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Evangelists: ‘Harvest events’ counter SBC baptism decline

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — In what’s been called the first official statement from Southern Baptist evangelists to pastors, a consortium of vocational evangelists says increased scheduling of “harvest” events could help reverse the Southern Baptist Convention’s downward trend in baptisms.

“There is a desperate need for evangelistic expository preaching followed by an invitation given clearly, honestly, courteously, urgently, expectantly, and with complete dependence on the Holy Spirit,” according to a white paper released May 14 by evangelist Jerry Drace and a coalition of 14 other evangelists he convened for a March 2-3 summit in Jackson, Tenn. “The Vocational Evangelists in the SBC are available to assist the pastors in drawing the net whatever the Harvest Event.”

Drace and Union University faith and culture professor Hal Poe drafted the white paper with input from the other evangelists on multiple drafts.

A vocational evangelist for more than 40 years, Drace told Baptist Press that before the white paper, Southern Baptists had “never had an official statement from evangelists to pastors of how we can hopefully partner with them and work with them.”

The white paper — published before the SBC’s Annual Church Profile data for 2017 was released today (June 1) — noted eight declines in baptisms over the previous 10 years of available records for Southern Baptists. The 295,212 baptisms recorded in 2015 marked the lowest total since 1947, according to the white paper.

According to BP reports, in 2016 baptisms fell below 1947 totals, and baptisms dropped again in 2017 to 254,122, though some of the decline may be attributable to a decline in reporting by churches.

Along with the decline in baptisms, the white paper stated, the number of Southern Baptist evangelists has dropped from more than 600 in 1975 to fewer than 100 today. It added that churches seem to be hosting fewer events led by vocational evangelists than they did in the past. The paper cited a survey by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association which found evangelists’ “greatest frustration” is the apparent decline in churches using evangelists.

“Not using evangelists and scheduling evangelistic events has contributed to our present day crisis of declining baptisms,” the white paper stated. “The concern is developing the forms [of evangelistic events] which are most effective. As has been proven in recent years, the decline in revivals and other Harvest Events is in direct correlation to the decline in baptisms in the SBC.”

Specialized evangelists like sportsmen, financial planners and doctors, Drace said, can use their evangelistic gifting at specialized events that meet a church’s unique needs.

Among the white paper’s specific recommendations:

— “Develop partnership between pastors, their churches and evangelists.”

— “Schedule quarterly Harvest Events” within each local church.

— “Develop creative and innovative evangelistic events which involve multiple churches, and/or the entire association on an annual basis.”

— “Use evangelists in witnessing and discipleship training.”

— “Create partnerships between strong churches and financially challenged churches with low baptisms and sponsor an evangelist who can lead a Harvest Event.”

Drace said “revival meetings are still very, very much a part of the Great Commission.” He hopes this month’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas, where he will be a candidate for second vice president, will spur “an emphasis on evangelism.”

David Stockwell, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, told BP in written comments, “Billy Graham often said that the church needs to use the gift of the evangelist more. We pray that God will use the white paper to encourage our leaders to do just that. We are praying and going with the Gospel; we want to bring others with us to reach out in our local communities as well as internationally.

“There is so much more that we could all do together if we would give the highest priority to doing all that we can, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to share the Good news of Christ in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. God is ready to make this happen,” said Stockwell, one of the evangelists who assisted with and endorsed the white paper.

The full white paper is available at https://www.sbcevangelist.org/white-paper-report/.