EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series on the role of evangelists within the Southern Baptist Convention.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Last summer J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, showed me a disturbing statistic — within the Southern Baptist Convention there were 126,000 fewer baptisms in 2003 than in 1972 among the 9-29 year-old age group.
These figures are surprising because this is the age group that evangelists consistently report as the No. 1 reached group. Evangelist Bill Britt of Texas recently saw 81 people — mostly youth — saved in a revival meeting. I have been in a meeting where 43 joined the church, most of whom were in this age group.
I remember many youth coming to Christ in 1972. I recall a youth revival in Decatur, Ala., where 130 teenagers accepted Christ. Every church in town baptized someone from that meeting. In Huntsville, Ala., I was the preacher for an evangelistic team in a weekend revival. We had services on Friday night, Saturday night and twice on Sundays. A key to the success of this meeting was the one-hour witness training session on Saturday and the witnessing that followed. That afternoon the church youth visited more than 100 of their peers who were Sunday School members but not church members. Seventy of those young people were saved that afternoon and the pastor baptized 40 of them before we left on Sunday night.
So, why are we down in the age group that should be easiest to reach? There is a lack of intentional evangelism in the 9-29 age group. In 2003 49 percent of SBC churches did not hold a revival, and 32 percent of the churches did not hold a Vacation Bible School. Of the churches that held VBS, many had no evangelistic service.
I have noticed within the past year that some of our churches are keeping the children and teenagers out of the revival services. They have alternative activities for them, held at some other part of the church campus. The entire purpose of youth and children’s ministry is to bring the youth and children to a saving knowledge of Christ and to become thriving members of the body of Christ. To miss the opportunity of special nights that get the youth, children and families in the revival service is a tragedy. Make it a goal to get those young people to love the preached Word and to fellowship with all believers.
What is the cure? Hold an old-fashioned revival meeting. Thirty-three to 50 percent of all baptisms come from revivals and harvest days. Use an evangelist! Ninety-eight percent of the time that a vocational evangelist is used to preach the revival services, someone accepts Christ. If there is adequate preparation for the revival, that figure jumps even higher.
Churches that hold revival meetings take 24 resident members to win one person to Christ. Churches that do not hold revival meetings take 36 resident members to win one to Christ.
In one revival I recall, a man told me that he had never heard of a revival meeting. He was so excited that he did not miss a service. Another man who had been a member of his church for 40 years said that this was the first time he had not missed a revival service. He could not wait to get back each night. It is wonderful to be the first evangelist in a church that has not had revival in years.
We must target the 9 to 29 age group.
Once in San Antonio, Texas, a pastor challenged the church to pack the pews on a Tuesday night during a revival service. The top three pew-packers were given a gift certificate to a nice restaurant. All of those who lost had to eat the “most awful food on earth” in front of the congregation. The pastor came out with a silver tray covered with a fancy napkin. He uncovered the tray and served the losers a delicious dried prune adorned with a toothpick. More people were in church on that Tuesday night than on Sunday morning. The result was souls for Christ.
In a recent revival I met a boy by the name of Nicolas. Nicolas had not been coming to church on a regular basis. His parents are pharmacists and came very sporadically. Nicolas came to hear “Homer” — a ventriloquist figure I use — share the Gospel before the revival service on children’s night. I always tell the children: “If you understand that you have sinned and that your sin has the consequence of taking you to hell when you die, you are old enough to be saved. You must understand that when Jesus died on the cross it was for your sins.”
I tell them, “There are three things you need to do to put your faith in Christ. One is to pray and invite Christ in your heart, and thank Him for dying in your place and asking Him to forgive your sin. The second thing is to raise your hands to let me know you have prayed. And the third thing is to come forward during the invitation.”
I ask the children not to pray if they are not going to come forward at the end of the revival service. The word “faith” means commitment. Nicolas prayed and asked Christ to save and forgive him. His mother came to the church to pick him up and take him home. He insisted on staying for the revival service. He told his Mom, “I just asked Jesus to save me and I must stay for the revival service and go down front during the invitation.” She allowed him to stay. The following week on Wednesday morning Nicolas’ dad came to the pastor and said, “My son is changed. He has something I do not have. Pastor, I have been watching you over the years and you have the same thing. I want what you have and I just do not know what I need to do to get it.”
The pastor responded, “You need Jesus,” and led him to faith in Christ.
Recently I was in a church in Georgia that had not had a revival in six years. This pastor could not believe how his people turned out. Most of the church members worked miles from the church, and he did not think they could get home and make it to the nightly meetings. He had forgotten how hungry people are spiritually. Another pastor in central Florida had not held a revival in seven years, nor had he used a vocational evangelist. He held a revival in June, and Souls were saved and the church revived. He said that he would hold four revivals the next year.
Use an evangelist for your Vacation Bible School harvest. Dean and Gayna Forest of Alabama, Jerome Rewis and Ray Jenkins of Georgia, along with more than 400 other vocational evangelists, are specialists in this field.
Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga., and I rushed back from the SBC annual meeting last summer so that I could present the Gospel to the third, fourth and fifth graders at his VBS. Thirty-three children made professions of faith and 28 of those followed through in joining the church.
It would be beneficial to our students to change “Disciple Now” to “Evangelism Now” every other year and reap the harvest. Another tool to reach students would be to hold youth revivals with a Saturday witnessing training session and then have them visit that Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The young people should also be taken to the ball fields and youth hangouts to share Christ with the lost. They will win more to the Lord Jesus than you could dream.
Recently I had a pastor tell me that he was preparing for revival like he had in the 70s. One of the members of his church told him, “That is how we used to prepare for revivals.” The preacher responded, “That is why we had good ones.”
Get intentional in your evangelism. You will reach what you aim for. Call on an evangelist at www.sbcevangelist.org.
Keith Fordham is the president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists.