Monday, January 21, 2008

Excerpt from Adventures of An Optimist About Saving More Souls

Good morning, Spiritual People!

Are you feeling motivated this morning?

I hope so. I know that I am!

I also hope that 2008 will be your best year so far.

I thought you might also enjoy reading the chapter of Adventures of an Optimist that looks at saving more souls. Here it is:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?

— Romans 10:14 (NKJV)

Missionary Aid

Read the Bible. Work hard and honestly. And don’t complain.

— Billy Graham

When I received e-mails from many of my first Rushmore University students, I was delighted to find that many of them were foreign missionaries, pastors of evangelical churches, lay leaders founding Christian schools, and businesspeople who wanted to establish new business models built around Christian principles. I felt blessed by those opportunities to learn from the experiences of these fine people as they sought to do God’s will.

My education often included learning that I didn’t know very much about how those with such vocations go about what they do. For instance, I had a student who was a missionary pilot in Africa who kept explaining to me that there was a 2,000 percent opportunity in better scheduling flights to visit missionaries. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what he could be talking about. After all, a small plane is only going to hold so many people and so much in supplies. Even if you optimally combined two or three sets of visitors, that wouldn’t be a 20 times improvement in performance.

Realizing that this student was trying to tell me something I didn’t understand, I kept asking questions. Eventually, he explained what he meant in more detail.
He was appalled to find that he was flying day after day to the same missions with a different educational or aid group. Often, the education was similar to what the mission had received just a few days earlier. The missions were primarily looking to accumulate as much aid as possible and were willing to undergo extra training and education if enough aid could be gained in the process. At the same time, other missions in the area hadn’t received an educational or aid visit in many years.

How could this feast or famine condition happen? It turns out to reflect poor communications among the various Protestant churches. The people who arrived at a mission on Friday didn’t realize someone had been there with a similar program on Tuesday. However, the missionary pilot knew because he talked to his passengers every day and had flown in both groups.

I was excited to see what solution the student would propose. He came back with an excellent plan to involve a friend in a religious organization to develop a coordinating Web site for major churches to use so that they could monitor each others’ missionary support activities by site. I was acutely aware that there is a wide distance between proposing such a fine solution and enlisting the appropriate people to participate. I told the student that I wouldn’t grade his paper until the program was implemented. That was more than two years ago, and I’ve heard no more about the project.

Similar experiences with other Christian students made me realize that while many feel called to make important improvements in the name of Jesus, they often lack the staying power to turn those calls into practical results. I must admit that much of my initial enthusiasm for working with these students was tempered as almost all disappeared one by one without accomplishing the wonderful dreams they had initially shared with me. In most cases, they didn’t even get started on their dreams.

I was puzzled. What was this lack of follow-through all about? Finally, one student told me that he had been intimidated by my enthusiasm for his dream. He shared with me that he felt unworthy of taking on such a challenge. To me it seemed clear that God wanted this man to accomplish the challenge.

The student’s reluctance didn’t surprise me. The Bible is full of great leaders who didn’t feel up to the task that God assigned. Moses, for example, told God that God should pick Aaron to lead the Israelites because he, Moses, was such a poor speaker. God often chooses those with limited skills and experience to perform miracles so it will be clear to everyone that He deserves the glory rather than His servant.

Enlisted into My Special Task

My faith is the grand drama of my life.
I’m a believer, so I sing words of God to those who have no faith.

— Oliver Messiaen

In the summer of 2006, I began to see how the 400 Year Project could be brought to a successful conclusion. Realizing that perhaps I had devoted too much of my attention to this one challenge, I began to seek ways to rebalance my life. One of those rebalancing methods was to spend more time communing with God through prayer, Scriptural studies, attending services, and listening to the still, small voice within.

For several years I had been enjoying the devotionals sent to me daily over the Internet by evangelist Bill Keller. I liked many of the devotionals so much that I asked Bill if I could copy them into my blog, and he kindly gave me permission. In those days, he didn’t keep an online archive and I felt like many people would want to look up various subjects.

One of those devotionals speared me like an arrow that summer. The evangelist reminded his readers that our responsibility as believers is to share the Gospel with others through our example and our words. Not feeling well equipped to do more than try to be a good example, I began to pray about what else I should be doing.

The next day, my answer came: I was to launch a global contest to locate the most effective ways that souls were being saved and be sure that information was shared widely. This sharing would be a blessing for those who wished to fulfill the great commission to spread the good news of Jesus. Fortunately, I had been studying for several years about how such contests had been run by secular organizations to generate improvements. I decided to announce the contest in my blog,, on August 26, 2006.

