans filled with people to this conference,” Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director, said. “This could be the beginning of spiritual awakening among churches in Southern Baptist life. Pray that the Holy Spirit’s power will fall on us during those days. This will also be the beginning of the emphasis of ‘The Year of Double Harvest’ for 2005 in our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Don’t miss the Empower Evangelism Conference. Your life will never be the same as we look to ‘Jesus ?The Hope of Glory.'”

The Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists (COTBE) will meet Monday afternoon, beginning at 1 p.m. A concurrent women’s session will be held featuring Bright, who will speak at 3:40 p.m.

The Empower Evangelism Conference begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, featuring music from Velasquez, preaching from Baucham and Patterson and a testimony from Dale Perry, pastor of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler.

Tuesday morning’s session starts with an 8:30 a.m. concert by Velasquez, followed by more music from Katie Griffin Dyke and Velasquez and preaching from Michael Lewis, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin, Frank Harber, pastor of First Baptist Church, Colleyville, and Patterson.

Patterson is also the scheduled speaker for the annual Cooperative Program Luncheon immediately following the Tuesday morning session.

Tuesday afternoon’s session begins at 1:30 p.m. and will feature Velasquez and sermons from Stan Coffey, pastor of San Jacinto Baptist Church, Amarillo, Guidestone Resources (SBC) President O.S. Hawkins, and Merritt, former SBC president and Atlanta, Ga.-area pastor.

Tuesday evening’s session begins at 6:30 and will feature music from the Grammy-winning Harris and preaching from Pipes and Brunson and humor by Sylvia Harney.

The closing session Wednesday morning begins with an 8:30 a.m. mass senior adult choir concert, music by the Jim Bob Griffin Family and preaching from Pipes, Baucham and Junior Hill, Alabama-based evangelist.

A senior adult banquet will follow Wednesday morning’s closing session featuring the Griffin Family and Harney.

Silent Night, Holy Night’: Was it calm and bright, as carols and nativity scenes suggest?

A modern children’s book about the Christmas story tells of Joseph and Mary seeking refuge in several lodges before finally, an innkeeper pities them enough to offer an animal stall across the road from the inn. The color drawing on the adjacent page depicts a small, covered stall with a manger, lots of straw and a few animals.

Such embellishment is common in Christmas narratives, with Joseph and the virgin teenager Mary seeking a hotel room in a booked-up town, though Scripture only tells us Christ was placed in a manger because no room existed in the “inn.”

Well-meaning Christmas carols often capture the tenderness of the moment by depicting a world and a Messiah in peaceful slumber (all is calm and bright); a few dare foretell of the Savior’s destiny and the manner in which his peace will come.

One such song, “What Child Is This?” probably won’t be sung at children’s Christmas pageants this year.

“Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian, fear; for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The babe, the son of Mary!”

Are our popular notions accurate, biblical? Is the popularized nativity the way it was? “It is a fine thing, I suppose, that we honor a sacred holiday with such homey sentiments,” writes Philip Yancey in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” about the warm Christmas of pop culture. “And yet when I turn to the Gospel accounts of the first Christmas, I hear a very different tone and sense mainly disruption at work.”

Barry Creamer, associate professor of humanities at Criswell College, said the world Jesus inhabited was eclectic, with four or five times more Jews living outside of Palestine as inside, and many Gentiles among the inhabitants of Galilee where he would grow up.

There was religious and political division, Creamer noted. Some Jews sought a Messiah to establish his rule and throw off Roman tyranny; more liberal Jews saw messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 53 as representing Israel as a nation and not an individual leader. Politically, many Jews sought freedom from Rome while others wished to meld with the dominant Greek culture and Roman rule.

“Always, when I’m dealing with these issues every year, I like going back to the New Testament stories and just reading them to make sure we remember what it does say and not try to read into it more than it says. That’s one of the keys,” Creamer remarked.

