DALLAS (AP) - The city of Dallas is being invaded, by a group of nearly 500 street preachers spreading the word.
Last week they were at every single gate to the Texas state fair, handing out literature, preaching to anyone and everyone, and doing whatever they could to get people's attention.
"Success is pleasing God. If no one stopped to listen and God was pleased it would still be a success," street preacher Avery Peterson said.
Organizers of the group call it an invasion because they believe Christians need to be more aggressive.
"It's time for Christians to stop going on retreats, and start going on the advance," said Darrel Rundus, founder and president of The Great News Network.
Street preaching, never entirely embraced by traditional evangelical churches, has been gaining in popularity, said David Allen, the dean of the theology school at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
Most evangelicals take their biblical cue from a passage in the Book of Matthew known as The Great Commission, Allen said. In it, Jesus Christ tells followers to "make disciples of all nations ... and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded."
Evangelical Christians interpret the passage differently, and pastors from traditional churches say there are more effective and less threatening means than hitting the streets.
"The common perception people have of street preachers is someone out there who is on the kook fringe of things," Allen said. "You think of someone who wears a sandwich sign that says, 'The world will end tomorrow.' "
That confrontational style turns people away, said Jim Lemons, pastor of the River Oaks Baptist Church near Fort Worth. He does not encourage church members to conduct open-air preaching but prefers "servant-style evangelism," such as volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters.
"I think there are ways to make a bigger impact, a more lasting impact than yelling for 15 or 30 seconds on a street corner," Lemons said. "If I were not a believer and I were accosted, I would say, 'I don't want anything to do with that group or with what that religion believes.'"
Rundus acknowledged the image problem but says his group teaches a non-confrontational approach.
Rundus has spent the past two years building a network he thinks will make a nationwide event possible. He has 133 local leaders around the country who organize groups of street preachers. His group has organized 16 "evangelical boot camps" that he said has attracted about 100 participants apiece from around the world.
Among the most important lessons: Preaching locales must be public property and popular. The group typically favors entertainment districts, such as the Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas or Sundance Square in Fort Worth.
At the boot camp, would-be street preachers learn to overcome fears of public speaking, to engage people in conversation and to preach in an "inoffensive and Biblical way," Rundus said.
Local leaders will ultimately determine whether Rundus ministry group is able to make its city invasion work on a national level.
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