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Bobby Welch, if tapped by SBC, envisions 1 million baptisms


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Bobby Welch, if he serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will make an “all-out effort” for evangelism.

“Here’s the headline on me: This convention does not have one problem that soul-winning will not solve. You put that in big capital letters, quotes, three exclamation points and underline it in red,” Welch said in an extended interview with the Florida Baptist Witness published June 10.

At present, Welch is the only announced presidential nominee on the eve of the SBC’s June 15-16 annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Welch is pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he will mark his 30th anniversary in August. He will be nominated for the SBC presidency by Johnny Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock.

Welch, 61, is a former president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, former SBC vice president and the co-founder of the FAITH/Sunday School Evangelism Strategy widely used by churches across the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Alabama native became a Christian as a teenager, but it was in combat in Vietnam as a reconnaissance platoon leader where his faith commitment became resolute.

Shot at point-blank range by a Viet Cong guerrilla, Welch was believed to be dead when he was piled onto a military helicopter with other casualties. He whispered a prayer of recommitment to Christ in the days that followed as he struggled to survive.

“The longer I live, the clearer it becomes” how much the incident 38 years ago has influenced his call to the ministry, Welch told the Witness.

SENSE OF URGENCY

“Ever since that day, I live in the conscious state of knowing that I may not get home tonight, and that drives a great sense of urgency in me. I don’t put off a lot until tomorrow. … I am driven with a sense of urgency to get things done. And that’s how I feel about reaching people,” he said, adding, “I’m driven with the same urgency about this convention.”

In the interview with the Witness, Welch was careful to say he will not take for granted his election to the highest post in the nation’s largest evangelical body.

But he also made clear his goals and convictions.

He will issue an overarching call for Southern Baptists to reach 1 million baptisms yearly in the United States, a goal first envisioned by Paige Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, during his SBC presidency from 1998-2000.

Toward the 1-million mark, Welch will embark on a tour — primarily by bus – encompassing 25 days between late August through early October to visit every state in the nation as well as a city in Canada to “further extend the convention” and to hear the ideas of “grassroots” Southern Baptists. The tour will visit visits to Alaska and Hawaii by plane.

Welch said he hopes the cross-country initiative will result in a coordinated effort of renewed commitment to evangelism and plans for simultaneous evangelistic efforts to be launched at the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

1 MILLION BAPTISMS

“If you baptize a million in one year, you would move to a level of transformation that we would never go back again to where we used to be,” Welch told the Witness.

With 377,357 baptisms in SBC churches last year — a drop of 4.44 percent from 2002, Welch said, “We’ve got to get off these decimal points. Decimal points are good for nothing but death spiritually.”

Citing the baptism decline as one of “six critical areas that we’ve got to break out from,” Welch said focused attention on the challenges — ranging from evangelism training to stewardship — “would have the potential of creating mass and generating spiritual synergy, and those are the sort of things that are essential for a transformational, forward movement — to really go to a place we’ve never been before and then we never come back to where we used to be.”

The other five areas listed by Welch are:

— Evangelism training. Welch said his presidency would not be marked by advocacy of the FAITH/Sunday School Evangelism Strategy alone. “The deal is to do it,” he said emphatically of “a thousand ways” people can be trained to witness for their faith.

— Witnessing to and winning the lost. “My belief is that you win if you witness and you lose if you don’t,” Welch told the Witness. Southern Baptists “have to get lostness, the look of lostness of their unsaved” family members on their minds. Rather than solely focusing on foreign missions across the world, “We need to bring lostness closer to home.”

— Stewardship. A consistent leader in support of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified missions funding effort, First Baptist Daytona Beach gives at least 15 percent of its undesignated gifts to (CP) Missions. “Every budget year there are things that we need to do more of and that we wish we could, but we’ve never flinched on [CP giving] and I don’t see where we’ve ever suffered from it, and I believe we’re blessed because of it,” Welch told the Witness.

“I believe that there are people out here who need to refocus on the joy, the victory and the blessing of being in the center of God’s blessing through stewardship,” he said. “And that needs to happen at the individual level, that needs to happen at the church level and that needs to happen at the cooperative level.”

— Vacation Bible School. Welch said he intends to call for all Southern Baptists — including adults — to be enrolled in Vacation Bible School for the next two years. Asserting that Southern Baptists are “failing miserably now in a runaway way to reach our kids for the Lord,” Welch said VBS is the “absolute best way to reinvigorate us for our passion for reaching young people.” Noting that VBS is fueled primarily by the efforts of laypeople, Welch added that any church, including small congregations and those without pastors, can immediately get involved in renewed VBS outreach.

— Starting new units. Southern Baptists should highlight starting new units — Sunday School classes and new churches — as a vital evangelistic strategy, Welch said. Children’s Sunday School classes are especially important, he told the Witness, because most Christians make a profession of faith before the age of 18.

Through the bus tour, Welch said, “I would attempt to do an all-out effort in the first months to encourage, urge, stir our convention with a call to a unity of purpose for evangelism.”

The tour will include a variety of congregations reflecting the racial, ethnic, geographic and numerical diversity of the SBC — “a patchwork of this mosaic of Southern Baptist Convention life,” Welch said.

In addition to churches, he hopes to meet the president, executive director, evangelism director, Sunday School director and newspaper editor of every state Baptist convention. He said he realizes schedules will be difficult to coordinate and some leaders may not be able to join in, but he hopes to meet numerous state Southern Baptist leaders along the way and ride with them in the bus for a period of time.

Welch settled on the bus tour as the most effective way of meeting and hearing from grassroots Southern Baptists, noting that “when you roll up on a bus, they know you’ve been on the road. … I think it says to them that I’m trying to do the best I can to extend this convention toward you, at some effort on my part.”
The bus — which Welch was careful to note would be the “convention bus, it’s not the Bobby Welch bus” — will be covered with the logos of each SBC entity and the slogan, “Do all you can with all you got where you are — now.”

Later on, Welch told the Witness, he would like to visit U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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This story on Bobby Welch was compiled from several stories by James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, in the newsjournal’s June 10 edition, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BOBBY WELCH.

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