Baptists make Nashville area focus of door-to-door soul saving

Nashville, USA - Do you know what it takes to get to heaven?

That's a question you might hear tomorrow if you live within a few miles of a Southern Baptist church when thousands of missionaries go door-to-door tomorrow seeking converts, with an invitation to the services of the church.

More than 10,000 volunteers have pledged to participate in the one-day evangelism blitz across Middle Tennessee, breaking the group's previous participation record of approximately 2,000.

Called Crossover Nashville, the door-to-door outreach will envelop about 1.3 million Tennesseans in a 40-mile radius of Metro Nashville. Serving as a pre-Southern Baptist Convention evangelism event, the effort has caught the attention of national news networks.

The SBC's annual meeting, which will be held in Nashville this year, is set for Tuesday and Wednesday.In addition to the door-to-door visitations, Crossover Nashville will include block parties, acts of kindness, a bikers rally and sports clinics as a means to minister to all walks of life.

"We can feel the excitement and energy growing," said Jay Johnston, director of LifeWay Christian Resources' evangelism and discipleship efforts. "Our purpose is to reach people for Christ, and I believe we have the potential to knock on more than 10,000 homes on Saturday."

The record number of evangelists expected is partly in response to SBC President Bobby Welch's call to action. Welch wants to move believers from the pews into the streets in an effort to "win, witness and baptize" 1 million people by October 2006.

"I think we have the potential of having one of the most thrilling meetings we've had in a long, long time," Welch said. "The purpose is to create a unity of purpose in the convention and to do so around evangelism."

This is the first time in recent memory that the convention is being held in Nashville. Most of the events, including a Crossover Celebration Service, are being held at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

The age-old practice of door-knocking missionary evangelism has been a potent force in various religious movements through the years, especially among such groups as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. The Southern Baptists have also found this method effective.

Since Crossover began in Las Vegas in 1989, more than 34,000 people have been converted and many new churches have been started, event organizers said.

Of course, there are those who cringe at the thought of a Bible-toting Christian coming to their doorstep. They may believe the missionary is trying to force religious beliefs on them. But Johnston contends that's a misconception.

The goal is to set up an appointment to have a personal discussion, answer any questions they may have and inform them of services available at their local church.

"Crossover means allowing the message of Jesus Christ to cross over the city," Johnston said. "We want to provide hope and encouragement to the people we meet and find out their needs. We're not going to be out there to get into a battle."

The Gospel will be shared only when "appropriate," he added.

The effort is a partnership between the North American Mission Board, SBC Executive Committee, Tennessee Baptist Convention and LifeWay Christian Resources. LifeWay is heading the door-to-door outreach.

The visitation teams are always sent in groups of three and will consist of members of about 145 churches and out-of-state volunteers. Part of the effort includes surveying residents about what they think their local churches should provide, such as adult literacy or divorce-recovery classes.

Amy Petery, 25, knows many people consider door-to-door witnessing annoying or a waste of time.

She sees it differently, saying those willing to reach out to their communities and knock on the doors of total strangers are servants of Christ.

"I've loved the Lord since I was 19," said Petery, a member of Park Avenue Baptist Church in west Nashville. Park Avenue will send out 31 teams in the Sylvan Park area, each planning an average of 40 visits. "I can't wait to tell others about how good he has been to me and how he can do the same for them."

Many of the volunteers said they're aware some people may pretend not to be home because they don't want to be disturbed. And others may be afraid to open their doors because of today's violent culture.

But a little anxiety won't stop the enthusiastic missionaries. At Two Rivers Baptist Church, one of Nashville's largest, 100 teams will spread out from the Opryland-area door. Its goal is to reach 4,000 homes.

"We've been preparing for this for months," said Jerry Highfill, associate pastor of evangelism and missions. "The thing we fear the most never happens . . . the main thing is to tell the story about Jesus and why he came. He came to give us the gift of grace."