In 2010 my family started a new church just off the Las Vegas Strip.
This month, we are merging with a great church called The Crossing.
In between was a wild, God-led, Holy Spirit-fueled journey that saw us baptize 515 people. Almost all of them were far from God and shocked to find themselves in church or even considering faith in Jesus.
I’ve been thinking about lessons we’ve learned, some positive and some negative. Here are four:
1. The Least Likely Are More Likely Than You Think
The first person I led to faith in Las Vegas was a pimp. Travis had a stable of girls he had convinced to work for him, and he had virtually no experience in church. He was not looking for God.
He was the kind of person you might assume would be the least open to hearing the gospel and following Jesus. Kind of like …
- Matthew and Zacchaeus, Jewish men who had betrayed God and his people by collecting taxes for the Romans.
- The Roman Centurion.
- The Samaritan woman at the well who was ostracized in her town because she had gone from man to man to man to man.
- The Gerasene demoniac.
Travis was our first, but we also baptized gang members, drug dealers, Hindus, strippers, Mormons, atheists, porn stars, professional poker players, Wiccan witches, and you name it.
“We also baptized gang members, drug dealers, Hindus, strippers, Mormons, atheists, porn stars, professional poker players, Wiccan witches, and you name it.”
Who is it that you assume would never listen to the gospel? Who do you assume is so entrenched in their sin they’d never abandon it to follow Jesus? The least likely are more likely than you’d think.
2. Lead with Love.
Travis heard me tell the story of the prodigal son. His response: “I never knew I could be loved like that.” Though he was a street-tough, from New York City, living in Las Vegas, pimp, Travis couldn’t quite get the words out, because he was crying. He tried several times, “I never knew—cry, cry, cry—I could be—cry, cry—I just never knew I—cry, cry—could be—cry, cry—loved like, like—cry, cry—loved like that.”
I tell Christians all the time: We have two things we can offer: truth and love. Everyone needs both. The problem is that too often we’re in too much of a hurry to share truth. Truth tends to shut people down. That’s not only true of “those people.” It’s true of you! If someone shares with you a truth you don’t believe or don’t want to hear, you won’t listen and you might even get angry. Truth shuts people down, but love opens them up. Love builds relationship and opens a person’s ears to what you have to say. You’ll have plenty of opportunity later to tell this person the truth they need to hear, but only if you lead with love.
“You’ll have plenty of opportunity later to tell this person the truth they need to hear, but only if you lead with love.”
Amanda is a paralegal who started coming to our church. She is also a lesbian. I assumed that from the first moment I met her, but I intentionally and strategically chose not to bring it up. I knew if I did, she would bail. I befriended Amanda, who showed up every Sunday and even started taking our basic discipleship classes. After almost a year, Amanda approached me in the lobby and asked, “Vince, I’ve got to ask. Does the Bible really say that homosexuality is sin?”
“I’m sorry, Amanda,” I answered. “It does.”
Amanda paused, then asked, “Vince, do you know what I love about you?”
I smiled, “No, what do you love about me?”
Amanda said, “You’ve never once told me what I wanted to hear.”
Why did she say that instead of storming out? Because I had led with love. She had no doubt that I loved her and wanted what was best for her.
No one woke up this morning thinking, “I hope someone proves to me today that I’m wrong about something important.”
Everyone woke up today wanting to be loved.
Lead with love.
3. Do Whatever It Takes
Warren was a hard-core atheist who hated the idea of God and anyone who believed in him. When he heard that a new church was starting in his town, Sin City, he got the idea that maybe he could destroy it. He decided he would show up one of the first weeks, and in the middle of the service, when the preacher started his sermon, he would stand up and start screaming obscenities, throw some things, maybe punch some people. He thought the people—all new to the church and therefore not committed—would decide not to come back because of the bad experience, fearing that it would happen again.
Warren showed up but was surprised when everyone was so welcoming, despite his tattoos and angry scowl. Warren was shocked that the band opened the service with a song by one of his favorite bands, Papa Roach. Warren laughed at the top ten list given after the song. Warren didn’t even mind the worship songs. Finally, the service ended…and Warren realized he had gotten so caught up in it he forgot to disrupt it.
Warren came back the next week, and the next, and about a year later gave his life to Jesus.
He was so excited he wanted everyone to experience Jesus. He started inviting all his friends, but most were not interested. Finally, Warren had an idea. His birthday was coming up. He asked me if he could have a birthday party in our building starting five minutes after our service ended. I said yes, and Warren invited everyone he knew. He explained that instead of a present, he wanted everyone to show up for the party an hour early and attend church with him. About 45 of Warren’s friends were in our service that week.
“He was so excited he wanted everyone to experience Jesus.”
His story reminds me of Levi/Matthew, who, immediately after meeting Jesus, threw a party so all his sinful friends could meet Jesus.
When you know Jesus, you want everyone to know Jesus. You find it hard to think about anything else. You get creative. You do whatever it takes. That’s what we’ve tried to do at our church in Las Vegas—anything and everything we can.
4. Multiplication is Better Math
I have the gift of evangelism. It came natural to me, and I started leading my friends to faith in the weeks after I became a Christian.
Travis, the ex-pimp, has the gift of evangelism. He came to Christ and started sharing with everyone, everywhere. He would go into restaurants and approach people as they ate. He went onto college campuses with a video camera and asked students if he could interview them, then used the opportunity to tell them the gospel. In fact, about eight years after getting baptized, Travis got ordained, and last year he moved to Denver to plant a new church.
Most people are not me or Travis. They don’t find it easy to share Jesus with others. And that’s where I failed. Our church relied on addition, adding people through those who were gifted with evangelism and through our strategic Sunday morning services. If we had focused on training our people and equipping them with simple tools to share the gospel, and to then be able to reproduce that training with the people they led to faith, we could have experienced the power of multiplication.