The Gospels record that angels summoned lowly shepherds to the scene to witness God’s incarnation in the manger. Later, though Scripture doesn’t record when, mysterious wise men from the East arrive, though there’s no mention of three kings from the Orient.

“There’s no implication there that (the birth) was any more known than just among the shepherds and the few people that were surrounding them and the few relatives that were part of the process of the pregnancy and all, and then those few likely Jewish diaspora (those dispersed) who came back or who taught others who came back to worship, like the magi.”

Creamer said the wise men could have been devout, learned Jews who had moved East, or Gentiles trained by devout Jews to discern the Scriptures.

But the Messiah’s humble arrival went mostly uncelebrated, Creamer said.

“I love the implication that God does great things through small things. What people consider insignificant at a particular moment has nothing to do with its significance in eternity. It’s just like the seed that God compares the kingdom to. You plant the smallest seed and it becomes the greatest herb. I love the fact that even when Christ is born in an individual, meaning when a person gets saved, what looks like just a prayer of confession and acknowledgment really becomes a life-changing and community-changing and sometimes world-changing event.”

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Houston hosts IMB Korean missions conference

HOUSTON?If the International Missions Mobilization Conference and Celebration held at Seoul Baptist Church in Houston was any indication, Koreans and Korean-Americans are rising to the challenge of reaching the world for Christ during a time of great opportunity.

By the end of the weekend meeting last month, more than 200 people had committed to short and long-term missions projects, said Dong Kim, a deacon and director of missions for the Korean language congregation. Seoul Baptist Church hosts two autonomous, interdependent congregations?one Korean language, one English.

Friday evening worship services in both languages drew 800 people and featured speakers home from the mission field, International Mission Board representatives, and IMB President Jerry Rankin. Saturday included IMB workshops and seminars and Saturday evening culminated in a celebration service that saw 187 people commit to short-term mission work and 33 to long-term service.

The Houston conference was the seventh in a series of gatherings across the nation that focus solely on the Korean population of the Southern Baptist Convention.

There are 750 Korean churches with a combined membership of 177,150 affiliated with the SBC. Recent years have seen an increase in missions work by Korean nationals and Korean-Americans. IMB statistics show that, with the exception of Caucasians, more Koreans serve as IMB workers than any other ethnic group.

According to research by Steve “S.C.” Moon, director of the Korea Research Institute for Missions (www.krim.org), there were 8,103 Korean national missionaries working with 136 agencies in 162 countries as of 2000. Those figures exclude independent missionaries sent by local churches, Koreans who gave up national citizenship and are mission representatives from another country, or Koreans serving less than two years on the field. So the count of 8,103 Korean missionaries in the field, Moon concluded, is a conservative one. Moon’s research shows, after Americans, that Koreans make up the largest body of missionaries worldwide.

Jonghwan Kim, director of Undergraduate Lay Theological Studies and international liaison for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is not surprised by the numbers and that Koreans are appreciative that someone shared the gospel with them; they want to return the favor.

The Korean conferences introduce the resources available through the IMB. Meetings have been held since January 2003 in California, Texas, Maryland, Washington, and Virginia. Warren said there will probably be more scheduled for 2005 because the response has been overwhelming. Organizers had hoped to have at least 100 Korean Christians commit to mission work. But when 200 came forward in the first meeting alone, they knew they were expecting too little.

Congregations like Seoul Baptist in Houston have long been missions minded. For 2005 the church has tentatively planned 20 missions trips by both their Korean and English-speaking congregations. Also, each of the churches’ home Bible study groups sponsors an overseas missionary.

Warren said many people leave the conference saying, “We can do that?” in response to information provided. He said the primary goal of the conferences has been to introduce these churches to “the Southern Baptist way of doing [missions work]?we can do a lot more together than individually.”

Church members and visitors from other congregations as far away as Dallas heard presentations on such subjects as “Connecting Your Church to God’s Global Mission,” “Prayer Walking Training and Opportunities,” “Strategic Involvement in International Missions,” and “Strategic Ways for Student Involvement.”

