News for the week of Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Judgement House Nets Decisions
By Lonnie Wilkey
editor, Baptist and Reflector

Event held by FBC, Selmer, sees 769 people make professions of faith in 10 years

SELMER — The goal of the Judgement House which has been held by First Baptist Church here for the past 10 years is not to scare people into making decisions for Jesus Christ, leaders of the effort agree.

“Our goal is to help people see they are one breath away from where they will spend eternity and there are decisions they have to make,” said John Chandler, minister of youth at FBC and co-coordinator of Judgement House, along with church members Missy Whitaker and Tracy Whitaker.

Jackie Suggs, a church member who coordinates counselors for the event, agreed. “It is done to help you realize that life is fragile and you have to make a choice for Jesus Christ.”

Missy Whitaker noted that every scene is a story about something that has to take place before a person experiences the judgment seat of Christ. Death is a part of that, she observed.

“We try to be sensitive,” she said, adding that they put disclaimers on their promotional material that the event is not recommended for children under 10 years of age.

“We do it in a non-threatening and non-intimidating way,” Suggs agreed. He added that people are given an opportunity to respond and meet with counselors at the event before they leave.

The annual event has gained in popularity since its beginning in 2004. Over the 10-year period, 15,723 people have attended (including a record 1,933 this year) and there have been 769 recorded professions of faith, including a record high of 143 this year. The numbers average out to slightly more than 1,500 people each year and about 76 professions of faith annually.

Over the past 10 years the church has used 10 different themes. This year’s theme was “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.”

FBC is authorized to produce the event by Judgement House, a national ministry based in Clearwater, Fla., which equips local churches to create a walk-through gospel presentation concerning the truth of people’s choices versus the earthly and eternal consequences, according to the entity’s website.

While Judgement House is considered a youth ministry, it involves the entire church, leaders agreed.

Whitaker said it takes about 150 volunteers each year to make the event happen. Planning for the late October event usually begins in late June or July, she added.

In addition to the actors, set construction and prayer support, volunteers are needed for registration, promotion/advertising, security, meals and snacks for the volunteers, and more.

While the youth make up the largest portion of the cast, adults are also needed for the drama, Whitaker said.

It’s truly a churchwide effort, Suggs said. “We work together, pray together, and rejoice together over the decisions,” he said.

“This is one of the biggest evangelistic events we do each year,” Suggs added.

Chandler said Judgement House provides an opportunity for the church’s youth to share the gospel and witness through the use of drama.

This year’s Judgement House utilized 50 youth over the four nights the event was held. “I stress to them that each one of them has a part in sharing the gospel,” Chandler said.

“This is a unique way for them to present the gospel in a skit and they take it seriously,” he added.

Whitaker agreed. “The youth enjoy this and they have fun, but they realize why they are doing it,” she said.

Suggs observed the youth’s participation helps them to grow spiritually as they present the gospel message through the various scenes.

The leaders agreed that Judgement House has helped to unify the church in a common purpose of reaching out with the gospel message of Christ.

“It has motivated our church members to share the gospel in our community,” the youth minister observed.

Suggs noted that while some members of the church have accepted Christ as a result of Judgement House, the majority of the salvation decisions come from outside the church.

The event reaches across denominational lines and well beyond Selmer and McNairy County, the leaders said.

In addition to the church’s community, Judgement House has drawn church groups of all denominations from Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other parts of the state.

Those attending are encouraged to come in groups and to make reservations, but individuals can attend and they will be worked into a group.

What makes the event personal is that FBC gets the name of every member in the group when they register. Those names are provided to the “judge” who calls out each person in the group, Chandler said.

“People who have not attended before are shocked to hear their name called out,” Whitaker laughed.

The “judge” tells them that while this is not their time, they need to be prepared to make a decision about where they will spend eternity, he added.

There is no way to truly portray what heaven or hell is really like but “we can portray the reality that everyone has a choice on where to spend eternity,” Chandler said.

After the last scene, they are taken to the sanctuary where they are presented a gospel tract and an invitation is given. For those who make decisions, they can visit with a counselor, Suggs said.

The church does follow up by contacting people who made decisions when appropriate and sends the names of those who made decisions to the churches listed by people on their registration cards.

Because it is so labor and volunteer intensive, the leaders agreed that they entertain thoughts of not doing the event every year, but those thoughts vanish after they see the results each year.

“It is a lot of work but it is so worth it,” Whitaker said.

Suggs agreed that while the event is tiring, “it’s very rewarding when you see folks make a decision for Jesus Christ.”



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