Bryant Taylor D.Min.
He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him,” Psalm 126:6 NKJV.
It’s a situation we all have likely encountered at one time or another: someone who has drifted away from the Church. While we might mean well in our attempt to win that person back, we may not go about it the right way. As a matter of fact, we could push the person further away.
In April of this year, the Southern Union Conference held a virtual Personal Ministries and Sabbath School Conference that included discussion of appropriate ways to retrieve parishioners, how to win souls, and, most of all, how to be more like Christ. Mega Impact 2022 was broken down into a number of seminars that touched on topics like witnessing, spiritual gifts, digital ministry, and effective ways to engage children and young adults. Speakers of various backgrounds from across the Southern Union Conference provided Spirit-led insight.
Richie Halversen, director of church growth and revitalization for the Southern Union Conference, talked about what he calls the “small things that make a big impact.”
“My presentation was to really give people simple, practical ways to do ministry in the everyday things of life,” said Halversen. “If members do that, not just as a church growth strategy, but as Christians who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, then it will naturally lead to greater fruitfulness.”
Halversen stressed praying and listening. He said to pray for people in our communities, particularly those we know are “not churched.”
“We’re good at praying for our family, for our finances, and things like that; and that’s important,” he said. “But let’s pray for our neighbors, people who are not of our faith.”
And then, listen. “We’re very good at talking,” said Halversen. “But we don’t listen enough. And because we don’t, sometimes we give answers to questions people aren’t really even asking or at the place of asking.”
He challenged conference participants to listen to someone once a week who is not of their faith for at least 20 minutes. “When we listen to people more, we will know how to minister to their hearts more,” he said. “Jesus was always listening. He got to know people.”
Halversen added that the principles used to reach new people can also be applied to those who are no longer attending. He said when some church members run into someone they haven’t seen in a while, they immediately ask: Where have you been, or what rock did you crawl from under?
But he said the better address should be, good to see you; how are you doing, and then “listen to see why they left in the first place.”
Fred Batten Jr., pastor of Mount Olivet Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, agreed.
“Listen to what they have to say, and then the next part of your conversation should pick up on what they have communicated,” said Batten, whose seminar at the conference dealt with nurturing members and seeking the lost. “You can then pray with them and let the Holy Spirit touch that person’s heart.”
David Long, personal ministries and Sabbath School director for the Southern Union Conference, said church members should not be discouraged if they do not get the result they want after talking to a stray member, or someone unchurched.
“You may not get the immediate harvest you hoped for, but don’t let your zeal wane,” said Long. “Few fishermen catch a fish with the first bait they throw in the water. But the fishermen who continue to throw their lines in the water often reap great results they didn’t think possible. Psalm 126:6 NKJV says, ‘He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.’”
Abraham Guerrero, pastor of the South Atlantic Conference, said the Sabbath School class is one place to sow seeds, and he provided some suggestions for effective growth during his presentation at the Mega Impact Conference. For one, he said not to ask “questions that are difficult to answer even for a theologian with a Ph.D.”
“Tie simple questions to the subject you’re dealing with,” said Guerrero, who is also a professor at Andrews University in cross-cultural studies. “Instead of asking them to explain the theological significance of a particular Scripture, ask them, ‘What do you think God is telling you in this text?’ You can rely on their basic understanding; even if they have not studied the lesson, they’re able to interact.”
Michael Lewis is evangelism and church planning director for the South Central Conference. He said one way to reach people, regardless of their belief or where they are in life, is to let them see the good in you, the Christ-like character in you, through selfless actions.
“You so encapsulate Christ in the way you do things that people ask what it is about you that you will do things like this,” said Lewis, whose seminar discussion was on basic ways to reach people.
He told the story of a friend who had a unique yard sale. The man set items up like they were going to be sold, but he didn’t apply any prices to them. When people showed up, he gave them the items — for free. Another story Lewis shared was about a Seventh-day Adventist conference president who was at a Walmart, and took time to help a man put together an outfit for an important business meeting. When the man got ready to check out, he asked the conference president if he would check him out, thinking he worked at the store.
“The president told him he didn’t work there,” said Lewis. “The guy was astonished that this man would spend close to 40 minutes helping him get an outfit like he worked there, and he didn’t.”
Whether they realized it or not, the conference president and the man who gave items away at the yard sale were exercising forms of spiritual gifts, which everyone has, according to Michael Cooper, who leads personal ministries at the Summerville, Georgia, Church in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference.
“Each person, no matter who they are, has spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit,” said Cooper. “Connection with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis is necessary for us to be able to reach out.”
One way to broadly reach people is online, or digital ministry, which was a key topic at the conference. Kirk Nugent, a live video coach and digital church consultant, discussed the importance of the digital space in these last days.
“I try to encourage people of faith to really learn the space,” said Nugent. “It allows us to be more successful in reaching the people who need to hear the answers that we can provide. It’s far past time for us to really take a serious look at how we’re doing ministry online, and engage in a more meaningful way.”
One reason to embrace digital ministry is because it’s an effective way to reach youth and young adults, who were one of the main topics of the conference. Kathy Russell, children’s ministries director for the Carolina Conference, was one of several speakers who discussed how to better communicate with young people and connect them to Christ.
“If we want our children and our youth to be exposed to Jesus, to say yes to Him, we need to be intentional about how we reach them,” said Russell. “We need to encourage our members to get to know the children in their church, to know the youth. I know people are busy, but if we show interest in them, then they’re going to stay where people value them.”
Daylet Espinosa, a teacher and church leader in the South Atlanta Conference, also spoke about the importance of “reaching youth spiritually.”
“They are the future of our Church,” she said. “We need to equip them with the knowledge and the tools they will need to be the future leaders, and finish the Christian Gospel.”
To learn more about the Mega Impact seminars, visit the Personal Ministries page on the Southern Union Con- ference website at:
is a freelance writer and communications strategist who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Southern Union | July 2022