Pastor Uses 3 Circles to reach Olympians

By Raquel Wroten

Ryan Schneider serves as pastor of Saranac Lake Baptist Church in upstate New York near Lake Placid, home to the Olympic Training Center where elite athletes come to train as they pursue their Olympic dreams.

When he prepares for an event, whether it’s training in the summer or an actual competition in the winter, he searches for different ways to share the love of Christ with the many athletes who will arrive soon from all over the world.

Ryan says he’s now “part of the system.” When the new athletes arrive, he remains “like a fixture on a wall” to form relationships and share the gospel.

“As you know, I’m always looking for great ways to engage people and athletes with the gospel because our Bible study crowd often changes year to year, and there’s a lot of ebb and flow,” he says.

Sharing the gospel will almost always look different with athletes coming and leaving. “Sometimes it looks like apologetics. Other times, we will have a solid group of believers digging into the Word,” Ryan shares.

The goal, he explains, is to remain outreach-oriented and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. “And so, I’m using the 3 Circles method, and the one piece that sticks out in there…is the second circle, which is brokenness.”

This evangelism tool helps people use three circles to represent God’s Design, Brokenness and the Gospel. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has produced a variety of resources to help support pastors and ministry leaders who want to train their churches to use 3 Circles.

There is also a children’s version, which includes an instructional parent/leader guide on how to equip children to use the resource. The 3 Circles tool is centered on mobilizing believers for the mission of God.

Ryan explained that while most people tend to talk about their brokenness, many athletes don’t.

“I ran into a block because I’ve used it in other places with people who seemed more open to talking about their needs,” he says.

With determination, Ryan reached out to Jimmy Scroggins and asked him what he could do to reach athletes. Jimmy responded and encouraged him.

With a sports background knowledge, Jimmy reminded Ryan of every athlete’s brokenness and it was just a matter of setting the stage with the right questions. He told Ryan, “This circle [of brokenness] is still a segue into sharing the gospel.”

The more they communicated, the more Ryan felt convinced that he could use the 3 Circles to share the gospel with athletes. Since that conversation, Ryan has trained their bobsled and skeleton athletes and his church family.

“I sat down with an Olympian who had returned from the games in China. He shared about the brokenness he felt of making the team and it not being the experience he thought it would be, which marked the entrance point in sharing the gospel with him,” says Ryan.

Ryan explained there’s brokenness on every level. It exists in every person in this world. Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” For Ryan, it’s a matter of forming a relationship where he can access that brokenness within his context.

“You know some people may be more gifted at it. For me, I just tend to stay more relationship-focused.”

Lake Placid is one of the least Bible-saturated areas in America. The people in the community don’t have a reference point for Jesus, and they don’t have much knowledge of the Bible. Over the last 16 years, they’ve pointed to multiple generations who don’t know Jesus.

“We have 60-year-old infants in Christ that have just come to faith,” says Ryan. “When you share the gospel with 3 Circles, you share God’s design. It may be the first time they’ve heard we have a Creator and that He had a perfect plan. It boggles my mind because they have never heard that before. So, can they be held accountable for it when nobody shared the Gospel with them?”

To mobilize others to use the 3 Circles, Ryan includes it in his preaching.

“We taught all our small groups and created a two-week intensive on 3 Circles,” he says. Last year, they did the training, and a Christian woman who had never received discipleship to share the Gospel started coming to church.

“She gravitated toward the 3 Circles that Sunday. She heard me preach, and she realized you could see all three circles in my teaching, regardless of where we are in Scripture.”

“On any Sunday morning, the three circles idea remains there in the preaching. In the gospel presentation, at the end of the sermon and depending on the topic, you will see the three circles there, in varying degrees of intensity. She said to me, ‘Wait, this is like, a biblical model,’” says Ryan.

The Bible, Ryan says, is the way to view discipleship.

“I think of another church member who attended the class on 3 Circles or a small group last year. He called me recently. He had received a late-night call from a suicidal buddy. He didn’t call me to come and lead his friend to Jesus; he called me for advice on how to navigate it.” Ryan says he reminded and pointed the church member to 3 Circles and told him that because of his brokenness, his suicidal friend needed Jesus.

“I think the fact that he felt mobilized to do this himself and share the gospel with his suicidal buddy using 3 Circles was key.” Ryan’s church member didn’t feel like he needed to call for back-up. He needed that little reminder and some prayer from his pastor.

As pastors, “I think that’s our job,” Ryan says, “To prepare others as they prepare to go and do the work of the ministry and share the love of Christ with the many who don’t know Jesus.”

Find more 3 Circles resources here: namb.net/3circles


Published June 23, 2022

Raquel Wroten

Raquel P. Wroten (MAMC, Dallas Theological Seminary) has served as an editor, social media manager, communications strategic consultant and content writer for over 15 years. She enjoys writing (in English, Spanish and Spanglish), learning, cooking, coffee and serving up a feast for her friends and family.