COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–More than 700 volunteers from a single Baptist association knocked on nearly 7,000 doors to share the Gospel in a Tennessee community April 8, and Bobby Welch believes it was a key event in the grander scheme of accomplishing the goal set forth in the “‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge!” for evangelism.
“Crossover Cookeville” was modeled after the evangelism event that has for years preceded the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, but Welch, president of the convention, said it went a step further by tying into the associational baptism rallies he challenged each Baptist association to conduct.
“I think Cookeville — as well as what we’re seeing happening now with associational baptism rallies across the country but overwhelmingly in North Carolina — is giving clear indication that our people are beginning to see the value and rediscover the spiritual synergy of uniting in their common effort for evangelism,” Welch told Baptist Press.
After a day of knocking on Cookeville doors in inclement weather, volunteers from the Stone Baptist Association returned to their churches the following morning to share the excitement with their congregations. Then 800 of them packed the auditorium of First Baptist Church in Cookeville on Sunday night to celebrate the results of their efforts.
Most of the service was televised in the city, and about 20 people made professions of faith and others made some sort of spiritual decision during the service.
“It was really something. We had hundreds of people who got down on their knees and committed themselves to go out and try to share the Gospel with other people,” Welch said.
The event drew more Baptists than any associational event in the last 28 years, said Frank Hickman, the association’s director of missions. It also drew members of a majority of the association’s 41 churches, which include a Hispanic and a Chinese mission congregation.
At last year’s SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Welch launched an initiative to see 1 million baptisms within the convention between Oct. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006 — the “‘Everyone Can’ Kingdom Challenge!” for evangelism. Then he urged local Baptist associations to join together to do their part in reaching people for Christ by holding at least two associational baptism rallies.
“I’m seeing this almost every night in North Carolina,” Welch said, drawing a parallel to the Cookeville rally and similar gatherings he has been attending in the lead-up to the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., June 13-14.
In an interview with Baptist Press regarding the Cookeville initiative, Welch recalled his words during his first news conference after being elected president of the convention in 2004 as well as a crucial message he had painted on the bus used for his 50-state tour that year.
“If you’ll remember all the way back to Indianapolis, in that press conference I said the failure of the convention is its inability to create unity of purpose that in turn generates spiritual synergy for the sake of evangelism,” he said. “And remember it said on the side of the bus, ‘Do all you can with all you have where you are now.’ Well, that is everybody getting on the same page and doing what they can in their Jerusalem and then putting it together. I think what we’re seeing now is they are getting this. They are beginning to focus.”
Welch made clear that people throughout the convention mostly understood the concept of doing all they can with all they have, but now they’re putting it into practice at a greater rate.
He pointed to North Carolina, where about 95 percent of the state’s 80 associations have made commitments to be part of the unified effort to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people.
“That’s phenomenal. That’s one state,” he said. “And this didn’t come down as some edict from on high — this came from a grassroots conviction of pastors and people in these associations that we will do better if we rise together, and they are! That’s exhilarating to me.”
Cookeville, Welch said, is “a fresh new dynamic to the whole idea of unifying as an association in baptism rallies. Cookeville was a Crossover effort by an association. That adds a whole other component.
“Here what we probably have in front of us now are the pieces to the next part of this puzzle to reach these million baptisms,” he said. “That is, I right now fully expect that there will be associations who will now go out on Saturday and do their own Crossover in their own association, go on Sunday and tell the story and then some of them Sunday night will meet at a public spot and have an outdoor baptism rally. I fully expect that to happen.”
What happened in Cookeville could easily happen in Wyoming or Texas or California, Welch said, and the folks there have helped cast a vision for churches across the nation to combine a local Crossover effort with a baptism rally to create more synergy in the effort to reach people for Christ.
“This is so exciting,” he said. “We are now seeing fresh and new associational life as it was always meant to be among the churches of a community. This is bringing back a unity of purpose, and the unity of purpose is bringing back a unity of excitement and the thrill of being a critical part of a larger whole. That’s groundbreaking in some of these associations.”
If every association in every state makes the same commitment that North Carolina has, Welch said, and if they follow through with associational Crossovers and associational baptism rallies, the opportunities for expanding the Kingdom of God are limitless.
“This has the possibility of becoming an absolute national blaze for revival,” he said. “It really is starting to happen.”
With reporting by Connie Davis Bushey of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector.