MAYFIELD, Ky. (BP)–When I read the Great Commission Resurgence document, commitment number eight caught my attention — the need for Southern Baptists to commit to methodological diversity from a biblically informed perspective. Great Commission activity in the 21st century must possess a more diverse methodology than Southern Baptists have practiced in the past. Dr. Danny Akin correctly has identified a much-needed strategy correction in Southern Baptist life.
Regardless of how one may feel about the Great Commission Resurgence document, this particular point articulates well my own concern that Great Commission activity among Southern Baptists has largely stalled in the early 21st century. In fact, total membership in Southern Baptist churches has registered a slight decline and the number of reported baptisms usually drops from the number recorded in the previous year in many multi-year cycles. While perhaps many reasons may account for this phenomenon, part of the discussion in the convention should address the role of evangelism methodology for these declines.
No one methodology can account for all evangelism and discipleship. That is clear from first-century Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the Apostle Paul openly acknowledges his different methodological approach to evangelizing different people groups in antiquity. Paul was a living example of one who possessed a biblically informed perspective on evangelism and discipleship. Unfortunately, many of us in Southern Baptist life do indeed assume that a particular program or approach has wide application to all people groups, but that is not an adequate reflection of reality.
A case in point is our slow embrace of social networking through the Internet. Our strategy for evangelizing and teaching the young must make use of these vehicles for social networking. I have personally watched my own teenage son and daughter forego nearly every possible means of communicating except those that are provided through the Internet. They hardly use telephones and personal conversations to communicate. In fact, for that matter, I rarely see them watching television, listening to the radio or reading magazines. They entertain and communicate almost solely through the various social networking systems originating from the Internet — YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Southern Baptists have hardly penetrated these networks for either evangelism or discipleship.
But others have. One Internet site has made the claim that one of eight couples who marry now meet on the Internet. In my area of West Kentucky, hard-pressed but clever real estate brokers are making use of these social network systems to find customers. In the book “Millennial Makeover,” authors Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, two Democratic Party operatives, revealed how the Democratic Party turned out young voters to play a decisive role in the 2006 and 2008 national elections. The strategy of the Democratic Party operatives was to penetrate the Internet social networks with various Democratic Party-friendly messages. The strategy worked. In 2008 millennial generation voters turned out 2-1 in favor of Barack Obama and played a major role in his election.
Some of these social networks on the Internet have as many as 200 million subscribers and members. Southern Baptists, however, have little substantial presence within these networks. With the exception of some local church youth pastors who are beginning to penetrate this vast social networking system on the local level, no association-wide, statewide or convention-wide Baptist entity has a fully developed plan and means to truly provide a Gospel outreach to the millions of souls within these networks.
Penetrating Internet social networks with the Gospel remains only a part of the many limitless methods that Southern Baptists might use to evangelize, disciple and teach. Much more study and strategizing remains for Southern Baptists to ponder in the early 21st century. Some of the convention-wide soul-searching that must take place is a coherent strategy of how the many Southern Baptist blogs might be used in a more constructive and positive manner. Much work in terms of methodology remains, but the Lord never said that the Great Commission would be easy.
Stephen Douglas Wilson is vice president for academic affairs at Mid-Continent University and a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.