NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City come crashing down amid a video montage of crises and catastrophes that is shown whenever Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch begins another rally for his “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.”
The sight of people jumping from the burning towers on Sept. 11, 2001, stirred him to wonder aloud, “Where will they hit?” Welch recounted during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee’s Sept. 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Then he asked, “Where will they go?” as he wondered about their souls.
And then: “I wonder if anyone talked to them about their eternal destiny before they went to work that day.”
Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., repeats his thoughts to every crowd he addresses on his 50-state evangelism campaign to raise awareness among Southern Baptists of the urgent need to tell others about Jesus Christ.
Welch noted three primary reasons why he has undertaken the bus tour, which currently is at its halfway point:
1) He wants to reflect a collage of the SBC through its diverse churches across America.
2) He has invited a variety of Baptist state convention workers and other leaders to ride on the bus for a dialog sessions in their respective states.
3) He wants to build a unity of purpose for evangelism in the SBC by generating anticipation and preparation for the official launch of the Everyone Can campaign at the SBC’s annual meeting in Nashville next June.
Recapping various aspects of the bus tour thus far, Welch related observations about members of the secular press from news organizations like CNN, the Associated Press, PBS, the Boston Globe and the Orlando Sentinel who have been on the bus or have followed him as he shares the Gospel on the street.
Many of the secular reporters at the tour’s stops first approach with yawning disinterest, Welch said. They tell him that Christianity had its day in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. “‘But you’re going down now, and you’re going out,’” Welch recounted. The secular reporters view the SBC as not “just an endangered species,” but as one “on the way to certain extinction.”
“But, there is a pivot point where everything changes, and that’s when we leave the church and go to the streets and go to the people,” Welch said, referring to the personal witnessing efforts after each rally.
“Their eyes pop open. They can’t believe what they’re seeing.” Welch quoted from an article in a New England newspaper that said of him, “Within minutes, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention had demonstrated how quickly regional barriers to his conservative theological message could be cleared.”
Contrary to what some secular reporters initially may think of the SBC and Welch’s efforts, “Everything they said couldn’t happen … was cleared in one leap, and all of a sudden we’re having a divine encounter with somebody on the doorstep,” Welch said.
“One of those hard-core reporters backed up and said, ‘This really is different, isn’t it?’” he said.
Welch also listed three observations he has gleaned so far on his nationwide tour. He asked those attending the Executive Committee meeting to stand if they came to Christ in a church smaller than 1,000 members. A vast majority of the audience stood.
Welch said those standing represent the small and medium-sized churches in the SBC.
“That is bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh, and heart of your heart. That is the soul of this convention. And we need to reclaim the point of celebrating those churches, encouraging them and supporting them, and praying their tribe will increase to the glory of God. That’s who produced you!” Welch exclaimed.
“We’ve got to see the church not as a fort but as a forward operational base,” said Welch in making his second observation. “We can no longer allow this thinking that people have to come to our church in order to get the Gospel or their life to be changed.
“That facility-based evangelism approach is going to drain the blood out of us and kill us off,” he said.
Welch’s third observation is that the SBC “must immediately achieve unity of purpose for evangelism. We cannot wait any longer. We have got to get serious about it and put our shoulder and heart to this wheel.”
If Southern Baptists do not achieve this unity in evangelism, “Our own inactivity will prove the press to be prophets. That is unthinkable to me. I do not have any part in that. I am not buying into that,” Welch said, “And you are not either.”
Welch highlighted several other aspects of the tour and hinted at a few things he has in store for the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville before concluding his 50-minute speech.
“Oh, by the way, your box of chocolates,” he said, holding up a small box of chocolates identical to ones each Executive Committee member had been given.
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Welch says at every rally, quoting from the movie, “Forrest Gump.” “Southern Baptists are also like a box of chocolates,” he told Executive Committee members. Even though the wrappings and flavors are markedly different, Welch said Southern Baptists are “all overwhelmingly delightful.”
Welch said, “You know, chocolates are really at their best when they’re out of the box. In fact, chocolates will ruin if you leave them in the box too long.
“It’s your box of chocolates. What are you going to do with them?” Welch asked.
As Welch was seated, the audience signified their appreciation for his remarks with a standing ovation.
The Everyone Can road tour leaves Nashville Wednesday evening, Sept. 23, and the continental U.S. part of the tour concludes in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 5. From there Welch goes airborne to Canada, Alaska and Hawaii from Oct. 5-8.