The Bus Ministry
Woodlawn Baptist Church has a long and dedicated history to the bus ministry. We have been in the bus ministry for 35+ years with many workers with decades of committed service to the bus ministry. The bus ministry is not a passing fad to us, it is a valuable and blessed tool in reaching our area for Jesus Christ. Over the years we have had over 765,000 riders come to Sunday school on our buses and vans. We currently run 13 buses and vans every Sunday and are seeing precious souls come to Christ every week.
Our bus ministry was started by Dr. Ron Fenwick, a tremendous soul winner and a man with a heart for lost souls. Dr. Fenwick was influenced by The Sword of the Lord and ultimately was encouraged to start a bus ministry by Dr. Wally Beebe and Dr. Jim Vineyard. After attending a Pastor’s School in Hammond, Indiana, Dr. Fenwick purchased several buses and our bus ministry was started! Scores of people were saved and many became workers in our bus ministry. We have been blessed to have what I believe are the greatest bus workers in America! We have nearly a dozen workers with over 25 years of experience in the bus ministry. This is a life-long commitment to the Great Commission for us!
We have had so many wonderful days in the bus ministry over the years. Every year, we have Round Up Sunday and on many occasions we have had over 1000 riders on a big day. Our biggest day saw 1317 riders on our bus ministry led by our former Bus Director Steve Messersmith. From our records we know that our bus captains have had 100 riders on their bus route 230 times, over 200, 14 times and over 300 one time! Promotions and events have varied from a bike rider jumping buses to a 100 foot banana split! We have given go-karts, bicycles and game systems away. Some will question the “promotion” but if I can get people under the sound of the gospel I believe it is worth it!
One of the greatest blessings for me as pastor is to see the lives of people transformed by the power of the gospel. We have seen families split apart by divorce restored. We have seen drunks cleaned up and young people by the thousands receive Christ. It is always a blessing to field phone calls from adults that rode the “blue bus” and for them to hear that their bus captain is still driving the bus and involved in the bus ministry. One of the most memorable times for me since I became pastor was Christmas 2012 when we ran our buses on Saturday and saw 88 young people come to Christ. May we never get over seeing children and teenagers coming to Christ! It is a miracle of grace with each and every soul saved. I am challenged as I think of the statistics that say only four percent of the youth in America have every attended a Bible believing church in their lifetime! We have failed in our responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation. It’s time we recommit ourselves to reaching the lost! So many ask why the bus ministry, I ask, WHY NOT? What other ministry allows you to bring dozens or even hundreds to church? What other ministry exhorts workers to engage in the effort of soul winning like the bus ministry? I say there is no better time to jump in the bus ministry! It still can be done in 2014.
The bus ministry is an investment, an investment of time, money and resources. It is a ministry that sometimes will not always result in “instant gratification.” It takes time to see people grow and be disciple. The greatest battle I believe the bus ministry faces is fatigue. Fatigue can sap your joy and cause you to be apathetic and complacent about what you are doing. There is no way to fix this other than for every worker to have a fresh and vibrant walk with God. You can’t live on yesterday’s manna yet so many are picking the worms out of yesterday’s manna rather getting something fresh from God. The reality is no bus, bus ministry or church can be successful without the mighty hand of God on it. You have to have the power of God. Perhaps the answer to a struggling bus ministry or route is not organization or a program but rather the anointing of God on it! When is the last time you drove through your bus route and asked God to give you favor and His power? When is the last time you prayed for the families on your route and wrestled with God and begged Him for His touch? I am convinced that many Christians and workers get discouraged and quit because they are so busy in the “work” of God that they forget the God of the work! Get in your prayer closet, bus worker, and don’t let go of Him until He blesses!
When I think of the benefits of the bus ministry I would simply say that the bus ministry causes you to recognize that you are not the only one who has needs. When you visit an area and knock on doors you realize that some of your problems you face may not be all that bad compared to what others are facing. When you pick up someone else’s burdens you have to drop yours and I promise you Jesus will take care of yours! The bus ministry keeps that cause of soul winning and discipleship continual before the people. It gives many opportunities to reach out to those in need and to serve.
Some may say the bus ministry is a fad of the 70’s and a dying ministry. I beg to differ. I don’t believe we have ever had a time in history that the bus ministry is not more needed, relevant and effective than today! In a world where children are forced to grow up before their time and where little ones are losing the innocence of childhood earlier and earlier we must understand the urgency of the bus ministry in our generation. While many good churches are adding members, I believe the bus ministry allows the church to multiply! It is my opinion that America desperately needs 1,000 churches and 10,000 bus routes started! I wonder, will you be the one to start?
One of the funniest moments I remember from the bus ministry is when our bus director decided to have the devil come to Junior Church. Here you have several hundred children in a school auditorium and the preacher is preaching and out jumps the devil. Instead of “just” screaming, they began to run in all directions! After a few minutes a few brave souls decided they were not afraid of the devil and started to attack the devil. Needless to say, not the smartest of ideas!
My advice for anyone wanting to start a bus ministry is simple! Pray, prepare and preach the Word! You must have God’s power. You must have an organized program and visitation plan. And you must preach the Word of God! Dr. Fugate’s book, “Church Growth through the Bus Ministry” is the best book I have ever read on the bus ministry. Any ministry started a bus ministry should use this valuable tool to help start it right!
