The old stereotype of a nattily-dressed hawker standing on the street corner handing out black and white “hellfire” gospel tracts is gone. Well, nearly. Modern-day tract evangelism has become extremely relevant, effective and even technological. And the best part is…it’s all so easy.
American Tract Society (ATS) traditional “paper” tracts hold their own with any printed publication in the industry. They include cutting-edge graphics, high-quality paper and creative, accurate, biblical content. This means, among other things, that they look good, making that all-important first impression a positive one.
One-of-a-Kind Tracts Open the Door to Sharing the Gospel
Design and subject matter of the tracts always changes to keep up with the times, but the core gospel message remains the same. The ATS has tracts playing off a number of popular television themes and films. These include American Idol, Lost, and most recently, The Chronicles of Narnia. When conversing about these popular subjects, these tracts are easy to hand out. The “modern” topics are used to introduce some aspect of God to the reader. After making the transition from the popular theme to the need for salvation, the tracts help lead the reader to finding salvation and forgiveness.
Sports tracts work in the same way. Football, baseball and NASCAR-related tracts are very popular, especially when highlighting a Christian athlete’s testimony. People use these tracts in great numbers, often distributing them at sporting events.
We also had tracts printed out just days after certain national disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. News releases were distributed to the media and to our tract users about the availablity of the tracts, which we were able to start shiping immediately.
When blockbuster movies come to movie theaters, individuals and church groups hand out tracts before and after showings. Titanic was the first film to generate such a great interest. The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia have followed suit.
The Individuals Handing Out Tracts
Non-Christians generally do not buy gospel tracts. Christians buy them to hand out as evangelistic messages. This takes place in an infinite number of ways. Individuals, churches, bookstores and other Christian ministries use ATS tracts in varied and creative ways.
Individuals. Individuals are by far the most creative. During Halloween, people hand them out with candy, distribute them at local festivals, or more recently, children have been giving them to the people handing out the candy. During Christmas, people often put tracts in cards and gift boxes. Older adults are great at handing out tracts at the beach, at the mall near their home or to fellow passengers on public buses. Families who attend sports games or go to the movies often hand out tracts. Another creative way people hand out tracts is by including them in the envelope when paying bills.
Many Christians in business use tracts in their day-to-day interactions with customers. The Old Hickory Bat Company puts a copy of the ATS Mickey Mantle tract in a box with each bat they sell. A veterinarian in California, USA, keeps copies of the “Will Your Pet Go to Heaven?” tract in his waiting room. An oncologist in Michigan, USA, keeps his pocket stuffed with the “Doc, Can You Help Me?” tract. An auto shop owner in Texas, USA, keeps copies of car racing tracts in his waiting area.
Churches. Over six thousand churches use ATS tracts. Many put tracts in racks and offer them free to their members, who in turn use them for street and neighborhood witnessing. Youth groups take them on summer mission trips. Teachers use them to go along with Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curriculums. Many churches use Easter tracts to hand out in bulletins because they have realized that Easter is the day when most “unchurched” people attend services.
Christian Ministry. Dozens of Christian ministry partners use ATS tracts in their own outreach. The Assemblies of God, Focus on the Family, Gideon’s International and the Salvation Army are just a few examples. They distribute tracts in any number of ways: by handing them out at crusades, giving them to individuals at local homeless shelters or putting them in special mailings.
Prison chaplains use ATS tracts extensively in their day-to-day ministries. More than half of the thousands of “decisions” we receive back from the tracts each year come from prisoners who have read ATS tracts and made a decision for Christ. ATS considers this an extremely important part of the ministry.
ATS military outreach is also significant. Possibly the most visited tract racks in the country are in the Pentagon, where hundreds of tracts are taken by visitors every day. Soldiers enjoy handing out ATS tracts and many people include large bundles of military tracts when sending packages to soldiers. For over one hundred years, ATS has presented Bibles with a special gospel presentation page to America’s top military academies. Hundreds of ATS donors participate in this evangelistic outreach by supporting it financially.
ATS’s international outreach (International Tract Society—ITS) is probably the fastest-growing segment of the ministry. ATS staff work with ministries in other countries to provide print film start-up help for them to print their own tracts. Last year ITS had ninety such “print partners” in fifty-eight countries around the world. These partners printed over eight million tracts.
The Electronic Age
With the recent technological advancements of the Internet, ATS has embarked full-scale into evangelism through this medium. The online ministry is concentrated in two areas: (1) providing resources for Christians to use and (2) directly reaching out to non-believers.
To help believers share their faith in the digital age, ATS provides many ways to spread the gospel via technology. First and foremost, all print tracts in the ATS online catalog can be sent as an e-tract through email (http://www.atsdirect.org/).
Also, ATS provides electronic forms of print tracts that are specially formatted for use on PDAs and other handheld computers. A number of eye-catching interactive Flash gospel presentations, called Digitracts, have been created that can be sent via email or used on a website. These are quite popular and are accessed an average of 1,500 times a day. ATS recently unveiled mTracts, which allow Christians to send a text message to a mobile phone that directs the recipient to a website where they will view a compelling gospel presentation.
ATS has created specially designed outreach websites that capitalize on cultural trends. Each of these websites contains a clear gospel presentation and invites the user to make a decision to put their trust in Christ. ATS has developed sites based on American Idol (a popular television program in the U.S., http://www.idol-vote.com/), the poker craze (http://www.biggest-bet.com/) and The Chronicles of Narnia movie (http://www.keytonarnia.com/). Print material has also been created to allow Christians to direct their unsaved friends and family to these special websites.
The Internet provides an avenue to share the gospel in an open and free environment. Internet users are hidden behind the mask of usernames, and because of this anonymity, they are often more honest about their problems and willing to receive advice regarding those problems. Our resources can be used either as an attention-grabber, as a follow-up to a tract or as a stand-alone gospel presentation that can be sent to someone in need.
As the Internet makes its transition into Web 2.0, Christians will need to discover new ways to get believers to interact with non-believers in a community environment. It’s becoming more difficult to get users to watch a three-minute presentation, but those same users will engage in a three-hour chat online about religion. The Internet is the town square for millions of people, and each day it’s becoming easier for anyone to chat, blog, podcast and even build their own community. ATS is focused on offering new easy-to-use resources, as well as training on major Internet tools. ATS’s goal is to get more Christians ministering to the nearly one billion people that are searching online. The following is a list of some ATS-related sites:
The world is changing almost daily, but the gospel and people’s need for salvation through Christ will never change. ATS’s goal is to reach people where they are with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters. Everyone at ATS sees their work as serving Christ in their own way.