News Articles

Turnaround in ‘flat-line’ baptisms targeted in BSSB ‘FAITH’ strategy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If you charted the number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches each year for the past 16 years, you’d have what no physician ever wants to see on a heart monitor — a flat line.
“At the same time the U.S. population is skyrocketing, we remain on a flat line in baptisms,” Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., told Sunday school directors and associates gathered Dec. 8-9 for annual planning meetings at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tenn.
Illustrating just how disappointing Southern Baptists’ baptismal record has become, Welch quoted statistics from the 1996 Uniform Church Letter which revealed more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches reported no baptisms during the year, and more than 13,000 reported only one to five.
“We can’t go on like this forever and survive,” he said. “Eventually, we’re going to die.”
Welch was helping introduce “FAITH,” a strategy developed by the BSSB’s Bible teaching-reaching (BT-R) division designed to stimulate a dramatic upturn in baptisms in the SBC in the next five years. The new initiative is modeled after a program carried out at Welch’s church the last 12 years.
According to BT-R division director Bill Taylor, FAITH ties ongoing personal evangelism training to the church’s Sunday school organization. Workers agree to attend 16 training sessions and practice what they learn in home visits. The strategy 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.
“This is a lot more than just learning a new gospel presentation,” Taylor explained. “It really marries evangelism to the strength of a Great Commission Sunday school organization. I believe it will help us get ‘soul-winning’ back into the heart of our Bible study program.”
From the 1920s through the ’50s, Taylor said, everything the Sunday School Board produced talked about “soul-winning.” But beginning in the 1960s, “we stopped talking about ‘winning’ people to Christ and we started talking about ‘reaching’ people. You can ‘reach’ people and still not ‘win’ them to Christ.”
Taylor said he knew the FAITH strategy needed to originate in a local church. After hearing of the 12-year proven track record in Sunday school and evangelism of FBC, Daytona Beach, he knew he had found his model.
Earlier this year, Sunday School Board editors and consultants spent several months working with leaders from the Florida church to “fine-tune” their process and develop resources for use in churches across the SBC. Next, 28 “originator churches” were enlisted to attend the first FAITH training conference, to be held Jan. 19-23 at FBC, Daytona Beach. Taylor said leaders from the participating churches signed a contract with the board promising to host FAITH training conferences in their churches during the next two years.
“The board has done it right with the FAITH process,” D.L. Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas, one of the “originator” churches, told Taylor. “You found a model that was working in the church. You didn’t send us a pre-fab product from Centennial Tower (part of the Sunday School Board’s headquarters in Nashville) with a Scripture and a song in a pretty package!”
Developed with the support and endorsement of the North American Mission Board, a variety of resources for the FAITH strategy are being released by the BSSB, including: “A Journey in FAITH: Journal,” a 224-page journal used by participants during their 16 weeks of training; “A Step of Faith,” a fivefold gospel presentation tract built around the FAITH acronym (Forgiveness, Available, Impossible, Turn and Heaven); and “A Journey in Faith: Training Packet for Sunday School Evangelism Ministry,” a resource containing everything a church needs to start the FAITH strategy. One of the items included in the packet is “Evangelism Through the Sunday School: A Journey of FAITH,” a new book written by Welch.
The training sessions and resources are 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.
“It’s the height of arrogance to say that we can baptize 1 million people a year within five years on our own,” Welch admitted. “We can’t do this unless the Spirit of God gets on us and we get out there and do the work.”
With that in mind, employees at the Sunday School Board, North American Mission Board and the six SBC seminaries were invited to participate in “50 Days of Prayer and Fasting” for the FAITH movement. A special prayer guide was developed for the initiative which began Dec. 1 and continues through the end of the initial FAITH clinic at FBC, Daytona Beach, on Jan. 23.
To promote FAITH throughout the SBC, Taylor said “awareness meetings” will be conducted in several states between February and April 1998. For locations, times and additional information, contact the pastor/staff leadership department at the Sunday School Board, (615) 251-5055.
In addition, FAITH training events are tentatively planned in 15 states next year: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Taylor said he believes one evidence God is at work in the FAITH strategy “is the great working relationship taking place between the Sunday School Board and the North American Mission Board. Dr. (Jimmy) Draper (BSSB president) and Dr. (Bob) Reccord (NAMB president), along with workers at both agencies, are giving their full support to this process of marrying evangelism and Sunday school.
“But we will continually need the prayers and support of our pastors and church leaders because Satan is working overtime,” Taylor added. “He doesn’t want to see this ministry succeed.”

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford