EDITOR’S NOTE: Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
SPRINGDALE, Ark. (BP) — What happened to evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention?
It was our commitment to evangelism in the past that set us apart from all other denominations. The events and experiences churches offered to their community were done with the specific intent of winning others to faith in Christ.
What happened? Where did this go?
Waking up to reality
I do realize that all of our 51,094 churches and congregations do not complete and report the Annual Church Profile. However, of the churches that did report, in the church year from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014, the number of baptisms was lower than it was in 1948. This is deplorable!
The U.S. population in 1948 was 146 million compared to 317 million in 2014. Therefore, with thousands more Southern Baptist churches with millions more members, along with having 171 million more Americans to reach today, we are reaching and baptizing less people than we did in 1948.
We need to wake up to reality. We need spiritual revival in the church and spiritual awakening in America.
I can remember when….
I can remember when some of my seminary classes were filled with exciting challenges about reaching people for Christ.
I can remember when my seminary evangelism classes equipped me in how to lead an evangelistic church that had a strategy to reach your town or city for Christ.
I can remember some of my seminary classes built within me a deep belief of how God wanted to work in our day, just as He did in and through the revivals and awakenings of past generations.
I can remember when there was a proven record of evangelism regarding pastors and evangelists who were invited to bring the keynote message in the local association, or speak at an evangelism conference of a state convention, or preach the national Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention, or preach at the Southern Baptist Convention. The only pastors considered led a strong evangelistic church and had a reputation for baptizing great numbers of people for Christ in proportion to their community and their opportunity.
I can remember when nominations for offices of any kind in Southern Baptist life were not even considered if you were not a part of a strongly evangelistic church.
Is it still like this today? I really cannot answer all of these questions, but I can surely answer some of them.
Quite honestly, I am not impressed by how many books a pastor sells, how many Twitter followers he may have, at how many conferences he speaks, how great of a preacher he is, or how much his church does around the world if he pastors or is associated with a church that has a lame commitment to evangelizing and baptizing lost people and reaching his own community with the Gospel of Christ.
Could it be….
Could it be that we have scrutinized the evangelism of others so much that we have cut the heart of evangelism out of our pastors and churches? Could it be that we so fear what others think about the ways we reach others because we fear being misunderstood, we have ceased talking about evangelism with our pastors and churches? Could it be everything else in our convention is more important than evangelism?
Could it be that we recognize and reward many other things before we ever recognize evangelism through our churches?
I pray not, but could it be?
What our Southern Baptist Convention can do
The 42 state conventions and 12 national entities of our Southern Baptist Convention can hold up high the banner for evangelizing lost people and baptizing new believers. Within their assigned roles, they have the influence to help our churches by elevating evangelism to unprecedented levels.
We need them to elevate evangelism before our churches through conferences, conversations and strategies they implement.
We need to begin to celebrate, again, pastors and churches who are reaching and baptizing great numbers of people in proportion to their opportunity afforded to them. We need to celebrate them in relationship to the size of their community and what has been entrusted to them by the Lord.
What our pastors and churches can do
The real issues of evangelism lie with our pastors and churches. It is on us, not our Southern Baptist structure, regardless of how they could be or should be assisting and helping our churches.
Therefore, pastors and churches, please consider these things to see more people reached for Christ and baptized by your church:
1. Through each event or experience you offer as a church, regardless of the audience, strategically use it for evangelism.
2. Preach each message and plan each service with the eventual goal of calling people to follow Jesus Christ.
3. Offer a public invitation weekly. If not a “walk down front” invitation, use other ways to call people to follow Jesus weekly.
4. Highlight baptisms in your worship services weekly.
5. Creatively offer ways for people to begin to follow Christ; we did this recently and 74 people came to Christ and are being baptized as a result of a unique Sunday morning emphasis.
6. Add outreach events or experiences to your church calendar that are solely committed to reaching people with the Gospel.
7. Renew your commitment to develop, equip and empower people to share their faith with lost people regularly.
8. Create a specific strategy to reach your community or city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s not be paralyzed. By no means do I believe I have all the answers, but I do know: It begins with us. It begins with our churches.
Do something. Do more than you are doing now. Take a risk.
Return to the importance of reaching and baptizing people.