By ROGER ALFORD, The Christian Index
CARNESVILLE, GA — Everyone living within a 7-mile radius of New Bethel Baptist Church has either had a personal visitation from the congregation or will soon.
Pastor Joey Gilbert believes knocking on doors is still the best way to reach people, especially in the rural south where hospitality almost always ensures a warm welcome and an invitation to sit down for a while.
Gilbert and his congregation are about three-quarters of the way through an initiative to visit every home in their sparsely populated section of northeast Georgia.
The results of the initiative, led by Outreach Minister Ryan Bennett, have been remarkable: more than 50 salvation decisions over the past year.
The people of New Bethel, who have seven baptisms scheduled for this Sunday, don’t stop at the invitation. They also offer a ride to the church on one of three congregation buses.
What Bennett discovered is that even parents who won’t go to church themselves want their children to go.
“They don’t want to change their lifestyle and they don’t want to give up their addictions,” Gilbert said. “But they want something better for their kids, and they appreciate us picking up their kids and bringing them to church and giving them a chance, giving them some hope.”
The door-to-door campaign led to significant growth in the church’s children’s and youth programs, which grew from a dozen children to about 85 on Wednesday evenings. Gilbert credits his youth pastor, Caleb Bond, with providing compelling and relevant Bible studies and worship experiences for those under 18.
“Kids love it,” Gilbert said.
Without Bennett’s outreach initiative, Gilbert said, children would have no way to learn about the youth program, nor any way to get to church.
“We’ve purchased two more 15-passenger vans over the past year, and if things continue to go the way they are, we’ll have to buy another one soon,” Gilbert said. “It’s because people respond when a church member takes the time to come to their house and offer personal invitations. Door knocking really works.”
Mike Blount, the Fellowship Missions Strategist for the Tugalo Baptist Association, said New Bethel shows that doing what Christians are called to do, going out and getting people, still works.
“The Bible says to go out by roads and hedges and compel them to come in,” Blount said. “Too many churches have stopped inviting and chasing people. We have strayed from the basics.
Some church leaders, Blount said, mistakenly believe that people don’t want someone to drop by to tell them about Jesus or invite them to church.
“Over the years I’ve knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors, and I can count on one hand how many people have been rude,” he said. “Most people are very welcoming.”
Gilbert, a bi-vocational pastor who is also a land surveyor, became a pastor in New Bethel in December 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Georgia. Like other churches, New Bethel went to online worship in early 2020, followed by drive-thru services.
As soon as the schools reopened, the church did the same. It was then that the church began to grow, reaching the current 160 people during Sunday morning worship. To accommodate the children, the church is preparing for a building expansion project.
“I grew up in a time and place where everyone in our community went to church, but that’s not the case anymore,” Gilbert said. “Nowadays it takes effort to get people in. You can’t just open the doors and expect the pews to fill up.”
Gilbert and his congregation looked at what they could do to reach their community. The answer they chose was a bus ministry.
“We can open the doors; we can have the best programs; we can have the most talented people, but if those kids can’t make it, they’ll never be reached,” he said. “That’s why we do this.”
And that’s why on Tuesday night, Ryan Bennett and the church evangelism team will be knocking on doors. If they don’t have the whole family in church, they will usually have at least the children.
“Our job is to reach people,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know of a better way to do that than to knock on their door and send them a personal invitation.”