As the Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA playoffs run continues, Oklahoma Baptists are teaming up to reach people for Christ in connection with the games and activities.

Churches from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), specifically Union and Capital associations, are looking for ways to serve the community and share the Gospel through a campaign called “I believe.”

“Everyone is talking about the Oklahoma City Thunder and the NBA playoffs,” said Tim Gentry, BGCO evangelism specialist. “Oklahoma is proud of the progress our local NBA team has made, and during the playoffs, people are cheering them on, saying, ‘I believe!’ But the phrase ‘I believe’ has two meanings to Christians.”

During the playoffs, the Capital and Union associations, the BGCO, and Oklahoma City-area churches have been involved in servant evangelism and witnessing outreach efforts.

Harry Black, associational missionary for Capital Association, said the efforts tap into the Thunder’s popularity to relate the Gospel to friends, family and fellow Thunder fans.

“They can put one of those (tracts) in someone’s hands and let the Holy Spirit take it from there,” he said. “The Thunder in Oklahoma City is great news—we’re in the finals (Western Conference) and we believe they can go all the way to the NBA finals and win. We thought this was a great opportunity to combine good news in two ways.”

Jimmy Kinnaird, senior pastor of Oklahoma City, Village, agrees. “I do believe the Thunder is going to make it all the way. Oklahoma City is a great place to live, work and go to church. We are blessed to have the Thunder and this opportunity to serve.”

Other churches involved are Moore, Highland; Oklahoma City, Shields Boulevard; Oklahoma City, Quail Springs; Piedmont, First and  Yukon, Canadian Valley.

“We have had hundreds of volunteers help put out T-shirts at the Thunder home games,” said Van Greenwood, minister of recreation and community outreach for Oklahoma City, Quail Springs. “This is an excellent opportunity to pray for our people in the community while we put the T-Shirts on the chair. We are excited about being an active part of the community in this way, while sharing the love of Christ.

“It is not only church people helping out, but I also have been able to bring guys (who play basketball) in our church gym with me to serve and build relationships through serving together. They are excited to get a (free) T-shirt at the end and be in the Thunder’s arena.”

In addition, Oklahoma Baptists have printed a high gloss, mini-magazine that contains stories and testimonials from recognized Christian athletes, including Thunder players Kevin Durant—who has led the league in scoring the past three seasons—and Derek Fisher, as well as University of Oklahoma football quarterback Landry Jones.

“People are using the printed literature to share their faith in person,” Gentry added. “Christians (also) are sharing their faith online through social media on Twitter and Facebook.”

Gentry said Twitter participants are using the #ibelieve hashtag to join in conversations.

“We want people to not only talk up the Thunder, but also share other things they believe in, such as their faith in Jesus,” Gentry said. “It’s a good way to share their testimony with a large audience.”

How large an audience?

Tim Knopps, evangelist with the Timothy Institute of Evangelism in Oklahoma City and a consultant for the “I Believe” project, said, “On game night the arena holds more than 19,000 people. There are about 9,000 people in Thunder Alley and more than 3,000 in Bricktown (For a total of 31,000).

“In essence, there is the population equivalent of Shawnee squeezed into a quarter-mile radius. Not only do we get to witness to the crowd, but we also often find ourselves ministering to those in need or  searching for spiritual direction. With this many people in one place the Church really does need to jump right into the middle of it all and share the love of Christ.”

“It was such an easy thing to use to talk to people,” said Joshua Shelton, student minister at Yukon, Canadian Valley.

“After I gave them the player card, I asked some if I could also pray for them,” added Lynda Merchant, a member of Yukon, Canadian Valley.

Their pastor, Cameron Whaley, commented, “Because of the card’s design, people eagerly wanted what you had. It was a great opportunity to share more.”

The “I Believe” campaign has garnered attention from media outlets, including Baptist Press, The Oklahoman, KOCO-TV, The Christian Post and others.