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‘Baptism Assistance Project’ offered

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–With nearly half of the 43,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention baptizing three or fewer people, according to 2007 statistics, the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, the North American Mission Board and state and local Baptists are partnering to reverse the trend.

The number of baptisms across the convention fell to 345,941 in 2007, nearly 19,000 less than the 364,826 baptisms in 2006. SBC churches have not recorded 400,000 annual baptisms since 2000; the all-time record was 445,725 in 1972.

With financial assistance from NAMB, the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists launched a “Baptism Assistance Project” to help address the “no and low” baptism trend among Southern Baptist churches.

BAP provides a COSBE-certified evangelist who will preach at any SBC church requesting assistance. Churches must commit to a detailed planning and preparation process and agree to take a “sacrificial” love offering which does not directly go to the evangelist but back to the BAP. BAP, in turn, provides the COSBE evangelist a modest pre-determined honorarium, travel and lodging expenses.

The Baptism Assistance Project is available to any church, regardless of size or demographics, with further details available at COSBE’s website, www.sbcevangelist.org.

“Many churches feel they are too small to use the ministry of a full-time COSBE vocational evangelist,” said Brian Fossett, COSBE’s current president. “These churches feel they could not meet an evangelist’s financial needs.

“However, COSBE members have a passion for harvest evangelism and are committed to this project even though, for most of us, the honorarium is significantly lower than our ministry’s budget needs for a week,” said Fossett, of Dalton, Ga.

“Our goal is to conduct at least 100 meetings under BAP each year,” he said. “We conservatively project that we could see well over 1,000 professions of faith resulting from these 100 meetings.”

Walt Gragert, 68-year-old pastor of Washington Avenue Southern Baptist Church in Rocky Ford, Colo., is one pastor who has seen the Baptist Assistance Project’s impact.

Washington Avenue, which started out with only a dozen members, recently had 65 in church, said Gragert, a bivocational pastor who retired as an engineer with Hewlett-Packard.

“We used Dr. Darrell Robinson of Texas, who had preached for me in four different churches,” Gragert said. “I was trying to decide how to afford him at this church. Then I learned money was available through the Baptist Assistance Project.

“It worked for the church…. Darrell got our people out knocking on doors. We had 16 conversions and baptized nine of them,” Gragert said, adding, “I would use BAP again.”

Eric Fuller, a 26-year-old up-and-coming evangelist based in Fort Worth, Texas, sees three advantages of churches using COSBE evangelists for revivals and harvest meetings.

“First, you’ll see more lost people respond to the Gospel.

“Second, the church will experience revival and renewal, allowing many of their members to get their joy back.

“Last, it gets the pastor out of the pulpit so he can listen to a fresh message, take part in worship and re-charge — without worrying about preaching. He can just sit back and soak it all in,” Fuller said, noting that many pastors become so bogged down with the pressures of leading a congregation that evangelism becomes less and less of a priority.

“I’ve had many pastors tell me they don’t have time to be actively involved in outreach in their communities,” Fuller said. “That’s why Ephesians 4 tells us that the evangelist is a gift to the church, for the equipping of a church.”

Fossett cites Billy Graham’s assessment that revival meetings are 45 percent preparation, 45 percent follow-up and 10 percent actual presentation.

The preparation includes advance prayer, getting church members to attend and reach out to lost friends, and in local promotion.

“I know some believe revivals no longer work,” Fossett said. “But I like what Dr. Roy Fish [longtime evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary] says: ‘Revivals work when people do.’ Evangelists do not pull revival out of their back pockets.”

Graham, in the latest COSBE resource guide, states: “I know of no higher calling than that of the itinerant evangelist. But evangelists also have a responsibility to work side by side with pastors and churches in reaching the lost and bringing them into the fellowship of God’s people.

“No organization has sought to link the ministry of the evangelist and the pastor more than the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists,” Graham notes. “I urge churches to prayerfully consider using a member of COSBE.”

Fossett has appointed a Baptism Assistance Project committee and pastors can contact one of its members to inquire about the initiative: Gary Bowlin, chairman, 601-276-7245, [email protected]; Bob Smith, 256-797-6011, [email protected]; Keith Fordham, 770-461-5998, [email protected]; and Darrell Robinson, 281-651-4524; [email protected]
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists or the Baptism Assistance Project, visit www.sbcevangelist.org.

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