Back in November of 2009, I took note of a billboard I’d seen on the 8 West, put up by the San Diego Coalition of Reason. “Don’t believe in God?” it read. “You’re not alone.”
When Brian in El Cajon read about that sign, he turned to his wife Dianne and said, “We can put a billboard up.” The couple, both in their early 60s, had been pondering the notion of God’s gifts and what theirs might be. “We thought, We have a little bit in savings. We can use that.” And in April of this year, they did, right alongside the 8 West at the Waring Road exit. “Today!” it reads, “You can have forgiveness and new life! JesusSanDiego.” It’s down now, but there’s another on the 163 and plans for more in Imperial Beach and Ocean Beach.
It’s not that Brian wants his billboard to rebut the atheists’ version — argument is not his intention. “Basically,” he explains, “we’re appealing to people who feel they have a need for forgiveness and new life. Not people who want to debate about something like, ‘Is there a God?’”
For Brian and Dianne, both Christians, the billboard was the next step. The first step had been to develop and implement a survey about people’s religious beliefs. Inspired by a street ministry team he encountered, Brian had put together nine questions and had begun approaching people in public. “On a good day, we’d get 20. But then we started doing it on a bigger scale, setting up a table outside of Walmart or Food 4 Less. We bought some two-dollar bills and had a little sign saying we’d give you two dollars to take a survey. The response was great — we once had 300 people in a single day. Over a few months, we did over 3000 surveys.”
It’s not that Brian was desperate to know what people believed. Rather, he wanted people to think about the questions he was asking. “A lot of them were about heaven and hell and death, things that nobody wants to think about.” But “once they had completed the survey, they would think, Maybe I need to know God. It just got them thinking that there was more to life.”
His efforts paid off. “The last question was, ‘How well do you know God?’ The choices were, ‘Not at all’; ‘I think I do, but I’m not sure’; ‘I do, but not personally’; or ‘I know God really well on a personal level.’ The answers were all over the chart. Some people, you could tell they didn’t know God from their earlier answers, but they would say they knew God really well. A lot of people would think, and say, ‘Wow, these are questions I never thought about before.’ Some would be very honest and say, ‘You know, I don’t know Him on a personal level.’ At the end of the survey, it said, ‘We have a printed brochure to tell you how you can know God personally.’ They had to ask for it if they wanted it. By God’s grace, over 75 percent of people who took the survey wanted the brochure.”
One of the surprising things Brian learned was that, among people who claimed to know Jesus as their Savior, “there was a lot of confusion on their part about what actually does save them. The question was, ‘If you were at God’s door in heaven, why should God let you in?’ A lot of people referred to ‘good works’ or ‘compared to other people, I’m a good person.’”
That’s where the billboard comes in. The billboard, of course, is just an ad for the website, and after the welcome message — “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” — the site goes straight for that question of “what actually saves you.” “First you must experience His forgiveness and new life so you can know Him and His perfect plan for you.” And, yes, you do need forgiveness. “Our conscience tells us that we have all said or done things wrong in our lives.... No matter how good or how bad we have been, we all need God’s forgiveness because God says we have all sinned.”
The solution? “Salvation is free and comes by simple faith, by believing in God and His plan. Don’t stumble over the simplicity of it.... Giving time and money and helping others are ‘good’ things to do, but they will never save us from eternal death.” Instead, you must “receive by faith what Jesus did on the cross” for you. Because, as it is written in Romans, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Once you do that, said Brian, “God’s Holy Spirit comes inside you and lives” so that you are a “born-again, new creation. You hear about dramatic conversions, where things just change instantly and people can just feel the presence of God. But salvation is by faith — just, basically, taking God at His word. I’ve heard testimonies where people don’t feel anything, but they were still born again.” And that is that.
Well, almost. The website’s act of faith includes the line, “Make me the kind of person you want me to be.” And the congratulatory message exhorts, “Don’t stop here, you have just begun. It is vital you understand what God wants you to do now.” To that end, Brian and Dianne will send those who make the act of faith “6 Keys to Christian Growth” and “The Gospel of John Book.” Also, a list of several “Bible-believing churches” in your area.
Still, Brian is careful not to give the wrong idea. “Salvation is by grace alone,” he stresses. But, “We just want to give them something, so they don’t just say the prayer and then stop at that point — not go to church, not read the Bible. Once the seed of new birth is planted, you need to water it and make it grow.”