I didn’t want to presume that someone already had good answers or ways to find such answers: I decided to offer free e-books of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook to anyone who enrolled in the contest. It occurred to me that this sharing might also stimulate some good ideas to arise sooner. In pursuing this task, I recalled many conversations with Peter Drucker about how sharing secular knowledge with pastors had been helpful to the development of some Protestant megachurches.

I also wanted to share whatever else I could to help make the contest a success. As a prize, I offered the chance to be included in one of two books about great ways to save more souls. I would coauthor both books and cover the launch expenses, and the proceeds would go to support the best ideas. Presumably winning such a contest might also help with getting publicity, attracting volunteers, and gaining donations. My assumption was that most people who are great at saving souls have been working on that rather than writing about what they do and seeking publicity to alert others to the opportunity. My experience in writing, producing, and promoting such books could possibly be of help to such effective leaders.

I doubt if many people could have been more daunted than I did by the task. I felt like my role, at best, was to be a conduit for God’s will. At worst, I might insert myself in ways that harmed the process. I can’t quote Scripture, didn’t attend a Bible college, and find myself with more to learn about my faith than answers. But I do have lots of faith and as a result felt confident that God would find a way for His will to succeed regardless of my blunders.

Helping Hands

Only the mediocre writer is always at his best.

— William Somerset Maugham

Fortunately, the spirituality blog had developed a following before I announced the contest. Within just a few days, people sent e-mails with observations and questions about the contest. I appreciated and benefited from all of the comments I received.

Some feared for my soul: To them, this contest looked like I wanted to replace the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation with my thoughts and actions. Others were concerned that I was trying to buy my way into Heaven. I took those concerns to heart and asked people to pray for me so that I wouldn’t fall into such traps.
A few people sent me useful Scriptures that spoke about the proper ways that salvation might be gained by unbelievers following activities done by believers. I learned from those references and paid careful attention to them.

Many people were concerned by what they saw as ineffective evangelical efforts in the United States. Many different descriptions expressed those concerns, but a fair paraphrase would be to say that too much evangelism was aimed at those who had accepted Christ and too little at those who aren’t Christians. In particular, people were concerned that evangelism had become something mostly pursued by a few superstar pastors and ministers while the bulk of Christians did little in this regard.

Other people still saw the biggest opportunities for evangelism in places outside the United States where few had heard of Jesus. They told me fascinating stories about successful experiments in underdeveloped nations, including even hard-core Muslim countries where sharing God’s word could lead to death.
Occasionally, I was contacted by someone who seemed to know more about how to work with the Christian community than I did. When that occurred, I asked how to attract more contest enrollees. The advice I received was to simply let Christian leaders know about the contest, and the leaders would pass along the information to their congregations and readers. That seemed to me like a suggestion easier said than done. However, I felt encouraged by all of the care, concern, and advice that I received.

A Christmas Gift for God

We praise Him, we bless Him, we adore Him, we glorify Him,
and we wonder who is that baritone across the aisle and
the pretty woman on our right who smells of apple blossoms.

— John Cheever

Christmas can be a disturbing holiday as the challenges of gift giving, card sending, and entertaining weigh heavily on our time, our minds, and our bank accounts. It’s easy to lose sight of the reason we celebrate Christmas: to honor the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I find that if I’m not careful, my Bible reading time diminishes rather than increases just before Christmas, despite my desire to do the opposite. My only remedy has been to devote much of Christmas Day to reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Passing one jammed shopping mall after another in the fall of 2006, I began to wonder why no one ever thinks of giving a gift to God for Christmas. The more I thought about that omission, the more convinced I became that some people would welcome the idea of enrolling in the contest to save more souls as a Christmas gift to God.

Having had some success in the past with putting out press releases, I took this route to share my idea in the usual way. The response was muted. The secular press just didn’t seem very interested, and the Christian media hadn’t seemed to notice the release.

After that disappointing result, I did a little online research and found that there were outlets for press releases that go solely to Christian media. I rewrote the earlier press release a little and sent it out via some of those services. I was pleased to find out that it was much less expensive to send out such a release to Christian media than to all media.

The response was very encouraging this time. Many Christian news outlets briefly summarized the contest, and inquiries about the contest rapidly picked up. I was also interviewed for some printed articles and drive-time radio programs.
Because of the long lead times involved with some of the stories, I decided to extend the end date for entries from January 31, 2007, to Easter 2007. That also seemed like a logical ending time for finishing a commitment made to God as a Christmas gift in 2006.

I was delighted to find that not only had the quantity of contest inquiries increased, but the quality of the most recent ideas provided some real eye-openers, as well. I was equally impressed that the ideas didn’t duplicate one another; people were finding vastly different, effective ways to reach those who didn’t know and accept Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the tools of mass communication appealed to some. If you can televise programs around the world where no one is now seeing Christian messages, you can begin to create fertile furrows in unplowed fields. One report showed that by spending $110 in Kenya to televise an hour-long DVD, 11 people reported that they were saved and 5 others volunteered to work as evangelists. That apparently low cost per person contrasted with some e-mails I received that estimated a cost of over $10,000 per person saved for some major evangelical events in the United States.

Radio was also described as a possible answer. One man reported that he had found a way to establish Christian radio stations for less than 1 percent of the usual cost. He had several stations operating in Canada and planned to expand to about 100 more around the world. He reported that relatively few of his listeners had ever heard a Christian message before.

One man wanted to tap into the tremendous flows of tourists who seek entertainment. His idea was to build a Christian-themed multimedia experience in Branson, Missouri where believers could bring their friends to learn about God’s promises.

But most people had the opposite instinct to employing mass media: They saw energizing the vast numbers of Christians as the best way to save more souls. After all, if each Christian would only speak to a few other people, all non-Christians would at least have the background to consider if they felt called to become Christians.

As people wrote to me, I began to realize that my sense of inadequacy in sharing my faith was pretty normal. In fact, I was surprised to learn that I was actually better equipped to share my faith than most Christians are. I have read the Bible many times. I’m familiar with the sections of the Bible that call for witnessing our faith to others. I try to set a good example in everything I do. I have become comfortable with telling others that I am a Christian and inviting them to learn more. My suggestions had helped some people begin a search for God that led to them becoming Christians.

I began to realize that God may have chosen me for this role of directing the contest in part because I felt inadequate in sharing God’s love while having seen some successes come from my sharing among seekers.

What was possible to accomplish with evangelism? As you can imagine, there are some amazing individual evangelists: They can walk up to anyone, quickly establish powerful rapport, and talk easily about becoming saved after just a few general sentences. Some of these people contacted me and shared their testimonies. One man even sent a book describing his methods. His approach was so well thought out that it could have been a role model for recruiting sergeants trying to find the next 100,000 U.S. Army troops.

Gradually, I began to hear from people who had focused on taking insecure believers and turning them into effective witnesses. What was the lesson? Directing Christians to save more souls is an ongoing educational task of the church that deserves to be part of every worship service. Yes, that’s right. People need to be reminded to share their faith during each service and to receive practical training. Otherwise it seems as though many Christians think that they can learn everything they need to be a Christian by just waiting for God to direct them. Yet these same people conscientiously send their children for driver’s education training and attend Bible-based services.

What’s the biggest hurdle? Many Christians are delighted to be saved, but don’t feel like they have an obligation to help anyone else become saved. Without the desire to help the unsaved, there’s little benefit gained by instructing people in how to accomplish that task.

Take It Step by Step

Talk to him of Jacob’s ladder,
and he would ask the number of steps.

— Douglas Jerrold

While many people focused on one evangelism approach or another, I was impressed to learn about the bigger vision of Jim Barbarossa, an Ephesians 4 evangelist at Jubilee Worship Center in Hobart, Indiana (, and head of Step by Step Ministries in Porter, Indiana ( Jim has developed a process for energizing and directing a church’s congregation toward local, national, and international evangelism while serving as an example that other churches can emulate. Jim’s background was in business before finding Jesus later in life. Once having been saved, Jim immediately began witnessing enthusiastically with others. If you ever get a chance to meet him, you’ll see that he’s a natural for his spiritual calling.

At the time I met Jim, here’s how the step-by-step process worked. Jim had signed on with his wife, Carla, as an evangelist for Jubilee Worship Center. Now, if you are like me, you probably haven’t ever been to a church with evangelists on staff. Jim’s view is that the first full-time pastoral employee a congregation should hire after a pastor or minister is an evangelist. This step should occur when the church has around 70 members.

Why does such a small church need an evangelist? Jim’s view is that most ministers and pastors are overwhelmed with other responsibilities, especially if the church is just starting up and growing. In such circumstances, evangelism is usually limited to altar calls among the mostly saved congregation.

Jim’s pastor, Dale Combs, asked Jim what resources Jim needed to succeed. Jim asked for five minutes out of every service; otherwise, Jim felt that he wouldn’t be able to make steady-enough progress. At first, this time was devoted to creating a desire to witness. Church members were initially very resistant. However, Dale and Jim were firm in their commitment, and progress was slowly made in creating a desire to witness among the congregation.

Yet, even after creating a desire among congregants to witness, many admitted that they felt afraid to do so. Some were concerned about saying the wrong thing and harming someone. Others didn’t want to face rejection. How could those fears be overcome?