Most of the missions representatives are serving or have served somewhere in Asia, the most lost region of the world with 4 billion people. “There’s a huge challenge in Asia,” said Elvin McCann, IMB director of Church Services. “There is a dearth of messengers in Asia.”

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At Christmas, firstborn reflections

Our Christmas greeting card this year is the photo of Rachel’s wedding. Please indulge me as I reflect on the relationship with my firstborn.

Rach, you have been with your mother and me almost from the beginning. When you were born 10 1/2 months after the wedding some of the aunts started counting the days. So you really have been with us since about six weeks after we were married.

There are many fond memories of you as a little baby. I loved holding you and playing with you. You were my little buddy. Yes, you were raised like a boy. I taught you how to play ball, pull pranks and drive a car like me. You had my manners. We drove your mother crazy, but she finally helped you become a lady.

Unfortunately, you have some of my defective genes as well. It became apparent early on that you could not run very fast. This did not stop you from excelling in sports. You were a star high school softball and basketball player. Being all-state and playing for two different college programs proved your resilience and drive.

You have always had a keen mind. Your first-grade teacher wanted to test you for genius status because you could read the newspaper at age 4. Your mother did a great job of teaching you by reading to you every day. Now you are a college graduate and successful in your profession.

It was my joy to be your pastor. I saw you come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. The memory of baptizing you will be with me the rest of my life. All through the years you have never doubted your salvation. There were times I doubted your salvation, but you never did. It is a blessing to know you read the Word of God, pray and attend worship every Sunday.

I must apologize to you. You were a guinea pig. The firstborn usually is. You were spanked more than the other two. (I hope Child Protective Services does not have retroactive powers.) Your mother and I experimented on you with rules and regulations. Sometimes I was pretty tough. You came out not too worse for the wear.

Life was pretty good until you became economically independent. Then I could not tell you who you could hang out with or how long you could stay out at night. For nearly a decade, you dated some sub-human life forms. Now, we have Andy. Praise God!

Andy is such a tender spirit who loves you very much. He is a man who loves the Lord and has dedicated himself to saving the lives of children. We are delighted he is in the family. We look forward to embracing him with our hearts and in our home. You complement one another so well.

Rachel, wherever life leads the two of you, you will be in my prayers. I am proud of you. You have my undying love. And you will always be my firstborn, my buddy.

Love,

Dad

The importance of Christmas as it was

Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City has a large collection of nativity scenes from different cultures displayed in its library this time of year. It’s pretty interesting. People who hear the gospel project the characters into their own familiar settings. Race, dress, structures, landscape all vary in the different representations. For many of the world’s peoples, the diversity of Earth’s population is impossible to imagine. Our culture did that for years when pictorial representations of biblical characters appeared to be from northern Europe?blue eyes, auburn hair, pale skin and the like.

I find no fault in the variety of Midwestern’s display. People imagine according to their own experience since the Scriptures did not come with divinely inspired photographs. Those who do understand the cultural setting of the Scriptures should be held to a different standard, though. We are dealing with historical people and events. We should do nothing that might give people the idea they are merely symbolic.

Manger scenes are not cultural icons like Santa Claus. I know there was a Saint Nicholas but he wasn’t the big guy in the red coat and white beard. That is purely a modern American image. The fact that we now see Anglo, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and female Santas is no source of concern. Santa Claus represents whatever your community or family wishes.

But Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the animals, the angels, and the eastern magi were historical?fixed in time and space. If the donkey was gray, he was not white or black or brown. The people, except the magi, were Semitic and thus it was unlikely they were blond, blue-eyed, or Asian. It matters.

