News Articles

FAITH: Former Green Beret launches soul-saving offensive

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–On Sept. 23, 1966, Bobby
Welch led 28 Army Green Berets into a Vietnamese jungle to
rescue 120 soldiers pinned down by enemy fire.
Welch accomplished his mission, but not before the
22-year-old platoon leader was seriously wounded by a bullet
to the chest. As he lay bleeding, he mouthed a simple
three-word prayer: “God help me.”
“I knew I was going to die and I wanted to get right
with God,” Welch remembered. “I hadn’t been living for God
and I didn’t want to meet my Maker that way.”
But God wasn’t through with Welch. A “camouflaged
angel” disguised as an Army helicopter landed nearby, and,
under heavy gunfire, whisked him to safety.
A little more than three decades have passed since that
miraculous rescue, but Welch is still fighting battles.
Earlier this month, he helped launch a nationwide offensive
to save souls.
“I believe if we don’t let God help us, we are
destined to die of mediocrity in our churches,” Welch told
650 pastors, church staff and lay leaders from 28 churches
in 15 states who gathered Jan. 19-23 at First Baptist
Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., for the “FAITH Originator
Clinic.” Welch has served as senior pastor of the church
since 1974.
Also attending the conference were dozens of workers
from the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board and North
American Mission Board, several faculty from six Southern
Baptist seminaries and representatives from two other
denominations — the Nazarene Church of America and the
Wesleyan Church of America.
They were all there to learn more about FAITH, a joint
strategy of the SSB and NAMB designed to stimulate a
dramatic upturn in baptisms in the Southern Baptist
Convention during the next five years. The new initiative is
modeled after a program carried out at Welch’s church the
last 12 years.
According to Bill Taylor, director of the Sunday School
Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division, the strategy ties
ongoing personal evangelism training to the church’s Sunday
school organization. Church members agree to attend 16
training sessions and practice what they learn in home
visits. The initiative also includes weekly meetings for
Sunday school teachers and group leaders, intentional
discipleship and plans for assimilating new Christians into
the life of the church.
“FAITH has changed our church dramatically through the
years,” Welch told clinicians. “It’s brought about a
That burden for the lost was evident in several
testimonies shared by First Baptist members during the week.

