Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nascar evangelism

You have heard me say many times that evangelism must be the engine that drives the church. Well one church has given a whole new meaning to the phrase, “start your engines.” The following is from ESPN The Magazine (May 22, 2006).

On Easter Sunday a crow-black 1997 Goodwrench stock car sat in the parking lot at Bayside Community Church in Brandenton, Fla., as nearly 1000 people braved a long line to get their picture taken standing next to it. This was quite a gathering: the three-year old church drew twice as many worshipers as for a typical Sunday service.

Easter is the most popular day to go to church in America, so perhaps all the extra people were called by a higher power, or a guilty conscience. Or maybe some of them worship NASCAR (this is Florida, after all). Whatever the reasons, Bayside achieved its goal: more people in the pews. The show car, of course, was made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove this particular whip at Richmond, Martinsville, Phoenix and Loudon.

Bayside rented the ride from RCR Racing for upward of $3,000. Lead pastor Randy Bezet even wrote a sermon inspired by the car. After listening to The Race of Life ("Sometimes in life we need a pit stop, we need to get our wheels changed, to get refueled, and when you're going around the track, you can't do it alone"), each congregant received a ticket for the once-in-a-lifetime photo op. They were also encouraged to return the next Sunday to pick up their pics. "On Sundays, any church competes against going to the beach or football games or watching NASCAR," says Gregg Ellery, a church volunteer who handed out NASCAR memorabilia to the folks in line. "I think churches today are more aware of this competition. We just want to stay relevant...."

You know I love sports, but honestly, I do not consider NASCAR a real sport (or golf for that matter). I just have never been able to get into watching these cars go in circles for hours. However, I realize that there are many who follow NASCAR religiously. On our own church staff we have at least three individuals who are “NASCAR junkies.” I won’t give their names so as not to embarrass them but their initials are Andrew Norton, Elaine Bendinsky and Bryan Nelson.

I applaud this church for their creativity in using our culture today as a tool to get people under the sound of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul was willing to become all things to all men so that some could be saved. In other words, he had “A MAP” for evangelism which was to win “As Many As Possible.” My mentor, Steve Peters, who was my Senior Pastor for my first 10 years in ministry, used to say, “We are free to do anything but sin to reach people for Jesus.” Yes, I completely understand that salvation is 100% a work of God. He is the one who draws people to Himself and He is the one who saves them. But He has given us a role…“How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how can they hear unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14)

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