Some who would cloud the details of history have an agenda. They embrace selected details about Jesus’ birth, his teaching, and his death. They deny or spiritualize his resurrection. They want peace on Earth, good will toward men. They want to believe in some hopeful Buddhist way that the lion will lie down with the lamb. Thus we get science fiction or fantasy that projects a peaceful and unified world. Children’s stories show a reality without predators or prey. Bears and monkeys and lions and warthogs do elaborate dance numbers together instead of eating one another. What is this except a hopeless dream?

A godly instinct yearns for a peaceful kingdom but a rebellious heart despises the King and his law. We must hate such shortcuts. They give false hope and encourage the worship of outcomes rather than the coming Lord.

The Christmas story is often subject to revisionism, even by those among us who mean no harm. It’s important that we don’t imagine the principals in the biblical narrative as cuddly innocents, for example. I shudder at manger scenes filled with big-eyed child-like shepherds, and animals, and magi. These are products of a society that knows the difference but that doesn’t find the reality as charming as chubby cherubim floating over the stable.

The shepherds were rough outdoorsmen, not easily impressed I’d guess. Heavenly messengers were and said something that made an impression on them, though. The animals were smelly livestock?meat and wool and milk on the hoof. Joseph was a logger?strong, resolute, and given charge over the infant Messiah. Baby Jesus was fully a human baby (and fully God) who cried like babies do.

The rough and realistic truth of the Nativity is of a piece with the Passion story. To downplay the gritty humanity of the biblical characters in the gospel story is to suck some meaning from the great story. The plain, almost desperate conditions of Jesus’ birth give us a veiled insight into the degree that the Son condescended when he took human form.

We cannot imagine the limitations he accepted except as we can imagine the infinite characteristics of God or his tri-unity. The poverty of his circumstances and the commonness of the newborn King’s attendants give us a small, comprehensible vision of it?if we don’t bathe and shave the shepherds or give the cows a sense of rhythm (“the ox and lamb kept time, bar-rump-a-pum-bum”).

On the other end, we cannot begin to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The separation that occurred in the godhead when he took on our sin is the most awesome event of eternity to that point (trumped only by what occurred three days later). For us to get anything of that, the trial had to be horribly unfair, the beatings uncommonly brutal, the cross heavy, his companions vile, and his death excruciating. These are not the things that Jesus dreaded but they are crucial to startle us with the significance of that day. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” served us well in this cause. To show us the spiritual violence of the Crucifixion, we need to see his humanity brutalized in a way that was shocking and sickening.

Realism honors God in a way that unrestrained imagination cannot. A story in which the characters, even personified animals or invented creatures, behave as real persons might show us something true. It is not necessary the author have a consciously biblical intent so long as what he says about the world is biblical so far as it goes. Utopian imaginations, on the other hand, imply a means to obtain paradise. Simplistic versions seem to be based on the thought that we can just decide to be better. More commonly, it is assumed that evolution or education will take us there. This is unbiblical, counter-intuitive and outside observable reality. The desire for perfection is fine; the biblical understanding of its obtaining is a non-negotiable, and beyond the comprehension of those outside of Christ.

CHURCH TECHNOLOGY: Worldwide web has changed way most Baptist churches communicate their mission

For many Texas churches, the last few years have changed the way they communicate within the church walls and without. In that time, large and small congregations have established Internet websites, creating dynamic and helpful presences on the worldwide web.

A decade ago, Texas Baptists were likely to use several methods to gain the information they needed about local churches. Telephone directories could be used by a new community resident to locate a church, yet these usually provided little more than a phone number and address. Church bulletins and newsletters often served as the only means of receiving announcements and event calendars. For other questions, phone calls to the church office might be the only available tool–and getting after-hours help could be quite difficult.

Now, however, SBTC churches across the state have built homes on the Internet, providing locations that combine the functions of all these tools–and often provide other new and creative conveniences.

For each church site, the purposes, features and uses differ, reflecting the diversity of SBTC congregations. For Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston, a web presence serves mostly “to provide information to visitors and members about our church,” said Jay Ghormley, CRBC’s music and administration minister, who oversees the development of the church’s site. Ghormley describes the church’s site (www.gocrbc.org) as “similar to a business website,” providing necessary information such as location, contact information and service times.