Then Jim was inspired to ask each person in the congregation to provide a written personal testimony that could be combined into a book. Editors and typists helped parishioners with this writing. In many of the testimonies, people describe their lives before they accepted Jesus as their Savior and go on to explain how much better life has been since then. The stories are very powerful and interesting to read. I suspect that many churches don’t know what good works God has done within their congregations. Certainly, those who haven’t been saved don’t know what a wonderful experience this is. Each person also provided a photograph for the cover. Over time, most church members chose to share their testimonies.

Each person in the church was then asked to take seven copies of Real Life Stories a week and to hand them out to friends, neighbors, strangers, bank tellers, grocery clerks, wait staff, and anyone else it occurred to the church member to talk to. The books don’t look “churchy” in Jim’s view, and recipients are impressed to receive a book from an author whose picture appears on the cover. Church members are encouraged to inscribe the books to the recipient as though performing a formal signing at a major bookstore, noting on what page their testimony falls. Not surprisingly, many people took the books, looked at the one- or two-page testimony of the giver … and kept reading.

This approach meant that congregants could be sure the right message was being shared and the perceived risk from their offer to witness was minimal. When a conversation ensued, the witness could fall back on describing a well-prepared personal testimony that would be interesting to most people.

In quantities of many thousands, these paperback books are inexpensive to print and bind. Where do the funds come from? The church has a special box on the floor near the altar where members are asked to drop extra donations (above their normal tithes and offerings) for the purpose of evangelism.

As a result of continuing with the book program, about 40 percent of the church’s members are out sharing the Gospel every week through handing out these books or tracts based on the testimonies. To me, that was very impressive.
Before the church had these books containing members’ testimonies, Jim had a few tracts printed up that contained practical messages about peoples’ problems and how Jesus could be the answer. The tracts concluded the last page with the sinner’s prayer and a way to contact Step by Step Ministries for discipleship. From the beginning, the most enthusiastic church members used the tracts to introduce people to Jesus.

Soon, Jim and Carla were hearing about copies of the tracts and books that had reached people all over the United States and dozens of countries around the world. Jim began to think about what else might be done.

He decided to add audio tapes that could be shared. The power of the voice is often greater than the printed word, and such tapes are also helpful to people who cannot or don’t have the time to read but want to learn about God.
In the system to provide these simple messages (via tracts, tapes, and books), Jim also realized that his evangelistic efforts could support foreign missions without the substantial expense involved of sending missionaries from the United States. Instead, Christians in foreign nations who wanted to share God’s love could use Step by Step tracts, tapes, and books to do so. After the tapes, tracts and the books provided by a volunteer, the idea is to visit again in three days to see if the recipient wants to talk about the material. In many cases, the unsaved said they wouldn’t read or listen the material when offered, but took the materials anyway and later read or listened to them.

After a large-enough new congregation is established in a foreign land, local versions of the testimony books can be created from their experiences. In addition, it was often cheaper to translate and print the tracts and books or duplicate the tapes in poor countries than in the United States. By seeding these non-U.S. Christians with the tools and the witnessing process, the foreign Christians were able to save many souls and create communities of believers who can hopefully raise the funds to become financially self-sufficient in their evangelism.

For months, one of my daily pleasures was to receive e-mails from Jim that contained reports of evangelical efforts in various countries. The most exciting of these reports would show dozens of individual photographs of smiling new Christians after emerging from their water baptisms. Other e-mails contained the happy testimonies of these excited new members of the faith.

In 2006, Jim and Carla realized that they could teach others to play the evangelist roles in their churches, and a conference was organized to provide this education. Plans are underway to do this again each year in the future. DVDs of this conference are available and are sent to foreign nations to train church-connected evangelists in those countries.

I look forward to keeping in touch with Jim and Carla and their pastor, Dale, to learn what steps they will add to further improve this process. If you pay attention to the steps you take to serve God, each single step can take you further toward God’s will for your life and our world.

The biggest surprise of all was to realize that by God directing Jim to me through Dale’s wife, Lisa, I had uncovered another 2,000 percent squared solution. This approach used by Jubilee Worship Center and Step by Step Ministries to sharing the Gospel involves a 20 times higher percentage of congregation members witnessing than the typical church and support for foreign evangelism has cost a mere 25 cents per person saved, way less than 4 percent of what traditional methods cost.

This post is based on Chapter 12 of Adventures of an Optimist.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell
Chairman, Mitchell and Company

Copyright 2007-2008 Donald W. Mitchell

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Blogger MR. X said...

Great Blog.

I've found a militant atheist if you want to try and help him; he's at:

GBWY, James

1:54 PM  

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