By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
ALPHARETTA, Ga.— Are you looking for another way to connect with people outside of your church? Southern Baptist churches throughout Maryland and Delaware have the opportunity to follow-up on calls made to the Evangelism Response Center (ERC), a ministry of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The ERC is an exciting tool for sharing the gospel and praying with people all over North America using the telephone and Internet. Respondents contact the ERC by phone and Internet after seeing toll-free numbers and Internet addresses on TV ads and programs, radio ads and programs, print ads and articles, billboards and so forth.
The most recently publicized address is the website, www.findithere.com, which is a part of NAMB’s newest initiative, God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS).
The work of the ERC is not complete when a person prays to receive Christ. Many callers leave their name and address so that NAMB can put them in contact with a local church. These local churches are called “Covenant Churches,” who provide continuing ministry to respondents in their own community.
NAMB expects the following from these covenant churches:
A Southern Baptist Church
Because the ERC is a part of the NAMB, NAMB can refer only to churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. This isn’t meant to reflect on the evangelistic zeal or Christian integrity of other churches. It is simply a recognition that this is the way NAMB can be accountable to the churches who support us.
A desire to receive information about responsive people in your area
The ERC will send you the name, address, telephone number, and basic information about the decision made on the telephone for respondents within approximately a six-mile radius of your ZIP code. There is absolutely no charge to you to receive this information; your only cost is the cost you incur in providing the follow-up ministry.
A commitment to provide immediate follow-up
NAMB has discovered that when a person makes a decision for Christ, he needs a follow-up contact within 72 hours. Otherwise the likelihood of that person getting involved in a local church and growing to spiritual maturity drops dramatically. For that reason they ask Covenant Churches to commit to an initial contact within three days of receiving a referral. That contact may be no more than a telephone call, even with a voicemail message left if necessary, just to say, “We’re so pleased to know of your decision to follow Jesus. We’re here to help.”
A willingness to offer continuing ministry as appropriate
Sometimes all that’s needed is that first contact. Even though the caller gave follow-up information, he may already have a relationship with a church and will need only a brief prayer of encouragement from you. Sometimes you will have the opportunity to help the caller understand her decision more completely and even lead other family members to receive Christ, then to see these new believers come into your church family and mature in Christ. You determine what kind of continuing ministry is appropriate.
An agreement to report to the ERC
The only required report is an initial response within two weeks, just to let us know you have made contact, or perhaps that you haven’t been able to make contact but are continuing to try. NAMB just wants to know you have received the referral and have accepted responsibility for this follow-up. Of course, they also encourage you to let them know when you’ve had the privilege of seeing that person come into your church family and begin the growth process.
A unique feature of this ministry is that it uses at home volunteers rather than gathering volunteers in a phone center to respond to calls. This enables NAMB to provide twenty-four hour outreach to individuals seeking spiritual encouragement.
Although some very sophisticated technology supports the telephone function of the ERC, the technological knowledge needed to log on to receive ERC call from home is really quite simple. Telephone Encourager’s simply call a toll-free number when they get ready to log on, enter a PIN number and password, which is assigned to them, and simply take calls until they are ready to log off.
A two-hour training session is mandatory for all Telephone and Internet Encouragers. Many training opportunities are provided. In addition to the two-hour training course, an endorsement from your pastor is required before you may serve as an ERC Encourager.
To initiate the process, either to register as a Covenant Church or to be trained as a Telephone Encourager, contact NAMB at www.erconline.net and fill out the online form found under “Get Involved.”