The Assemblies of God just came out of a milestone campaign in New York City that drew an unexpected large response. In the end, the Pentecostal group was left with only a few extra gospel booklets and an awareness of the gripping human need in society and the power of prayer.
Despite flashy ad spots of "God Gives Hope" running on Times Square's News Astrovision Screen, volunteers quickly found no substitute for personal evangelism.
"I just quickly was convinced that we had to have people on the ground, ministering on the ground to make that electronic media effective," said Scott Temple, director of Intercultural Ministries for the Assemblies of God.
Nearly 100,000 18-page booklets were distributed on the grounds throughout the two-week outreach, which ended Sunday. The Assemblies of God had only anticipated passing out 20,000. Hundreds of students, missionaries and local churchgoers spanned the populated city as hundreds more stood by around the clock at satellite prayer centers across the nation.
"It (the campaign) went better than we had hoped for," said Temple.
Prayer centers received some 1,000 to 1,100 calls a day with volunteers working 12-hour shifts throughout the entire two weeks.
"It was a very full two weeks for us, but a good two weeks," said John Maempa, service director of the National Prayer Center for the Assemblies of God.
Calls about financial issues, broken relationships and healing were constantly received along with requests for spiritual direction.
"I guess the thing that is just so gripping is the depth of human need," noted Maempa. "It's so awesome to have the opportunity to pray with people even though we only have a few moments to spend on the phone with them."
After each call, Maempa said he and volunteers sensed "hope and relief" from callers.
"It's just indicative that prayer does make a difference a powerful difference."
On the grounds of New York, volunteers were also met with such hope and relief as they handed out literature, magnets and balloons. The Assemblies of God's witnessing campaign had some people assume they were a cult. Every time Temple identified his affiliation with the Pentecostal group and not a cult, people would respond with relief and openness.
"That really is a challenging thought that people would be assuming if someone is standing in the open being a witness, handing out literature ... that they're probably a cult, it's shame that the sons of darkness are wiser than the sons of light," said Temple. "We need to be busy distributing the written Word of God because that was God's plan for the salvation of the world."
And while Christian groups increasingly utilize the wide-reaching media to spread the gospel message, Temple believes even the most effective use of media cannot replace traditional evangelism.
"I'm glad for the jumbotron, but we're kidding ourselves to think that that would be the most effective means of evangelism," Temple noted. "I think that maybe the greatest benefit of using that media was a rallying cry for us in response to that opportunity to gather together as a team and enhance the message to be able to say, 'God Gives Hope 1-800-4-prayer is being broadcast on the jumbotron here in Times Square.' It was a great value that way.
"But that media is no substitute for personal witnessing and literature evangelism."
The Assemblies of God regularly utilizes billboards, radio and television spots, and newspapers to advertise the Christian message. In terms of continuing the use of jumbotrons, nothing has been established at this point but the success of the campaign has given the Pentecostal group good cause to look into it further.