KATY, Texas (BP)–Bobby Welch is continuing his six–week tour across Texas, speaking at churches, sharing his Vietnam War testimony at “God and Country” rallies and going door-to-door to share the Gospel. But each of these events is couched in an underlying passion to see the local church reach its neighbors and reverse a disturbing trend he sees in the continuing decline in baptisms.
Welch, the strategist for global evangelical relations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, is encouraging churches to be a part of the SBC’s June 12-13 annual meeting in San Antonio and the June 9-10 Crossover evangelistic outreach.
At an April 23 rally at the First Baptist Church of Katy near Houston, Welch told the crowd that although he was a Christian when he fought in Southeast Asia he was not living the life of a believer. Consequently, he faced death with great trepidation — not fearing dying, he explained, but being ashamed of facing his Lord after living a worldly life.
Welch was not expected to live when his nearly lifeless body was loaded onto a helicopter from a field in Vietnam. When he awoke in a hospital days later, he asked for a glass of water and a Bible. His recommitment to his faith was solidified.
In an interview before the Katy rally, Welch spoke with urgency about his passion for evangelism and the church’s commitment to winning the lost.
“The local church is everything,” he said as an explanation of why he is continuing his effort to stir local churches to action. The SBC, he lamented, has not been able “to unify our efforts” for evangelism and discipleship. The declining numbers of baptisms within the convention are evidence of that lack of unity, he said, even though the SBC does some large-scale ministries well, such as the Cooperative Program.
At the invitation of Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Welch is touring Texas in an encore to his “Everyone Can!” evangelism tour as SBC president from 2004-06. Welch said his concern over the decline in baptisms is not about numbers, nor about filling pews. The decline, he said, indicates a lack of evangelism and discipleship at a local level.
“Are people coming into the church as in days past?” he asked. “Even the brightest spots are fading spots.”
Welch envisions a cycle that can be self-perpetuating toward consistent increases in church membership.
“Baptism is a huge step toward discipleship,” he added, but baptism does not happen without evangelism. Evangelism leads to belief, to baptism, to discipleship, to church involvement, to more evangelism, Welch explained.
“One way to measure that –- discipleship — is baptism. It is an indication of people coming into the church and getting involved.”
In the process of “doing church,” evangelism and discipleship are being left behind, partly because evangelism does not come naturally to most Christians, Welch said.
“Evangelism is the hardest thing to do. It is not our nature,” he said, adding that intentional evangelism often is met by resistance.
“What I’m saying is our members have come to the conclusion that they should not go beyond their comfort zone. And so all the spiritually uncomfortable people remain lost and going to hell.”
Throughout his Texas tour, Welch has seen response. “They are ready,” he said; they just need encouraging to reach out beyond the church walls and stay the course.
For example, Welch cited a Rio Grande Valley church of about 100 members that set out with him for an evening of evangelism. The door-to-door witnessing within a two- to three-block radius of the church reaped 23 decisions for Christ, Welch said.
“Southern Baptists can never be allowed to drive by a person who has a sign that says, ‘Help me.’ We can’t keep treating the lost world like that. Somebody in the car has to say, ‘Stop!'”
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at www.sbtexas.com.