Say “Gideons,” and the vision that comes to mind for most people is Bibles in hotel nightstands and pocket-sized Scriptures passed out to students. It’s a recognized brand, with a well-publicized purpose, but it’s getting a new moniker in Canada.
Gideons International in Canada will now be known as ShareWord Global.
“God has called us to expand our evangelistic efforts internationally and come alongside our brothers and sisters across the world with tools, resources, and inspiration to be faithful—not just to a brand name, but to Jesus himself, who instructed us to ‘go and make disciples of all the nations,'” said Alan Anderson, ShareWord president, in the announcement.
This new name comes a decade after the Canadian branch of Gideons International distinguishing itself from its mother organization, The Gideons International, which is headquartered in Nashville.
There were several reasons for creating an autonomous Canadian organization, Anderson told CT. One had to do with the Canada Revenue Agency’s requirements for reporting money that was being sent overseas. But there were also some ideological differences. The Gideons in Canada wanted to open the organization to women; in the US it remains a men-only ministry.
“Sometimes the methods get confused with the purpose,” Anderson said. “We took a step a back and asked ourselves, ‘What are we trying to accomplish?’”
The Canadian organization also removed the vocational requirement that members be businessmen or professionals and took steps to work more directly with churches.
“We were able to invest far more heavily in partnership, especially partnership with the local church,” Anderson said.
ShareWord will continue to distribute physical Bibles and gave away 2 million in 2020. The Canadian organization also developed a digital app called NewLife to introduce people to the gospel of Christ on their smartphones.
The Canadian organization is putting more emphasis on equipping churches with the tools and confidence to share the gospel.
“We do a fair amount of development and inspiration to people in congregations to be bolder about sharing their faith,” Anderson said.
The emphasis on personal evangelism comes at a time when many schools and hotels across Canada decline the offer to place Bibles in rooms and in the hands of students.
“We’re really committed to how powerful Scripture is, but how much more so will someone receive that if it’s from a person rather than just sitting in a drawer?” Anderson said. “How much more likely are they to open it if there’s someone who's telling them how much it’s meant to them?”
A recent study by Alpha Canada and the Flourishing Congregations Institute reveals there is a great need for a revival of personal evangelism. Their survey conducted earlier this year found that 65 percent of Canadian church leaders reported evangelism hasn’t been a priority for their congregations over the past several years.
Similar research conducted by Barna in the US found that 44 percent of Gen Z feel that it’s wrong to share your personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.
According to the Alpha research, “Perceived antagonism toward Christian values and the Christian church” was the number one reason people aren’t evangelizing.
“In North America, it has almost become wrong to share your faith, and there’s a tremendous social hesitancy to do that,” Anderson said.
But he believes that there’s no better time for an organization like ShareWord to help Christians get past those hesitancies. As ShareWord looks ahead to the next five years, Anderson said he’d like to see partnerships with 5,000 churches, training 100,000 Christians to share the good news.
“If you can get over that fear barrier, it turns out there are more people who are interested than you would think, and there are far less people who are hostile than you would think,” Anderson said. “I think we’ve built up fears that are not necessarily accurate.”
ShareWord will also continue to expand its work in foreign countries, especially as new doors open. Anderson said ShareWord has been welcomed to spread Scripture in Cuba and give bibles to school-aged children in Nicaragua. ShareWord has a footprint in 47 countries with extensive work happening in about a dozen.
Anderson admits says the decision to change the name was not easy. The Gideons are well known, and members of the Canadian organization value that history. But in the end, it was time to leave the name behind.
“If you say the word Gideons to someone, they will immediately have an image of a Bible in a hotel room,” he said, “and our ministry is so much more than that now.”