For example, on Clay Road’s main page, one can find a short welcome and description from the pastor, information about the upcoming weekend’s services, advertisement about important upcoming church activities and an automatically updated listing of “Today’s Events” at the church.

But the site also includes other helpful links for members and the community, including an extensive Prayer Ministry section. “Our prayer response form allows information to be forwarded to the church office,” Ghormley said. “[Requests] are sent to a designated e-mail address that reaches the church office and staff.” Furthermore, individuals can sign up online to receive these requests via email themselves, allowing them to serve as “prayer warriors” from across town or across the nation.

Clay Road also provides a unique “Visitor Feedback” page on its site, which Ghormley describes as “basically an online version of the guest information form” in the church’s bulletin. The form allows recent worship service visitors to record their impressions of the church, and this information is sent directly to staff members. While the form has been used infrequently to this point, the church hopes greater publicity will send community members to the site after their visits to the church.

Johnie Murphy’s congregation, West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe, felt the need to establish a web presence because of the growing use of computers by church members. “Because of the way technology is coming into people’s homes, they wanted to be a part of that,” said Murphy, who serves as the graphics and communications director at the church. Her job includes maintaining the church’s online locale (www.westconroebc.org).

When first visiting the site, viewers access a “digital tract,” a high-tech, eye-pleasing gospel presentation “splashed” across the screen. Many church sites provide a similar evangelistic appeal within the site, although the quality of the presentation and its inclusion as the first image make the WCBC tool particularly unique. As with many of the tools used on church sites, the presentation comes from an outside source; in this case the “tract” is provided by Digitracts.com, which is partnered with the American Tract Society.

While the digital gospel presentation adds to West Conroe’s site, Murphy is particularly proud of another of the site’s features. “The best thing we’ve done is to have our church calendar up there,” she said. “It is such a connection between the membership and the place and the people who work here. It’s critical.”

As is clear from visiting many church sites, activity calendars are one of the primary features of churches’ websites. WCBC’s calendar is especially detailed, containing at the time of publication around 80 entries for November.  The listed items range from weekly activities, such as Wednesday night meals, to special events like “Quilt ‘Til You Wilt,” an activity to be held in mid-November by the church’s quilting ministry.  Each event listing on the calendar can be “clicked” to view times, location, a description of the activity, and someone to contact for more information.  Anytime during the week, calendar items can be easily placed by anyone on the church’s staff.

Few members recognize that Murphy maintains the church’s site, so it is hard for her to gauge its effectiveness consistently. This is a common difficulty for “webmasters” (who occasionally refer to themselves as “webservants” instead), because site visits and use can be hard to track.  Still, Murphy sees her job as an important ministry.  “[Developing the website] is my talent,” she said.  “So when I’m able to express what my talent is, that gives me gratification.  Whether they go to [the page] or not, it’s my job, and I’m going to do it to the fullest extent I can.”

Murphy encourages churches that have a site to find a staff member or volunteer who has the time to maintain the site properly. Too often, she notes, churches “want to have a web presence, but they try to take those secretaries who are already overworked” and add the site to their list of responsibilities.  “If you want to keep the site halfway up to date, you’ve got to have somebody who is allowed to spend time on it.  It’s very time consuming.”

But Murphy sid even churches that are strapped for resources and time can—and should—establish a useful page on the Internet. “If you only have one page, then start there,” she suggested.  “As you grow, grow the site.”

Often, churches find that websites provide options unavailable in other ministry venues. For the recent national and local elections, for example, West Conroe included an article on its site urging Christians to vote.  “I don’t usually put articles on the front page,” Murphy said, “but it’s something I wanted visitors to see when they came.”  Thus this emphasis complemented the church’s other election activities, which included aiding registration and serving as a polling location.

