Aiken churches partner for school revivals with ‘Stand Strength Team’ events

In January, several churches in Aiken Baptist Association partnered to host a professional evangelism team in their community for a nine-day anti-bullying campaign presented in local schools.

The churches prayed for God to move during the revivals that resulted and were amazed to witness all of the ways the hope of the gospel was shared and received.

Last year, David Richardson, pastor of Mt. Beulah Baptist Church in Windsor, attended a Stand Strength Team event, hosted by Waccamaw Baptist Association. He was intrigued by the evangelism team, based in Detroit, Mich., which travels around the country presenting school assembly programs addressing important social issues with impressive feats of physical strength. The team provides anti-bullying assemblies to schools at no cost but is financially supported by the hosting churches and organizations.

Richardson thought the events would be successful in his community and reached out to other pastors in Aiken Association to explore financially partnering with them to bring in the team. Clint Bartlett, pastor of Levels Baptist Church in Aiken, was one of those partners, along with five other area churches. The South Carolina Baptist Convention also provided funds to support the evangelism event.

Stand Strength Team members include weight-lifting and body-building champions and martial-arts experts. Each member performs skills and shares personal stories while encouraging youth to make good choices. The assemblies address bullying and mentoring and challenge young people to take a stand in their schools. The team leader is an evangelist, and sharing the gospel is an important component of the Stand Strength Team presentation.

Richardson says the team typically does a three-day program, with a Thursday and Friday school assembly, followed by a weekend event at a local church. Because interest in the Aiken community grew as the planning team extended personal invitations to participate, the Stand Strength Team ended up leading a nine-day program. The planning team distributed informational fliers around the schools and community ahead of the events.

“We did leg work to raise money and get the schools lined up. But the main goal was to offer the crusade in churches,” Richardson said.

In all, the Stand Strength Team message was presented to more than 7,000 students in 16 different assemblies in three high schools, five elementary schools, four middle schools and a few Christian schools. Richardson estimates about 500 decisions were made during the school assemblies. One administrator at a charter school gave permission for the gospel to be shared during its assembly for about 600 students, and the response was overwhelming.

“It was almost at the end of the week, so we’d seen the program 14 or so times. We were used to things that were said, but I felt like each team member went out of their way to share their testimony that day. The students were responding, and at the end, the speaker offered the prayer for salvation,” Bartlett said.

Several hundred people, including an administrator, prayed out loud to receive Christ. Bartlett said the gym was filled with their voices, and the atmosphere was exciting.

“I was overwhelmed by their receptiveness and the response. Several families at the crusades later told me that they were there because of what happened at that school assembly,” Richardson said.

Not all experiences with the public schools were that welcoming. Initially, many schools and administrators were not interested in hosting the event. Some put limits on the gospel presentation. However, Bartlett said, it was also encouraging to discover Christian leaders who are in the local public schools.

“It can be discouraging when it seems that evil has overtaken our world, but, as we saw that week, that is far from the truth. God prevailed in a mighty way in our lives, in the team members’ lives, for our volunteers, and in our churches,” Bartlett said.

Most of the evening crusades were held at Mt. Beulah Church because it has the largest facility and was geographically closest to the majority of the schools that hosted the assemblies. The church also hosted a Stand Strength Team presentation one evening for students in one school that would not allow the team to hold an assembly on its campus, and 212 people attended that event.

An estimated 1,200 people came to the crusades. Richardson said 50 people prayed to receive Christ during the church services, and 200 decision cards were collected. Organizers gave the cards to churches that were geographically closest to the individual or family, and a team of church members worked to make contacts and follow up on decisions that were made.

SCBC associational liaison Scott Shields said the church partnerships and their shared passion for evangelism is something to celebrate.

“It is also great to see how our Janie Chapman Offering funds given back to the associations are having great kingdom impact within our state, so that every life is saturated and transformed with the hope of the gospel,” Shields said.

“We’re realizing we can meet new people and make connections to share Jesus. We are realizing that we can reach people and share our faith through different hobbies and activities. It opened our eyes to opportunities that people don’t think about to impact others for Christ,” Richardson said.

— Julia Bell writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.