Evangelism Largest in 30 Years
By Jarrod Stackelroth, Record.net, reporting from Epping, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Four motorway billboards, 1.25 million brochures, and more than 100 television advertisements have provided publicity in what is reported to be the largest evangelistic series for the Adventist Church in Sydney in more than 30 years.
On the first weekend in May 2013, “The Last Empire” opened in 29 venues throughout theGreater Sydney Conference (GSC). Some 45 churches throughout the conference worked together to prepare for the program. The opening night saw more than 1,500 community members attend. While numbers fell during subsequent programs, there were still almost 1,000 non-Adventists attending by the third program.
“We are excited by the number of contacts that have been coming along to the meetings,” said Michael Worker, GSC president and series coordinator. “We continue to uphold the presenters and contacts before the Lord as the series continues to develop and unfold.”
The English programs, hosted by Sydney-based presenters, used the same slides and scripting. Some of the venues, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of Sydney, offered the program in other languages, such as Portuguese, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Mandarin, or Arabic. The use of the Daniel 2 image, the key image used in the marketing, saw a lot of interest from Syrians and others from the Middle East.
“The pastors who have been trained and equipped to present this Last Empire program now have a greater confidence in their ministry and feel more equipped to go out and engage with their community,” said Worker. “Pastors have told me how much they appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this program, as they are growing and developing their own pastoral skills in the process. This will be our first campaign, not our last.”
Worker developed the concept of running numerous local programs, simultaneously across the city, in partnership with the South Pacific Division’s Institute of Public Evangelism director Gary Webster.
“This program is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus in a prophetic context, relating to people’s lives and what is happening in society, using updated, contemporary materials,” said Webster.
Webster had tested a similar approach on a smaller scale in Adelaide in 2011 and developed the scripts for the Last Empire with pastors Lyle Southwell, Garth Bainbridge, and Graeme Christian.
“It was an opt-in arrangement with pastors and churches,” said Worker. The invitation was extended, and any pastor or church that desired to be involved were encouraged. “We wanted those who were enthusiastic and keen, and we gave them permission to try ‘something different’, alongside the traditional approach.”
Worker explains that the conference began with the “desire to present something that our members can be excited about and proud of and that would also reach a secular, consumer-driven society such as Sydney.”
Kel Naughton of M24Media created “The Last Empire” brand/theme.
The program was projected to run throughout the month of May, with each venue developing a program that represented their congregation and the audience they were targeting. Churches will follow up with programs such as Beyond, Prophetic Code, Secrets of Prophecy, and a range of other initiatives.
In the 18 months leading up to the program, church members were encouraged to prepare themselves and their congregations for a program of this nature.
“We have been encouraging members to pray for five people for the year leading up to the program. They were also encouraged to invite family, friends, and colleagues to the event,” said Worker. One Sabbath was designated as a conference-wide day of prayer and fasting to seek the leading and involvement of the Holy Spirit in this program.
Unlike evangelistic series of the past, the Last Empire had a large online presence and impact. Close to 80 percent of people registered through the Web site, which had about 14,000 unique visitors over the two weeks leading up to the program. In the same period, almost 5,000 people directly viewed the Last Empire Facebook page.
One church had a unique way to draw attention to their program. Talk radio and social media were abuzz with news of a 98-foot (30-meter) high image, standing in the Hoxton Park churchyard. The air-filled image was of the image spoken of in Daniel 2 as seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—the same image depicted in all of The Last Empire advertising.
According to Lyle Southwell, evangelist and director of the South Pacific Division’s Discovery Centre, the image is the world’s largest freestanding, air-filled image.
Pastor Worker has already seen changes in the church in Sydney and says the most important outcome of this program will be changed lives. “As a conference, we would love to see the people who have been touched by this program become part of our churches.”
“We hope to see this stronger partnership continue between local Adventist churches as we work together to spread the gospel. We had a much bigger ‘buy in’ from churches than we expected. It has highlighted the latent desire in our members to be equipped and resourced to share the gospel with those who need it most,” added Worker.
“This program has increased the mission focus in our conference and the level of enthusiasm our members have to share their faith.”