Like many site developers, Murphy makes use of an outside source for her church’s site needs. In West Conroe’s case, a company called ChurchSquare.com provides not only “space” for the site, but tools and customer help, as well.  “It’s a very user-friendly way,” Murphy said.  And she encourages churches to do the same.

“Find a web-hosting service that provides more of a service than just a spot,” she said. When a church uses these helps, Murphy said even those with little tech knowledge can maintain a quality page.

Several SBTC churches use similar services. Southern Baptists have one helpful option in LifewayLink, which partners with Praktikos Technologies to provide help for many online Baptist organizations.

However a site is designed and whatever features it contains, a church’s web presence should be seen as a true extension of its current ministry, said David Sparks, a deacon at Trinity Baptist Church of Lewisville and webmaster of the church’s online location (www.trinity-babptist.com).

“The overall approach to a church website should sync with the direction and approach of the pastor and staff,” he said. “All church sites are ultimately a reflection of that church’s direction and priorities.”

For Trinity, the church’s particular philosophy has led members to create a site “primarily designed for first-time visitors looking for a Baptist church in the area,” Sparks explained.

“As a result, I am driven by the strong belief that the Holy Spirit will use our site as an outreach tool.”

But can a church on a limited budget still create and maintain an effective website? “Absolutely,” said John Bell, who also helps oversee Trinity Baptist’s site and serves as the church’s associate pastor of music and worship.

“You can have a website with a small budget,” he said, adding that prices for keeping such sites on the web have come down in recent years.

Murphy agreed that a site could be maintained with limited resources. Her church pays $49 a month for the Internet space and the package includes several amenities.

And Bell noted, despite any time and expense involved, an online presence is important for today’s church.  “You have to have a website,” he said.  “People are looking for it.”

CHURCH TECHNOLOGY: Lewisville church finds value in website

LEWISVILLE–“Welcome to Trinity, a congregation in North Central Texas centered on Jesus, focused on the Bible, supportive of missions, and seeking the ancient paths.”

This is the opening “blurb” on the website of Trinity Baptist Church of Lewisville, one of many SBTC church sites that prove smaller congregations can maintain helpful and well-designed Internet locations.

David Sparks, deacon at Trinity and webmaster of the church’s website, said that the site simply meets the needs of modern churchgoers. “I would say we’ve had the site online for more than four years,” he said. “Those who managed the site back then knew that one day everyone would have Internet access, and that the Internet would be how most folks did research on something. They were right.

Although the design and layout have drastically changed since then, the basic content remains the same, but now in an expanded form. “We’ve always wanted the first-time site guest to discover basic information about the church,” he said.

Despite Sparks’ claim that the site he maintains is “nothing fancy,” Trinity’s Internet location (www.trinitybaptist.com) provides a wide range of creative and helpful features, beyond the usual site areas displaying a church’s staff, ministries and history. For instance, Trinity’s “Missions” page contains helpful links to information about the church’s many outreach activities. A special “Video Clips” page allows members and visitors alike to view recent church video displays, from a Mother’s Day tribute film to seven minutes of highlights from a recent children’s “Mini-Camp.” Likewise, Sunday worship bulletins from the last several weeks are available directly from the site’s front page.

Yet even with all these aspects, the information is presented in an organized, eye-pleasing way. “There are many excellent church sites that have more advanced design tools while keeping content clear and easy,” Sparks said. “We took the approach that the more simple and clear a site is, the more people want to return to it. [A visitor’s] senses are not assaulted while enjoying the site. In today’s busy world, messages need to be simple, clear, and understandable, especially when conveying the gospel.”

Sparks said his job involves more than simply placing information in people’s hands. “My passion as webmaster revolves around my strong desire to honor God with all the excellence I can bring forth in my role,” he said. “That’s why I try to make the site as clean, professional looking, and full of helpful content as I possibly can.”