Charlie Harrell, a local dentist who was on the
church’s first evangelism team more than a dozen years ago,
said he recently felt impressed to become more open about
sharing his faith with co-workers and patients.
As a result, his office staff formed a weekly
discipleship group and one worker accepted Christ. The
ministry quickly spread to the office next door where
another worker recently made a profession of faith.
“Something is happening in our church; something
exciting is going on,” Harrell said. “I teach a median adult
Sunday school class and (last Sunday) 75 percent of our
class signed up to participate in our next round of FAITH
That’s not an unusual story, according to Welch, who
said First Baptist’s strategy of “marrying Sunday school and
evangelism” has resulted in more than 1,100 persons trained
in witnessing and at least 200 baptisms each year since
1982. In the same time frame, Sunday school enrollment at
the church has increased from 2,555 to 4,000, and attendance
at weekly Sunday school leadership meetings has tripled.
FAITH will work in small churches as well as large,
Jerry Webb, pastor of Flomich Avenue Baptist Church, Daytona
Beach, told clinicians.
Though the church averages less than 100 in Sunday
school, 41 members recently completed FAITH training.
Following the strategy, Webb said, is enlarging his church’s
vision, developing new leaders, reviving him and his staff
and increasing the number of members and prospects.
“You start winning them wherever God leads you,” Webb
said. “This is going to change my church inside and out.”
Taylor said the Sunday School Board could have easily
drawn 4,000 people to the first FAITH clinic because of
interest expressed in the event by church leaders across
“But we really feel this has to be local church-led,”
Taylor explained, adding materials supporting the strategy
will only be made available at training events, not through
the Sunday School Board or Christian bookstores. Leaders
from the 28 “originator churches” trained at the January
clinic agreed, in turn, to train FAITH teams in their
respective churches beginning in February and then host
FAITH training clinics for churches in their areas this
fall. The Sunday School Board’s goal is for leaders from
1,500 churches to receive FAITH training this year.
In one of his sessions with clinicians, Taylor
described America as “a nation under attack.”
“There are churches that are down; there are pastors
that are wounded. … God is saying to a small band of
officers: ‘Men and women, we’ve got to move in. We’ve got to
go to dangerous places. We’ve got to go out and share the
And that’s exactly what the FAITH clinicians did. In
addition to attending day-long training sessions and several
revival-like worship services, the church and denominational
leaders also hit the streets to share their faith in homes,
hotels and fast-food restaurants. Placed in three-member
teams with members of First Baptist, Daytona Beach, they led
92 people to faith in Christ in one night using the FAITH
witnessing approach. And during the five-day meeting, more
than 120 conversions were reported.
SSB President Jimmy Draper is confident FAITH can have
the same kind of impact nationwide.
“It has to hurt the hearts of every Southern Baptist
what we’re not doing in evangelism,” Draper lamented,
referring to denominational statistics which show that more
than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches reported no baptisms
in 1996, and more than 13,000 reported only one to five. It
now takes 42 Southern Baptists to reach one person for
FAITH is designed to stimulate incremental increases in
baptisms in SBC churches during the next five years, from
400,000 in 1997-98 to 1 million by 2001-2002.
“Could it be possible for Southern Baptists to reach 1
million people for Christ in one year? I believe it is
possible, but more than that, I believe it is going to
happen,” Draper said.
While the North American Mission Board has the SBC’s
official assignment for evangelism, President Bob Reccord
said his agency is “a full and supportive partner” with the
Sunday School Board in developing and promoting FAITH.
“Some may have expected us to say that (the Sunday
School Board) shouldn’t be doing this because evangelism is
our responsibility. But that’s a parochial perspective,”
Reccord said. “I want us to leave our egos and logos at the
door and have a kingdom perspective. That’s the way we’ll
have the greatest impact. … I can’t think of anything I’d
rather do than see people accept Jesus Christ.”
Doug Williams, formerly minister of evangelism at FBC
Daytona Beach and now an SSB national consultant, believes
the strength of FAITH is its “inseparable link” between
evangelism and Sunday school.
“I’ve always heard that Sunday school is the
evangelistic arm of the church. I grew up with that phrase,”
said Welch, who has personally trained 10,000 soul-winners
during a quarter-century of ministry. “The problem was our
arm was in a sling because we hadn’t provided the training
(church members) need. … We got people saved and then they
had nowhere to go.”
Southern Baptist seminary leaders attending the clinic
began exploring ways to implement the FAITH strategies in
their curriculum. Daryl Eldridge, dean of the school of
educational ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, said his institution is
examining a number of options, including offering FAITH
instruction in its evangelism classes and granting course
credit to trained participants through their local churches.
“We’ve felt for a long time that for Sunday school to
become what it needs to be, evangelism has to be at the
heart of it,” Eldridge said. “We’ve been teaching this for
years, but we didn’t have the excellent tools that the FAITH
strategy provides.”
Roy Fish, distinguished professor of evangelism at
Southwestern and a prolific author on the subject of soul-
winning, said he believes FAITH “is going to bring back the
original intention of Sunday school, which is to win people
to Jesus.
“I don’t know that we did it intentionally and it
probably has happened slowly, but somewhere along the line
Sunday school and evangelism were perceptibly divorced. This
is going to reunite the two. Bringing the caring ministry of
the Sunday school back into this is going to make a real
difference. I’m very impressed.”
So is Wayne Allen. The 43-year ministry veteran and
longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Carollton, Texas,
told fellow clinicians he intended to retire last year, “but
God wouldn’t let me. … Now I know why. He wanted me to see
this. I’m so excited now that I probably won’t be able to
retire at all.”

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford