Fear, uncertainty open window of
opportunity for evangelism
(November 11, 2001)
Many Assemblies of God pastors across
the country have been preaching with a new fervency since the September
11 terrorist attacks upon New York City and Washington, D.C.
The tragedy has impacted the United
States in myriad ways, including how people view religion and morality.
Church attendance spiked beyond Easter levels. Military personnel rushed
to marry before shipping out. News Web sites displaced pornography as
the most frequent reason to use the Internet. Bible sales shot up. President
Bush, star athletes and movie stars invoked the name of God on television.
Divorce case dismissals soared. The prohibition against prayers in schools
and government offices suddenly seemed unimportant.
Millions of workers attended church
services on their lunch hours that first week. Congregations opened
their doors to allow people to cry out to the Lord. Spontaneous community
prayer gatherings demonstrated unity among Christian groups. While many
pastors say such a departure from the norm is likely to be short-lived,
the shock of the terrorist strikes and the subsequent uncertainty of
a prolonged war have created an unprecedented openness for evangelism.
Paul C. Kirk, pastor of Timbercreek
Assembly in Springfield, Mo., has implored his congregation to boldly
evangelize non-Christian friends and relatives while the window of opportunity
"Some of these changes are
temporary," Kirk says. "For example, our nations open
attitude toward prayer in public and our quest for help from our God
exist but for a small time."
"Ive told my people this
is the greatest platform theyll ever have in their lifetime to
share the gospel," says Bill Wilson, pastor of Portland (Ore.)
Christian Center. Wilson says he makes sure that he provides an opportunity
for salvation at every service as the number of non-Christian visitors
Feelings of uncertainty and insecurity
ran high, especially in Washington, D.C. "A lot of people realized
that the plane that went down in Pennsylvania could have hit here,"
says Pastor Mark A. Batterson, whose National Community Church is four
blocks from the U.S. Capitol. In the midst of fear, Batterson has been
preaching that refuge may be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
National Community Church had a
record attendance of 430 the Sunday after the calamity. "People
who wouldnt typically attend church were looking for a place to
find hope and solace," Batterson says. Church members offered spontaneous
prayers at a candlelight vigil near the Capitol on the night of the
Todd Hudnall, pastor of First Assembly
of God in Lufkin, Texas, says almost 2,100 people came to the church
the Sunday after the attack, 500 more than usual. The service included
an extended prayer time at the altar. "With the ongoing war on
terrorism, there is a greater sense of our need for God," Hudnall
says. "Ive sensed a greater unity in our church than Ive
felt in a long time. A lot of petty stuff doesnt matter anymore."
Dennis Lacy, pastor of Calvary Assembly
of God in Atlanta, helped to organize an interfaith community prayer
service the week after the terrorist strikes. The church also is producing
30-second television commercials that deal with apprehension. "They
dramatize Gods answers to our fears," Lacy says.
Fifteen national Christian leaders,
including Assemblies of God General Superintendent Thomas E. Trask,
Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and Campus Crusade for Christ
founder Bill Bright issued a "Biblical Response to Americas
National Emergency." The appeal urges Christians to "repent
of our past path of sin."
The appeal calls the catastrophe
a defining moment for the church. "Seldom, in the history of our
country, have people been as open to the gospel," the statement
says. The leaders urge Christians to pray and fast in order to turn
the tragedy into revival.
For a revival to happen, people
will need to rely on the Lord daily, not just in times of crisis, Wilson
says. "The initial response of churches filling up was out of fear,"
he says. "I hope that serves as a catalyst for spiritual renewal
rather than people going back to their old ways."
"The planes penetrated more
than steel and concrete; they penetrated hardened hearts," Kirk
says. "May we with compassion and boldness deliver the help that
the world needs most, the Lord Jesus Christ."