Sparks said he aims for the site to mirror the ministry of the church, including the church’s “paramount importance [on] Bible exposition” and its “tribute given to theologians and preachers who have gone before us.” To do that, Trinity’s site includes an extensive online sermon archive. Not only does this include audio messages from Sunday services dating to the beginning of the year, but it also includes key sermons from J.I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A.W. Tozer and others.

How does a church begin building its online presence? After determining the site’s purpose, “a commitment must be made by all involved,” Sparks said. “It’s a big commitment, and no one without passion to help with the site should volunteer.”

John Bell, associate pastor at the church, encourages designers to “Check your own church for resident geeks” to help with the process. “It’s the best way to keep control of your website. They do have to be committed, because it is a hard job keeping the site updated.”

Sparks recommends creating an Internet “subcommittee” at the church, which could report to the church’s outreach ministry. After creating “trial” sites, the webmaster should seek a consensus about the site’s design and functions. “But be prepared to make recommendations if you are the webmaster,” he said, “especially if you have the trust of your staff and committee members.”

Finally, Sparks said “make an announcement that you’re looking for members from each ministry to help keep the site current, and move forward from there.”

As you proceed, those involved in maintaining the site must “communicate well with the church staff.”

The site has been helpful for the congregation and an online presence has helped bring those from the community to the congregation as well.

“I am amazed by the number of guests who show up and mention they found us because of our website,” Bell remarked.

“We are using the site to attract guests to our church, by finding out as much about our church as they would like-from activities to beliers,” Bell said. “I can’t say I’ve been surprised by much of anything” when it comes to the website, “except possibly the number of hits”—80,000 visitors to the site per month.

To illustrate, Sparks recalled a family who recently visited the church after viewing several of the church’s online features. “The father found our website and downloaded several of Pastor Bandy’s sermons,” he said.  “He also downloaded the online sermon notes, and, using both, evaluated us.  He then found our AWANA page, since his kids were involved [in that ministry] in their previous church.  As a result, the family visited our church on Sunday morning.”

CHURCH TECHNOLOGY: Some churches create ministry-specific sites




LUFKIN?When the youth and parents of Denman Avenue Baptist Church in Lufkin need information about the church’s student ministry, the church’s online site (www.dabconline.org) is not the place to go. Instead, Denman Avenue has joined the ranks of churches devoting unique space?with a unique site address?to a particular ministry within the church. In this case, church members find the student ministry of Denman Avenue at souledoutministry.org.

“I created the site because so many of our students were talking about how much time they spend on the web,” said Keith Nash, associate pastor of youth and activities at Denman Avenue. “It was originally created as a tool to get information to our students about programs and events.”

Now, while the main purpose of the site has continued to be informational, Nash said he has also expanded its role as “a way for our students and their friends to learn more about the ministry of our church and student ministry.”

One of the key attractions on the site is its photos of youth, Nash reported. “Definitely the picture page is where most students go first,” he said.”I decided a long time ago that kids ? love to see pictures of themselves.So that has really been the success for our website as a whole.”

Because the site’s pictures have become so popular, Nash has worked to post unique photos as much as possible. Recalling one recent instance, he said, “The night of the city’s proms, I went to the prom as the kids arrived and took pictures as they went in.That night, I uploaded the pictures onto our site. Lots of our students commented on Sunday morning about seeing their own pictures and pictures of those who went.” Nash has also uploaded pictures from sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and other activities.

The website’s pictures don’t only draw students, but they bring parent visitors, as well. Recently, parents of middle school youth were especially glad to have access to the site. “This last summer several of our parents of seventh-graders had really worried about their students going off to camp for the first time,” he said. “So we dedicated the first day of web pictures to the seventh-graders at camp.I had so many moms thank me for those pictures.Many said their feelings were put at ease to see their son or daughter having a blast at camp.”

Other areas of the Denman Avenue youth site are geared toward adults, as well. For example, a “downloads” page contains registration forms for youth events, and the site also includes a section with resources for ministry volunteers.

