As Derek Staples prepared for a mission trip to Honduras, he was on the lookout for a visual way to express the gospel. The church mission team, in setting up a medical clinic at a local school, would be sharing the gospel with people in a pre-literate environment.
Staples’ outreach got a lift at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June when he heard a fellow pastor, Jimmy Scroggins, talk about the "3 Circles."
"I thought it [3 Circles] was an incredible visual representation of the gospel," said Staples, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ala., who led a volunteer team to the Central American country in July. "Most of the people in Honduras," he noted, "can’t read or write."
Staples preached about 40 times and witnessed at the clinic using the 3 Circles as an outline. Nearly 600 people trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior during First Baptist’s mission trip.
Staples now plans to train members in his church how to use 3 Circles to share their faith, noting, "I’m always trying to give my people as many tools as possible to help them effectively share the gospel.
"This is a memorable, easy way to explain how anyone can have a personal relationship with Christ."
Staples is among a growing number of Southern Baptists using 3 Circles, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) evangelism tool to share the gospel through personal evangelism and preaching – and to train others in sharing their faith.
Scroggins, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., who described 3 Circles during NAMB’s presentation at the SBC in Baltimore, developed it to train and mobilize his congregation for personal evangelism in a post-Christian environment.
The tool helps people use three simple circles that represent God’s Design, Brokenness and the gospel – which can be drawn, for example, on a napkin during lunch – to communicate the gospel. NAMB has produced a variety of resources to help support pastors who want to train their churches to use 3 Circles, including free Apple and Android apps, a conversation guide, a PowerPoint presentation and online videos. The 3 Circles tool is part of a larger set of resources NAMB is releasing this year around a "Life On Mission" theme centered on mobilizing all believers for the mission of God.
David Burton, director of evangelism for the Florida Baptist Convention, trained 700 students in 3 Circles at the state’s Super Summer camp earlier this year. Students particularly liked the fact that their smartphones could be among the ways they share the gospel, he reported.
Burton, who typically teaches evangelism at two conferences and one church each week, said the 3 Circles tool will be a staple in his presentations.
"I think 3 Circles is going to be something that people will catch hold of because you don’t have to have an app, you don’t have to have tools, you don’t have to have your Bible to do this," Burton said. "As Jimmy [Scroggins] says, you just need to have a napkin or a piece of paper or the back of your hand."
Ohio church planter Randy Chestnut, who started Hope Community Church in Dayton, used the 3 Circles tool to lead a teenager he had been witnessing to for two years to faith in Christ. After listening to the 3 Circles presentation at the SBC annual meeting, Chestnut said he asked two teenage brothers to listen to "something interesting" he had heard. Following the presentation, one of the boys committed his life to Jesus.
"In my context [in downtown Dayton], we can talk about what brokenness is and the evidences of it all around – poverty, crime, drug addiction," Chestnut said. "You can start with that second circle [Brokenness] and then go back to the first circle and say, ‘Well, that wasn’t a part of God’s design.’"
Chase Smith of Fellowship Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ill., taught a three-week series on evangelism called "Go Tell It on the Mountain." The final sermon in the series focused on how to share the gospel. Having discovered the 3 Circles tool through Twitter, Smith gave the congregation copies of the 3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide before the training.
One of the things Smith appreciates about the 3 Circles tool is that churches of any size can incorporate it into what they’re doing.
"This is something every church can do," said Smith, whose church averages 50-60 people on a typical Sunday. "You can present it in a way that’s easy. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in a seminary class or you’ve only been a pastor for a short time, you can talk about each of these circles without much prep work. As a small church pastor, I love that it’s so easy to do."
Pastors of several large SBC churches have incorporated the 3 Circles presentation into their sermons. Former SBC president Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., led his congregation through the tool on Aug. 10, while another former SBC president, Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., shared the tool in a sermon on Aug. 17. Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd preached through the 3 circles on Aug. 24.
For more information about 3 Circles and the tools NAMB has created to help churches teach the method to their members, including a new book "Life on Mission" slated for release Sept. 1, click here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)