Pastors Pitch Evangelism Ideas in Search for Funding

At the CALLED convention, 15 projects are awarded a total of US$120,000.

Rachel Scribner, North American Division, and Adventist Review
Pastors Pitch Evangelism Ideas in Search for Funding
Taurus Montgomery celebrates after learning that his basketball ministry has just won a US$20,000 grant for innovation. [Photo: Rayno Victor, Lake Union Herald]

The North American Division Ministerial Association awarded a total of US$120,000 to 15 pastors as part of an “evangelism shark tank” competition for innovative soul-winning ideas at the 2022 CALLED Pastors’ Family Convention.

The 15 finalists were chosen from more than 100 applicants to present their ideas on the Rupp Arena mainstage at the convention in Lexington, Kentucky on June 22. Each evening, from June 19 to 21, five pastors pitched their idea, and each received some funding for their project, with the amount dependent on placement in that evening’s competition.

Dustin Serns receives a US$20,000 check for his evangelistic effort to plant churches through free health clinics. [Photo: Heidi Baumgartner, Washington Conference]

“Someone asked me, ‘Why did you do the evangelism shark tank?’ ” José Cortes Jr., Ministerial Association associate director for evangelism, said. “Evangelism is not about methods. Evangelism is about people,” Cortes said. “So, if a method doesn’t work, you do away with that method, and you bring in a method that helps you reach people.”

On Wednesday morning, June 22, Cortes presented each finalist with a giant ceremonial check: US$20,000 for the three who won first place, US$10,000 for the second-place winners, and US$5,000, US$3,000, and US$2,000 for third, fourth, and fifth-placed finishers, respectively.

On Sunday night, June 19, Dustin Serns, pastor of LifeBridge Seventh-day Adventist Church in University Place, Washington, United States, earned the $20,000 first prize with an idea for planting new churches by hosting free health clinics. Serns had already seen some success, and even baptisms with early versions of the concept. “When our team started these free health clinics, we didn’t realize this is also a key to planting Adventist churches in secular areas,” Serns said during his presentation.

The 15 evangelism “shark tank” finalists hold up their checks for a photo at the conclusion of the 2022 CALLED Pastors’ Family Convention on June 22. [Photo: Heidi Baumgartner, Washington Conference]

Nitza Salazar, the Children’s Ministries director for the Washington Conference, won the US$20,000 prize on Monday night, June 20, with a pitch to expand her “Special Stars” Christmas program, a pageant that centers on children with disabilities. “What I’m doing is not just putting on a Christmas program,” Salazar said during her pitch. “I’m ministering to those who our church has forgotten. I’m giving voice to those kids who didn’t have a voice, and now they have … a stage to shine.” 

The third and final US$20,000 prize went to Taurus Montgomery from Harbor of Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Montgomery plans to expand his church’s basketball ministry to include character development programs at public schools, compassion projects for young people, and a sports-themed evangelistic series. “When my house burned down and we were homeless, an Adventist family welcomed my family into their home, and into their church,” Montgomery said during his pitch on Tuesday night, June 21. “That church had a basketball ministry. They planted the seeds that led me to Christ.”

Nitza Salazar presents photographs from her “special stars” Christmas pageant ministry. She won a US$20,000 grant that evening at the CALLED convention. [Photo: courtesy of Washington Conference Facebook account]

Other ideas presented during the three-night shark tank event included a pop-up, plant-based restaurant that leads up to an evangelistic event; a “Sabbath experience” gift box that members can share with friends and neighbors; a ministry designed to equip Pacific Islanders for sharing the gospel; and a soccer field with tournaments for area children, among other creative innovations.

As the winners held up their checks for a photo, Cortes closed with a word of encouragement to the pastors not standing on the stage. “Your vision may be delayed, you may not have made it to the shark tank this time around, but that does not mean that your vision will not come to pass,” Cortes said. He encouraged every pastor to keep dreaming of “how God will use you and your church to reach the people who are not here yet.”

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.

Rachel Scribner, North American Division, and Adventist Review