FRESNO—The California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) led one of the Golden State’s largest evangelistic campaigns last year. But the convention’s evangelism team didn’t realize it until they started adding up the numbers from a grant program to help churches share the Gospel.
As they counted the 1,200 professions of faith in Christ through the program in 2022, they happened upon a wonderful surprise. The total number of people to hear Gospel presentations through grant-funded events was an eye-popping 90,192. That’s more than the 51,000 who heard the Gospel at evangelist Greg Laurie’s 2022 Southern California Harvest Crusade or even the 81,000 who heard the Gospel in the Rose Bowl the last night of Billy Graham’s final California crusade in 2004.
“We didn’t intend to count total people to hear the Gospel,” said Jason Blankenship, leader of the CSBC evangelism initiatives team. “But we stumbled on the 90,000 stat and celebrated.”
The evangelism grant program was launched several years ago when the CSBC rethought its approach to statewide evangelism training. Because it’s nearly impossible to hold one statewide conference sharing strategy to reach all 40 million California residents, the convention adopted a regional approach. Associations would host regional evangelism training events, with attending churches becoming eligible to apply for grants to help fund their evangelistic endeavors. One condition for receiving a grant is reporting detailed statistics to the CSBC about the funded event.
Last year, 230 churches were represented at 24 regional evangelism workshops across the state. Of those churches, 199 received evangelism grants. They shared the Gospel with an average of 453 people per event.
That approach benefits small and large churches alike, says Tito Villegas, pastor of Rise Church in Fresno. The congregation of approximately 100 worshipers received a grant this year that helped them share the Gospel with 321 people during a conglomeration of Holy Week activities. Two people were baptized that week, and three made first-time professions of faith in Christ.
“Friends from other denominations and other states are taken back that our state gives out funds for evangelism,” Villegas said. “If you’re not a large church or a megachurch,” it can be difficult to “do events that reach hundreds of people.”
The regional evangelism workshops are key to the grant program’s success. Blankenship’s aim in the workshops is to help churches find their “evangelistic sweet spot,” he said.
Churches are trained to make three lists: their community’s needs, their church’s strengths and the ways their pastor best relates to people. The point at which those three lists converge indicates what type of evangelistic event they should hold.
Every church has an evangelistic sweet spot, Blankenship said. He illustrates that reality using the hypothetical example of a church comprising eight senior adult ladies. If the community had a high percentage of single-parent homes, the ladies could hold a cooking class on how to prepare quick and easy meals, advertise it on Facebook and conclude the class with a cookoff where the church’s pastor shared the Gospel.
“Pastors tell their people to witness,” Blankenship said. “But until it becomes a goal and a specific strategy, evangelism is merely aspirational.”
An evangelism grant helped bring 300 people to an Easter outreach at First Baptist Church in Kernville, 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield. Six people professed faith in Christ through the event. First Baptist averages just over 100 people in weekly worship attendance.
“Pastors really appreciate” the evangelism grants, First Baptist pastor Ben Richey said. “How amazing it is that there are people that are willing to help flow money to smaller churches that don’t necessarily have a lot of money to enable them to do the things God has called them to do.”
Blankenship urges other state conventions to try similar programs. His goal this year is for 100,000 people to hear the Gospel through grant-funded events. A series of smaller training sessions and grants can have a bigger impact than one big statewide conference, he said.
“If 25 people attend an evangelism workshop, attendance feels bad,” Blankenship said. “But 200 churches attending 24 workshops had a huge long-term effect. We’re looking at long-term goals. In evangelism, we want to be a marathoner, not a sprinter.”