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Baptism is ‘benchmark of evangelism,’ Southern Baptist president says on bus tour

LEBANON, Mo. (BP)–“Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” isn’t just a slogan on the side of a bus or on posters and handbills in churches where “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” tour stops for a rally.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch repeats the phrase at every rally on his cross-country tour to awaken Southern Baptists to the urgent need for reversing a four-year downtrend in baptisms.

While witnessing about Christ and winning people to Him is vitally important to Welch, so are baptisms.

“It’s obvious to me that some of our churches are not focusing on baptism,” Welch said. “Now I’m not on a crusade to show the SBC how dire our situation is, because the statistics have done that for us.

“I’m on a quest in hopes of creating unity of purpose in evangelism that will not only get our people to witness to and win people to Christ, but will also result in baptisms,” Welch said in an interview following his Everyone Can rally at the First Baptist Church in Lebanon, Mo., Sept. 24.

Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., said he makes no apology for emphasizing baptism because “it holds us accountable for the job our churches are doing on discipleship. Baptism is a definite benchmark of discipleship.

“And it’s a benchmark our convention needs to get back to.”

Gary Longenecker, pastor of First Baptist in Lebanon, led his church to the benchmark Welch is talking about during the course of a year-long focus on prayer and fasting every Wednesday.

The church soon got involved in an evangelism training program and also began praying for international missions.

“People began to look around and reach outward,” said Mary Longenecker, wife of the pastor. That outreach led to the church nearly doubling its membership.

Mary reached out via the church’s evangelism emphasis by witnessing to a Japanese woman in the community. “I never met anyone so hungry for the Gospel. She wanted to learn and grow in the Christian faith,” Mary said.

The Japanese woman has since returned to Japan and led more than 40 people to faith in Christ.

“What happened in the lives of Gary and Mary Longenecker, and in the life of the church, and in the life of that Japanese woman, and in the life of those 40 people she’s touched -– all that can happen to Southern Baptists and their churches, whether they’re in Sarasota or Seattle, or in Menominee [in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula] or Memphis,” Welch said.

“I am confident beyond doubt that God will bless any Southern Baptist church in our convention if it will make reaching lost souls its top-most priority,” he said.

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  • Norm Miller