(Photo: I Am Second)
There is nothing more powerful than a personal testimony when telling others about Christ.
So when Nathan Sheets of e3 Partners Ministry, Inc., and a few others set out to develop an outreach campaign, they decided to zero in on the pure, raw and heartfelt stories of those who have been transformed by Christ, and strip away all of the trappings of Christianity.
"When we're starting a conversation and I'm telling you about all these issues that I've dealt with in my life and I share with you how God has brought me through that, I think that it takes away the bad feelings of 'I hate church,'" Sheets told The Christian Post.
E3 Partners is marking the one year anniversary of the "I Am Second" movement, which was launched on Dec. 2, 2008, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
IAmSecond.com has drawn some 1.7 million people over the past year as the testimonies of celebrities such as Brian "Head" Welch – former guitarist for Korn – and everyday people have made their way around the world.
Sheets noted that there's "a real jadedness people have in America towards institutional church" and the campaign can serve as "the shallow end of the pool that helps get people in a proper relationship with Christ."
The campaign was meant to reach only those in north Texas but once the website was launched, it quickly went viral.
"We were probably fairly shortsighted being on the worldwide Web, not thinking it would leak outside of Dallas-Fort Worth," Sheets explained. "But we never anticipated the impact."
The idea was born in January 2008 when Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Battery System of America and who has been involved with e3 Partners for 20 years, felt God wanted him to do more to lift up Christ in the local area. He was inspired by the biblical passage John 12:32 ("But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.").
"He (Miller) said we just need to make Jesus as famous as Tony Romo is in Dallas," Sheets recalled.
Sheets then thought of placing a famous figure such as Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks on a billboard and though he may be number one in the NBA, the ad would say "I am second" and direct people to a website where they can view his video testimony.
They began filming celebrities in May 2008, beginning with actor Stephen Baldwin and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers.
Some of the latest video testimonies include ones by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, "The Biggest Loser" winner Michelle Aguilar, and best-selling author Anne Rice, who recently finished shooting her personal story.
Celebrities, along with lesser known figures, testify about their life before knowing Christ and how Christ has changed their lives. They explain how Christ is now first in their lives and conclude with "I am second."
"We're created to be with Him," Welch states in his story. "Contentment is given to you in life because you don't have to look anywhere else and you're exactly where you need to be. ... I am second."
Testimonies on the website deal with a wide range of issues including drugs, divorce, pornography, bulimia, abortion, money, homosexuality and purpose in life.
"I think that people are hurting more than ever in the United States," said Sheets. "When you have all these stories out there there's enough opportunity for people to get on the site and say 'that's me, that's what I'm struggling with."
Though the celebrity status of some on the site may create a disconnect with viewers, campaign organizers intentionally clothed them in black shirts and sat them in a white chair against a black background.
"In God's eyes, we're all equal so we've stripped out the things of this world that might set you apart as a celebrity versus being a noncelebrity," Sheets explained.
The main thrust of the campaign is to reach out to the lost and make disciples. Sheets wants Christians to leverage the I Am Second movement and to be empowered to share Christ – and not necessarily with an evangelistic script.
Sheets lamented, "The statistic is 97 percent of all evangelical believers will never share the Gospel and it's because we have relegated evangelism to an acronym, or an outline or a bunch of Scriptures we have to memorize and I'm terrified to share the Gospel because I think I'm going to screw it up."
"But people love to talk about themselves," he added. "So let's just be intentional and show people this is how you use your own testimony ... about what God has done in your life and use that as a way to encourage other people towards Christ."
I Am Second groups are forming around the world. The superintendent of McKinney Independent School District in Texas started a group in his office, 70 cadets at West Point are going through I Am Second small group curriculum every week, and students at the University of Oklahoma are meeting regularly, according to Sheets.
Junior Nathan Lanham told The Oklahoma Daily, "This is not a group where you come and some guy preaches at you. We’re not going to point the finger at you and tell you what you have done wrong ... Instead, we will be meeting in small groups. We believe this is the most effective way of sharing the love of God with others."
IAmSecond.com just recently opened registration for small groups and though organizers are still testing it out, Sheets says 77 groups have already registered. Churches have been able to register over the past year.
Looking toward the second year, the goal, Sheets said, is to continue to lift up Christ.
"When we set out, we said 'what is success for I Am Second?'" Sheets highlighted. "And we said 'to maintain what Jesus said that when he's lifted up he will draw men to himself. And we think that the best way to be able to lift up Christ is to be able to talk about the incredible transformational power of the Gospel."