JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — Southern Baptists’ decline in baptisms reached its 15th year in 2015, decreasing by more than 10,000 from 2014 data recorded by our churches through the Annual Church Profile.
Although 295,212 people were baptized by our churches last year, there is cause for concern whether, albeit figuratively, the waters in our baptisteries are drying up.
Here’s a simple step for all of us: Let’s get back to inviting people to come to Jesus.
Jerry Vines, longtime Southern Baptist leader, recently said, “Invitation is at the heart of the Gospel. Those who respond to the ‘Come’ are to ‘go’ and invite others.”
Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “If you [the preacher] haven’t invited, you haven’t preached. If you haven’t persuaded, you haven’t preached. If you haven’t begged, you haven’t preached.” He goes on to say, “to be a preacher is to be a pleader, a persuader, a beggar.”
The “invited” — all who have been invited by God into saving faith — are called to the “inviters.”
Jesus gave invitations. On several occasions, Paul “persuaded” people. Moses gave an invitation, after the golden calf was destroyed as he stood in the gate of the camp, saying, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me” (Exodus 32:26).
So how should the public invitation be given today after the proclamation of the Gospel?
Here are some things to keep in mind in improving our ability in giving a public invitation:
— Give the invitation consistently. The late Charles Spurgeon is reported to have said, “Before you conclude any message, make a beeline for the cross.” You never know whom the Spirit of God has led to attend any given gathering. They need to hear the Gospel! And having heard it, they need the opportunity to respond.
— Give the invitation clearly. A clear invitation begins long before it’s given. It begins in the study. In other words, the invitation must be prayed through and prepared for as much as the message itself. Longtime Baptist pastor and evangelistic John Bisagno said, “Too often the invitation is thought of as unimportant, something to be tacked on to the end of the sermon.” If the message has three points, consider the invitation the fourth point and clearly plan it out. Never assume the hearers knows what to do. Explain what you’re asking them to do.
— Give the invitation creatively. There is more than one way to give an invitation. In the book, “Preaching Evangelistically” by Al Fasol, Roy Fish, Steve Gaines and Ralph West, they mention several ways to give an invitation: “Invitation to come forward, card signing, counseling or inquiry rooms, lifting one’s hand, praying where you are.”
I was in a worship gathering recently where the pastor asked those who would give their hearts to Jesus to simply stand and declare with their mouths, “I’m ready to go all in with Jesus,” and 15 people stood and declared, “I’m ready to go all in with Jesus.” They were invited to come forward and the pastor prayed over them and the decision counselors brought them to a room for follow up.
— Give the invitation confidently. If you don’t believe it, they certainly won’t either. As someone once said, “A fire must itself burn before it can give warmth to others.” We are doing the Lord’s business, therefore don’t hesitate or apologize for it, just give it. Remember that we have the authority of heaven behind us as we invite the lost to Christ.
— Give the invitation courteously. The invitation should never embarrass the hearers but rather encourage them. The invitation is a time for truth, not tricks; declaring, not deceiving. Chuck Kelly, president of the New Orleans Theological Seminary, has said, “Worse than being lost is being lost without anyone looking for you.” The invitation to come to Jesus should clearly tell the lost that someone is looking for them and that someone is Jesus.
Southern Baptists, let’s get back to inviting people to Jesus!