While many church sites simply place each ministry within the original online location, Nash said a separate page could help any ministry thrive.

“We are able to highlight and devote more space to youth ministry without taking out space from our church page,” he stated. “Also, the ability to have separate domains has a real benefit when [Internet users are] searching.Instead of having one site, you have two or multiple sites where you can get hits from people looking for information about your church.”

Even though maintaining a separate site for a specific ministry may take a little more time or expense, Nash said the effort is worth it. “Having two separate websites allows you to have double exposure,” he said.And, “I just really believe [it is important] to focus on the individual ministries through your website.”

Criswell students and faculty participate in ‘Harvest Day’ evangelism blitz

DALLAS?Students from The Criswell College took a field trip?one very different from trips to the zoo and the museum they might have taken in junior high school. This field trip had eternal significance.

On a recent Wednesday morning, students, faculty and administrators of the college met for Harvest Day, a one-hour evangelism blitz in the neighborhood around the college. Students met first to pray in the chapel, pick up “Heroes” gospel tracts and receive brief instructions. The instructions, given by Alan Streett, evangelism professor at the college, were simple: gather in groups of three, be yourself, be friendly and introduce yourself to the people in the neighborhood.

After the instruction time, the 300 missionaries flooded the streets around the east Dallas campus in the shadows of downtown’s skyscrapers. The groups entered businesses, knocked on doors, talked to people on the streets, prayed with folks at nearby Baylor Hospital and passed out nearly 3,000 tracts.

The neighborhood around The Criswell College is multi-faceted. Once an affluent part of the city, during the last couple of decades it has become an area known for crime, drug deals and gang wars. One street, Swiss Avenue, with its spacious homes, still gives a glimpse into the area’s more prosperous past.

In recent years, however, a renaissance of sorts has taken place. Crack houses have been torn down to make way for town homes, Brownstones, and other newly renovated upscale apartments. Some of the newer residents are doctors and nurses who work at Baylor, as well as business people working downtown.

The students and faculty from Criswell wanted to let all their neighbors?wealthy and poor?know that they were there and they cared and most importantly, God cared.

College President Jerry Johnson said he told the students to first introduce themselves and then ask, “How can I pray for you?”

When Johnson was a student at The Criswell College in the mid-1980s, Paige Patterson, then the college president, was the first to implement this type of evangelistic blitz.

“We [students] all thought it was a radical idea, an exciting idea, but everyone was a little uncertain, too, because we were going out,” Johnson said.

After he returned from his first missionary journey on the east Dallas streets, Johnson began seeing the vision God had given Patterson.

“It was a wonderful experience and I remember it even today,” Johnson said.

The current crop of Criswell students walked the streets for an hour, then returned to the chapel on campus for a time of sharing. About 20 people stood before their peers for 35 minutes and told of their experiences. They spoke of the fear and apprehension they felt before they left. They spoke of having to get out of their “comfort zone.” They laughed about the negative experiences (being cursed, avoided, etc.). And they rejoiced at the positive experiences (prayer, hugs, sharing the gospel, people accepting Christ).

But the most constant theme of the wrap-up time was the “divine appointments” students described as experiencing.

One student told of talking with a man holding a baby outside Baylor Hospital. The man had a patch over his eye from recent eye surgery. The student prayed with the man and shared the gospel with him and the man accepted Christ. The student said the man had surgery on his physical eyes, but God opened his spiritual eyes.

As Greta Canfield and the two others in her group began to witness in a small east Dallas convenience store, Canfield said she felt the Spirit’s tug to approach a female customer.

“God just directed me to that person,” Canfield said.

She told how the woman believed she had too many problems for God to overcome. She didn’t want to talk. Canfield, however, pressed on. She began asking questions to break down walls. With each answer the bricks in the wall began to crumble and the woman slowing began to understand that she had much in common with this particular messenger of G