In the summer of 2022, central Ohio churches of the Allegheny West Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (AWC) in the United States challenged their congregations to a public evangelism effort. Churches invited members from their local communities to participate in a citywide Bible study. Congregations united to host a series of giveaways and community events at multiple locations.
This outreach led to the start of the Impact Columbus – Sharing Hope Revival, a 21-day evangelistic series from August 20 to September 10, 2022. The meetings were hosted by the AWC and featured speaker and evangelist G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD). The nightly meetings, held at the tented Grand Pavilion of the Crown Plaza Columbus North Hotel in Worthington, Ohio, culminated in a corporate baptism in the hotel’s outdoor pool. Seventy new members were welcomed into the church as a result of the baptisms and professions of faith.
Initially scheduled for 2020, Impact Columbus plans were sidelined due to lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We enthusiastically accepted the opportunity when we were given a chance to do Impact Columbus again in 2022,” AWC executive vice president Joel Johnson said. “Our concentration was a citywide event, however, the most important thing to realize is that evangelism is not an event but a way of life.”
Johnson explained that the AWC wanted to reach the city of Columbus, aiming to use methods that did not exclude some of the very people they wanted to reach. “We aimed to reach people that communicate not only through the mail but also text and social media,” he said. “We had to find nonconventional ways of connecting with people to enroll them in Bible studies. We decided to schedule a series of ‘felt needs’ outreach events.”
The churches hosted a merchandise giveaway and distributed items that people needed; they gave away bicycles and organized two food giveaways where they were able to interact with people. “These were ways we met people in the community, made new friends, and gave invitations for Bible studies and the Impact Columbus meetings,” he added.
Reflecting on his first evangelism campaign as NAD president, Bryant said the revival’s timing was more significant post-pandemic than it would have been in 2020.
“With the pandemic hitting and closing everything down, I thought it was more critical coming out of the pandemic to move forward with a very comprehensive evangelistic approach in terms of the involvement of multiple churches. We’re all still feeling our way through this pandemic and I think people need hope now more than ever,” he said.
The NAD president noted that planning and executing the meetings was not without challenges. With many conferences and unions engaged in NAD Multiply focus for 2021-2025, workers were limited. “This is our year of ‘multiply,’ and some of the conferences and unions that decided to move forward with it also have [a] public evangelism emphasis this year, which left Bible workers in short supply.”
Bryant added, “Several Bible workers I had worked with before were severely impacted by the virus. Some had spouses that passed, or they themselves are now experiencing long-term effects of the virus. Our ability to carry out home visits was also affected. We noticed people were reluctant to open their doors to someone standing there with a mask. We were also unsure how people would receive us if we didn’t wear a mask.”
While acknowledging his initial concern for the many challenges posed by the pandemic, Bryant also highlighted newfound opportunities in the church’s ability to share the gospel post-COVID-19.
“The opportunities are tremendous. The lockdowns put such a strain on our society in terms of interaction. It was all very nebulous what the future would be and how to even navigate the present. But it gave us an opportunity to try to offer hope. We were able to give a positive view of not only this life but of the life to come,” he said.
Bryant hopes that members will view the work of evangelism as one that every believer is called to do. “I hope that doing it myself will help inspire others to become engaged in the work of public evangelism. I hope they see that this is everyone’s work, not just the work of the pastor,” Bryant said. “God has called all of us to do this work. We must be very intentional by going out to reach people and not just waiting for them to come to us. Although we all have different gifts and talents that we bring to the table, God has called each of us to use those talents for Him in proclaiming the good news of the gospel.”
Welcome to the Family
As new members are welcomed into the church family, Bryant counseled churches to give them the support and space to grow in their new journey.
“The first thing we need to remember is that they are new; they are babes in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. [The] journey is a new one and a complete lifestyle change, whether going to church on Sunday or not. It is a totally different lifestyle, and we must recognize that it is a significant step that they have made,” he said. “They may not have all the Adventist culture down or maybe even all the Adventist doctrines down as those of us who have been in the church for many years. Nevertheless, they have committed to and accepted Christ as their personal Savior. We need to be there to help nurture them and give them space to grow.”
He reiterated, “We need to … remind ourselves that although Adventism comes naturally to those of us who have been in the church a long time, it doesn’t come naturally to them. It will take time. We must give them time and space to grow in Christ and to grow into the culture of the Adventist Church.”
In his closing remarks to the Impact Columbus team, Bryant underscored the tremendous effort made by the AWC administrators, pastors, and members to accomplish a successful evangelism effort. He commended the team for being able to “pull this off” despite the pandemic’s ongoing challenges and credited the meetings’ success to the integral role played by AWC members and local Bible instructors.
“The coming together of multiple churches for an evangelism effort is a very exciting opportunity to try to reach people and to have a collaborative approach that we don’t often get a chance to do. The pastors strongly supported the effort, the conference administrators and departmental directors all came together, and without them coming together there’s no way we could have done this. I appreciate the efforts that they put forward, and I believe that the Lord is going to bless as a result,” he said.
Continuing What’s Been Started
During his remarks at the close of the three-week revival, AWC president Marvin C. Brown III expressed gratitude. “This has been one of the most amazing experiences that we’ve had in Columbus in decades!” he exclaimed.
“To our new believers, we’ve had one of the top Seventh-day Adventist leaders in the world preaching for us for the last three weeks. We have been extremely honored and blessed to have him,” Brown added.
After the series, Brown hopes the churches continue the outreach and evangelism trend. “Going forward, the most important aspect of evangelism begins now with discipleship. Receiving new babes is easy. Our challenge now is to create an irresistible environment for our new believers to be loved, nurtured, affirmed, cared for, and fed a holistic diet and approach to the Word of God,” Brown said.
“These new babes in Christ will not be abandoned. And it will be vital for them to be taught how to reproduce what they’ve found in Christ in their friends and family. Our evangelistic thrust, or mission, will be accomplished when our new members are mentoring and maturing,” he said.