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COSBE pres.: Baptism decline can be turned

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ron Herrod has seen the statistics and is well aware that baptisms are on the decline in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Like many Southern Baptists, Herrod, who was elected president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) in June, is puzzled that baptisms continue to go downward or remain stagnant.

A report issued in April by LifeWay Christian Resources showed baptisms fell for the third straight year in 2007 — the convention’s lowest level since 1987. The 2007 stats showed 345,941 baptisms reported in SBC churches, compared to 364,826 baptisms in 2006, a decrease of 5.46 percent.

Herrod, whose evangelistic ministry is based in Sevierville, Tenn., knows the decline has not happened because of lack of concern among Southern Baptist leadership. He cited the efforts of past convention presidents Bobby Welch and Frank Page in bringing attention to evangelism, particularly Welch, who made baptisms the primary focus of his two-year stint as president.

Herrod also is very supportive of Johnny Hunt, the new SBC president, and his commitment to evangelism.

Besides the support of convention leadership, there have been numerous evangelistic thrusts and witnessing programs initiated over the years to share the message of Jesus Christ, the COSBE president observed.

“We have all kinds of strategies and programs,” Herrod observed. “One of my concerns is that there is a long way between the strategies at our conference tables to the guy in the pew.”

Another new strategy, “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS), was launched recently by the North American Mission Board, based in Alpharetta, Ga.

Herrod is convinced the GPS national evangelism initiative by NAMB is good, but for it to be truly effective, laypeople in the local church must be personally involved.

“Most Baptists are tired of programs,” he observed. “They want to see something that is God-sized and Spirit-anointed.”

Herrod is optimistic the trend can be reversed.

One way to get laymen excited about sharing their faith, Herrod said, is to take them on mission trips.

As a pastor for 36 years and now as an evangelist for nearly 14 years, Herrod has used mission trips to spur people to share their faith.

“As a pastor, I observed that those I took on volunteer missions trips became my best workers and witnesses when I brought them home,” said Herrod, who has been pastor of churches in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

As an evangelist he uses volunteers in his international crusades and also in overseas institutes in which he trains and equips national church leaders and missionaries.

Training laity to share their faith as a lifestyle will be important in reversing baptism trends, Herrod said.

Another key is the use of full-time evangelists.

While in the pastorate, Herrod said he supported the work of vocational evangelists, using at least two per year.

As an evangelist and president of COSBE, Herrod encourages current pastors to take advantage of God-called evangelists who are trained to “draw the net.” There are certain people God has gifted that when “the invitation is given, the harvest comes,” he said.

Herrod cited statistics used by fellow evangelist Keith Fordham of Georgia that show 33 percent to 50 percent of all baptisms come from revivals and “harvest days.”

In addition, Herrod noted churches that hold revival meetings require 24 resident members to win one person to Christ, compared to 36 resident members to win one to Christ in churches that do not hold revival meetings.

“Use God’s gift to the church — the evangelist — on a regular basis to help draw the net and bring in the harvest,” he challenged.

The former pastor is dismayed over a trend he sees in some churches to not offer an invitation at every service.

“I don’t understand pastors who do not give an invitation. An invitation is biblical,” he said. “What if a lost person is there and he walks away without an opportunity [to make a profession of faith]. We have failed to do what God calls us to do.”

Herrod knows some churches do not use evangelists because of a prior “bad experience” or the negative perception of a very few well-known television evangelists.

This is where Herrod is optimistic COSBE can make a difference because the organization emphasizes accountability. COSBE has stringent membership requirements and an accountability team people can contact if they have a problem with a member evangelist.

“We won’t be in the churches unless we are worthy of the trust of their pastors,” Herrod said. “The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists is committed to purity, integrity and honesty in our evangelists.”

The organization also is working with the North American Mission Board on a strategy to help churches who “are struggling” to reach people for Christ. He noted COSBE has a long list of evangelists willing to go out to these churches and said, “I believe it will make a difference.”

The biggest difference, however, in reversing the baptism trend must come from God, Herrod said.

“We need an outpouring of God’s Spirit that we normally have called revival,” he explained. “It is the key to everything — harvest in the church and laymen being motivated to share their faith.”

Herrod is convinced that baptisms will increase when everyone comes to the conclusion that “the one will of God for the church is to bring in the harvest.”

The two functions to accomplish that goal are to win the lost and grow the saved so they can win the lost, Herrod said. Anything on the church calendar or in the church budget that does not meet those two functions is a waste of time and money, he noted.
For information on COSBE, contact Herrod at (865) 774-3222 or www.ronherrod.org. Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey

    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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