Throughout the year Warren and his wife Joan couldn't help but notice how many cars remained in driveways on Sunday mornings en route to Salem Baptist Church. Those different perspectives were evident at the neighborhood's annual Christmas party.
Last year, a pointed sermon on evangelism and homegrown witnessing tool prompted Warren to have a different outlook toward the Christmas party. He was ready to talk.
"I took about seven or eight cookies with me and handed all of those out," Warren said. "I'd talk to them and ask if they had a church home. People were very nice and receptive."
The cookies -- called "Shapes of Faith" -- were the creation of fellow church member Cecelia Smith.
Smith, an accountant by profession, doesn't consider herself much of a cook but began baking in the mid-'90s to work around her daughter's dairy allergies. That led to her baking and decorating cookies for friends and special events.
The hobby hit a lull in 2010 but would find a new purpose through the preaching of Smith's pastor, Rick Statham. An evangelist by nature, Statham had been leading a class on sharing one's faith at the McDonough, Ga., church.
"I signed up for the class because I wanted to more easily with others," Smith said. "It wasn't something I did consistently or with ease, but it was the desire of my heart.
"More than once during the early weeks of the class Pastor Rick would mention my talent for making decorative cookies as an example for how to reach out. Later we took a spiritual gifts survey and mine came back as evangelism. That brought a sense of personal accountability to my heart. What was I going to do about this?
"For too many years I felt I'd been too silent on sharing my faith with others."
Warren, meanwhile, admits he's not the type to hand out tracts or initiate conversations about God, but was stirred by one of Statham's evangelism-rooted sermons.
"When Pastor preached the sermon that morning , I took note of the cookies and thought 'I can do something with those.' I didn't want to give them to friends or family I already knew were active in church."
Warren's comfort level in using the cookies has much to do with the accompanying evangelistic note -- written by Smith and titled "A Gift for You" -- centered around the most familiar verse in Scripture: John 3:16.
Originally, the gift-wrapped packets included six cookies in the shape of a heart, spot, cross, door, snowflake and gift, each reflecting a facet of John 3:16. Smith soon developed a second easier-to-distribute packet containing a single cookie in the shape of a gift that also explains the Gospel.
"I took into account shapes, colors and presentation for presenting the Gospel," Smith said. "It all developed over the course of a week and resulted in a cookie gift set with a card attached."
Church members Del Chapman and Beth Durden also spoke of the ease a simple cookie brought in sharing the Gospel.
"I'll hand them out at work to people, even salesmen and auditors," Chapman said. "They've led to some really good conversations."
Durden's husband Terry also hands the cookies out at work. And she worked them into a larger gift set of homemade treats for the neighbors at Christmas. A TV on the fritz also provided Durden an opportunity to connect with a cable guy, who was given some cookies at the end of the house call.
Granted, few evangelistic encounters bring a salvation prayer the first time -- as Mike and Joan Warren left the Christmas party one reveler was holding the cookie gift in one hand and a beer in the other while singing "O Holy Night."
But Smith testifies to the cumulative effect of planting seeds.
"The cookies help people confidently share their faith in most any setting or situation," she said. "I've given them to family, friends, pizza delivery drivers, service technicians, wait staff, sales clerks, Jehovah's Witnesses and others in my community. I've never had anyone turn them down.
"One day two men came to our house to do some work and when they were finished my husband and I shared some words with them and gave them a cookie gift. Unknown to us, one of the men had been witnessing to the other. God was at work in this situation and allowed us to plant another seed."
For more information on Shapes of Faith cookies go to www.shapesoffaith.com.
Scott Barkley is production manager for The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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