The T-shirts say it all. “Ask me why I’m not in church” encourages people on the streets to ask just that of members of the Great Commission Church of Philadelphia, thereby initiating gospel conversations.
Three months a year during the Sunday School hour, before the COVID-19 pandemic changed things, Great Commission Church Pastor Larry Anderson dispersed church members into the community to engage people in gospel conversations. Often, people would respond to the provocative slogan.
“They say, ‘Why aren’t you in church? I’m curious.’ And then you say ‘Because we are the church. … So I’m here because of you.’” Anderson said. “And you begin dialogue. ‘I’m here loving on you because that’s what the Lord told me to do.’”
Anderson is newly elected president of the state directors of evangelism across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a group composed of leaders of evangelism efforts in the 41 state conventions. At the state level, Anderson is senior director and director of healthy churches for the Baptist Resource Network (BRN), a post that tasks him with facilitating evangelism efforts across the Pennsylvania/South Jersey convention.
Anderson sees this as an exciting time to lead Southern Baptists in sending out the church.
“The time is now for the church to show their value to the broken. We can do so much more with Jesus than they can with a stimulus check. We can bring relief in other ways,” Anderson said. “When you think about being sent out at this point, people have been locked out of jobs, locked out of their schools, locked out.
“And the things that happen, you see crime is on the rise all over. And a lot of this is due to the lack of a foundation, a lack of association, a lack of opportunities that are presented. And we as a church, we could be out feeding people, we could be out helping to bring healing to the hurting in various ways, as folks have been going through all sorts of displacement and mental anguish.”
Anderson will work to equip pastors and churches for evangelism in cooperation with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), where Johnny Hunt is senior vice president for leadership and evangelism.
“I am looking forward to working with brother Larry and will be praying God’s best for him as he steps into this important role,” Hunt said. “I am grateful for our directors of evangelism. We are all in this together and we are so much stronger and more effective when we work with each other.
“Sharing Jesus is something every believer can do and we all must do if we are to be obedient to our calling. I’m sensing that more pastors and churches are turning back to this first love, and I believe we will see a fruitful harvest if we are faithful (to the) task.”
Unity and diversity are among Anderson’s goals. He’d like to see greater collaboration among the states. He’ll encourage greater affiliation crossing state and ethnic boundaries to achieve greater fellowship and encouragement.
“Right now, we recognize the need to show a level of unity,” Anderson said. “And it’s about prayer, as obviously the SBC is going through some division. It’s going through some defections.
“It’s an interesting time. There are several places obviously where we could point to – challenging perspectives and attitudes, and even racism. But there are also some rooms where you can point to and you say, ‘Wow.’ There are some great things, some great collaborations, some love, some support that’s going on in some other places that don’t get the same attention that some of the negativity gets.
“It’s not to minimize the negativity. It’s not to just throw a smile on it, but when you have an organization this large, you’re going to have some good, some not so good.”
The national evangelism group holds monthly meetings via Zoom to share resources, hear from speakers and collaborate on evangelism efforts useful on a wider scale. The group holds its national meeting each fall, often in NAMB Send cities.
The evangelism phrase Anderson uses in Philadelphia is drawn from a 2019 book by the same name, Ask me why I’m not in church: A Call for the Church to Get out of the Building, coauthored by Anderson and D. Kyle Canty, NAMB Send City coordinator for Philadelphia.
“It’s just a book that shows a need for us to be in the community,” Anderson said, “a need for us to adopt locations, going back to a parish mentality of owning and loving where you’ve been placed for a reason, and understanding and exegeting your community in a way that you know how to connect with them.”
The book encourages the church to go into the community to share the gospel and actively serve where needed. Anderson said many churches have adopted the slogan and initiated community outreaches on Sundays.
“You have a presence in that community. And the strategy for that varies based on where the church is,” Anderson said. “I’m in Philadelphia, so we adopt a laundromat and give out quarters. We’ll adopt a strip mall and sweep and keep it clean.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)