When I think of promotions and programs I can say that we have tried nearly everything we can think of. Some of the best promotions we have had that really gained interest has been our annual “Bible Bucks Store” and basic promotions such a pizza parties and picnics. The Bible Bucks store is just as it sounds, it is a store filled with all kinds of items from the dollar store to more expensive items. Sunday School attenders can earn Bible bucks for bringing visitors to Sunday School, bringing their Bibles, memorizing their Bible verse, etc. This has been a great tool and we usually promote it on our annual Round Up Sunday. I believe there is one basic principle to remember. People like to eat and food of any type will draw a crowd. Some of our biggest days have been picnic Sundays when we simply grill out with hot dogs and have some fun with games and slides and moon bounces. Simple yet highly effective.
When it comes to involvement in the bus ministry it is imperative that the ministry is highlighted weekly. We have a significant group of our people involved in the bus & van ministry so it is often the source of amazing stories of grace and many times an area of great need amongst the people. We encourage our folks to be involved in the bus ministry in many different ways. Whether it is running a program, driving a bus, visiting a route or praying for a hedge of protection it is a team effort to run a bus ministry. I believe every member should be involved in some facet of the bus ministry because it is one of focal points of executing a strategy of fulfilling the Great Commission.
One of the best ways to build a route is to get families on the route to get involved in outreach. I remember as a teenager bringing dozens of people to church because my family was responsible for the street we were on. When parents get involved in the community through your bus route you will see your route and ministry multiple quickly. You are also planting the seed for future bus captains! People want to be involved in success. Getting parents involved will give you a greater chance of success on a route.
We have been blessed with a great bus director. Brother Shank was saved through the bus ministry and has a heart for young people. His responsibilities include overseeing bus and van maintenance, overseeing junior church and working with bus captains in the area of visiting and discipleship. I believe the next visitor on our routes very well could be the next pastors, missionaries and evangelists. With that in mind, every person that attends should be treated with love and given the attention they need to grow in Christ.
Keeping workers motivated is an area we must continually pay attention too. As I mentioned earlier I believe the best motivator is heart on fire for God. Nothing replaces a personal devotional life with Christ. That being said, I also believe we should recognize workers for a job well done. No matter how long a person has been working in the ministry it is always an encouragement to be recognized.
I believe there is a place in the bus ministry for workers of all ages! We have workers from junior age to seniors working the ministry. I believe this is vital to a healthy bus ministry. If all your workers are teenagers than the risk is that problems will be dealt with immaturely. At the same time those teenagers bring energy and excitement that our seniors may not be able to bring. Balance is the key!
We give discretion to our bus routes and captains as to their program on the bus. Generally speaking it is best to have a more subdued program on the way to church so the children are prepared and not too hyped up to settle down for the preaching. On the way home, the program should be exciting and energetic. Successful routes have energetic programs. I remember when I first started riding the bus to church how enthusiastic I became about coming to church. This is the message you want to leave with your riders. Going to church is fun and exciting!
Nothing replaces door to door visitation. I would also say that many new riders on a bus route or even those that attend Sunday School come because one of their friends invite them. We have often had promotions that recognize those who bring visitors with them. We started a program called Operation 1000 two years ago where we asked for our folks to share names and contact information of friends and family in the area that do not go to church. The plan is to acquire 1000 contacts to follow up on. This follow up includes visits, email contact and social media contacts. We even created a “confidential visit” list where the church member wanted us to visit but not make it so obvious that we were visiting that one individual. So we visit the whole street! After all they all need Jesus. We have seen people saved and coming to church because of this program.
We are careful about putting new people right into the bus ministry. The bus ministry is labor intensive and hard work. Because of this we try to get those who are interested in the bus ministry to get involved in ways that allow them to continue to grow in the faith. Our expectation is that all workers be faithful to church and to be in agreement with our churches doctrinal statement. Our workers should be examples of the believers in word and practice and not be a contradiction to what is being taught and preached from the Word of God.
We have a disciplinary process to handle issues that arise in the bus ministry and any other part of the ministry. Our bus director takes the lead in all discipline issues on a route and communication with parents or guardians is required in every instance. Any time you get hundreds of children and teenagers there will be problems at time. It is important to handle issues clearly and decisively. At times, it may be necessary to suspend riders because of behavior. Failure to deal with unruly riders will kill a route quickly.
When it comes to protections for the bus ministry we have outlined several requirements for workers. No worker should ever put their hands on a child. No worker should ever be alone with a child. It is as simple as that. Our ministry is transparent in how we deal with disciplinary problems and communication with parents is very important.
A solid bus program will alleviate discipline problems because the children are involved. Whether it is walk down an aisle of the bus or engaging quieter children with easy to answer questions it is important to get everyone involved. I have found that games that encourage working together are best. If they will work together on the route, the will work together to get their friends to attend as well.
As a pastor, may different ministries can grab your time and attention. For me, my heart will always lean toward the bus ministry. Thirty-one years ago I rode the bus to church for the first time. My family was broken apart by divorce and life was hard. When that blue bus picked me up for church…Jesus came with it! My life has never been the same. One year after I started riding, my mom and dad were saved and remarried each other. Twenty six years to the day I started riding the bus to church I became the pastor of our church. How can I forget the bus ministry? Lord willing, I hope I never forget. Every once in a while I drive down West Forest Road in Landover, Maryland where it all began and thank God for the bus ministry and for my bus captain. I have seen God transform so many lives through the bus ministry. The bus ministry of WBC produced me as the pastor, our bus director, and missionaries. Scores have been reached through the bus ministry. Two weeks ago on of our bus kids from many years ago got his CDL and drove the route for the first time. The bus ministry still works. That is why I say…KEEP THE BUSES ROLLING!!
Pastor William Tyson
Woodlawn Baptist Church