The Case of the Mysterious Punctuation Marks

How one church captured their city's attention with the gospel, and how you can, too

Jess Fong

The whole city was curious.

The punctuation marks "? ! ." appeared everywhere in Nova Friburgo, Brazil: on billboards, duct-taped onto cars, and even on signs carried by students.

"Everybody in the city was commenting on it," says Wesley Cunha, a Cru staff member in Brazil.

Wesley and his wife, Priscila, alongside the Comunidade Cristã Church, were the source of the mystery: an outreach resulting in 1,000 people indicating decisions for Christ, an easily reproducible event.

Here's how they did it and how you can, too:

Step 1: Plan

The city of Nova Friburgo is next to Rio de Janiero, home of the world famous Rio Carnaval. Similar to Mardi Gras in the United States, Carnaval is traditionally a day of feasting that has developed into a celebration of culture, bodily pleasure and revelry.

Rio Carnaval is the largest in the world, lasting 4 days with ongoing parades and nightly street parties. Carnaval was opportune for reaching a large audience, including many seeking happiness but unsatisfied with just festivities.

"It's the place you go and find many people that are lost and doing bad things," explains Wesley. "Many of them actually have something empty inside and would like to do different things."

Your Turn:

1. Check the calendar for the most effective time for an outreach. Time it to coincide with existing events or relate to a meaningful holiday.

2. Pray for guidance and clarity as you begin to organize.

3. Count the cost and make a budget. Consider available resources -- within Wesley's church, one member owned a billboard which they were able to use.

Step 2: Gather

Wesley challenged Comunidade Cristã's youth group, Geração Sem Limites, (Generation Without Limits) to develop a creative way to explain the fundamentals of becoming a Christian.

They shared their idea based on punctuation marks with parents, pastors and other members of the church who became excited to explain Christ to the city. More and more Christians wanted to be a part of this effort.

Your Turn:

Let others know the ways God can use them. Large-scale strategies require many players.

Step 3: Promote

 "? ! ." first appeared 10 days before Carnaval.

During those 10 days, the church placed "? ! ." in as many places possible, including posters and the rear windows of 200 cars.

Strategically, the promotions offered no explanations.

People visited, a hint on some posters. Even the Web site gave no answers; instead over 2,000 subscribed to receive the meaning of "? ! ." through e-mail.

One of the local newspapers, Friweb Estácio Notícias, ran an article wondering about the meaning of these quatro pontos, or four points: "Flags with symbols spread around the city attract attention of the population."

Wesley says several newspapers offered money to buy the answer but were told the answer would be available during Carnaval.

Your Turn:

Reel in your audience's attention and keep them hooked. Wesley and his church used suspense, so he asked everyone to commit to secrecy until the public reveal.

Step 4: Train

The week before Carnaval, Geração Sem Limites held training meetings. They went over the presentation of the gospel represented through "? ! ." and learned how to engage others in spiritual conversations.

 "The Bible says 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,'" says Alberto Bonificio da Silva, an 18-year-old and member of Geração Sem Limites. "The reason for my hope is Jesus Christ."

Your Turn:

1. Prepare your team to answer questions and know how to lead others to accept Christ.

2. Make sure each person thoroughly knows and can explain each point of the gospel.

3. Address our motive to talk with others about Jesus -- compassion for people who need a Savior.

Step 5: Go Out

After the week of evangelism training and promoting, over 200 members of Comunidade Cristã Church walked through Carnaval with "? ! . NOW I KNOW" on their shirts.

Three of the youth wore large costumes shaped as "? ! ."

"We always prayed before leaving the streets: 'God, we want to be instrument of Your hands, and do Your will,'" says Alberto.

Excited to finally discover the meaning, over 3,000 people heard the gospel.

Your Turn:

1. Be bold as you go out and talk about Christ with others. God is always working, even when you may not see results that you want.

2. Continue to pray for your team and the people you speak to.

Step 6: Follow Through

During Carnaval, 1,000 people indicated decisions for Christ. Hundreds visited churches and joined Comunidade Cristã; 60 more youth joined Geração Sem Limites.

Members of Comunidade Cristã desire to continue reaching their city for Christ.

Many cars still drive with "? ! ." on their windows. Whenever members of the church wear a "? ! ." shirt, they are often stopped by the curious, providing more opportunities to tell the gospel.

After hearing about "? ! ." Cru staff members are considering holding similar outreaches in other parts of South America.

Your Turn:

1. Maintain relationships with people you speak with. Gather contact information and invite them to be part of your community.

2. Encourage your team to continue praying for seekers and new believers.

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