NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Bobby Welch, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is continuing a fervent push toward the Sept. 30 culmination of the “‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom Challenge” for Southern Baptists to reach 1 million baptisms.
Between preaching engagements, Welch was delayed in the Atlanta airport as terrorism threats snarled air traffic Aug. 10. Welch took the opportunity to talk with two adults about salvation, and now they are scheduled to be baptized on Welch’s last Sunday as pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., Aug. 27.
Just two days earlier, Welch proclaimed the Gospel from a pontoon boat on a small lake in west Tennessee as nearly 400 people gathered on the banks for an associational baptism rally hosted by the Weakley County Baptist Association in Dresden.
“I think the thing that struck me about it was how wonderfully the Lord is using the emphasis on witnessing, winning and baptizing to unify and propel so many associations to a new level of gathering and emphasis,” said Welch, who is continuing his Everyone Can travels across the country. “The thing that continues to encourage me is that where people have made an effort to take seriously the Everyone Can challenge, there seems to always be a newfound unity of purpose. That was certainly evident in Weakley County.”
Welch first urged churches to get together for associational baptism rallies last fall. The Aug. 8 event in west Tennessee was a cooperative effort between the 44 churches in the Weakley association, Wayne Perkins, the director of missions, said.
Each church was invited to bring candidates for baptism whom they had recently won to the Lord, Perkins said, and seven churches brought 22 people to be baptized that night.
“One of the inmates in the Weakley County jail has a sister in one of our churches — Adams Chapel — and their pastor went down and visited him over a period of a couple of weeks,” Perkins told BP. “On Friday before the rally took place, he was saved in the jail. The pastor asked the sheriff and the judge if they would permit him to get out and be baptized, and they permitted it.
“So in the lake there, he gave his testimony of how the Lord had changed his life and how he was going to have to go back to jail but he was a free man on the inside because of Jesus,” Perkins said.
Another man who was baptized was a longtime church member and worker who realized during a recent sermon that he wasn’t really saved. He confessed that he was lost and then accepted Jesus as his Savior, Perkins said.
After Welch preached, a teenage boy accepted an invitation to receive Christ at the rally. His uncle is the county sheriff.
“So it was really an outstanding event and it was a first-time event as far as I know in west Tennessee,” Perkins said. “I know it was a first-time event for Weakley County Baptists. I grew up here and I know that sometimes a couple of churches had gone down to the river back in the old days and baptized together, but this was the first time all of our associational churches were invited and encouraged to come together.”
Kenny Carr, pastor of Long Heights Baptist Church in McKenzie, Tenn., and chairman of the association’s evangelism committee, said the Weakley association had been in the habit of hosting evangelism conferences when an evangelist would speak and people would come to hear him.
“That was real good and encouraged those who were there, but we really weren’t seeing much of a change,” Carr said. “There had been a decline in baptisms in our association, and we just had to sit back and ask what we could do to really involve ourselves.”
Welch’s challenge for rallies inspired the association to try one, and now that they see it was successful, the association is planning to have another one.
“We really want to do it again in the future but with more churches helping each other,” Carr said. “Some of these churches are struggling, and they need someone to come alongside them and help them go out and knock on doors and witness.”
As Sept. 30 — the end of the church year and the end of the Everyone Can emphasis — approaches, Welch said he is reflecting upon a baptism service that kicked off the year, held in Kirbyville, Texas, last Oct. 1. John Britt was baptized one minute after midnight by the pastor of First Baptist Church, making him the first in what Welch envisioned would be 1 million baptisms.
“I’m praying now for a church or churches that will surface who will be willing to baptize at least one person Saturday night, Sept. 30, at the last minute just before the year of 1 million baptisms ends,” Welch said.
Such an event, Welch said, would be a “wonderful bookend” to the Everyone Can emphasis, and “it would be a great thing for churches to have all-night prayer meetings and end them with baptisms.”
Welch said it’s still too early to evaluate progress toward the 1 million baptisms goal numerically because churches aren’t due to report those numbers yet, but he is certain the convention is “doing overwhelmingly better than we would have been had we not made this effort toward reaching more people.”
“The thing I continue to experience,” Welch said, “is what was characterized by the meeting in Tennessee and others I’ve attended, which is that all over the country I’ve never heard as much talking and as much emphasis on witnessing, winning and baptizing in recent history as we are now.”
Welch continues to reiterate the difference between the emphasis toward 1 million baptisms and the goal of motivating people to “jump higher” toward reaching more people, as he mentioned in his presidential address at the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June.
By throwing out a seemingly unattainable number, Welch said he was raising the bar for baptisms. He also said he is sure Southern Baptists will baptize 1 million people in a year, even if it’s not this year. At least now they’ve had their sights set toward it, he said.
But since this church year is not over yet, Welch said churches still have plenty of time to act.
“We still have a lot of very good weeks between now and the end of September, and every church could have a special event to encourage people to be baptized,” he said. “It’s still possible to have a revival or some sort of special meeting. It’s possible to have an emphasis through Sunday School on baptism because there are many out there who are waiting to be baptized, as was the couple I talked with in the airport. Somebody just needed to speak to them, and then they were ready to go. We have that in every church.
“The pastor could preach a series of messages on the meaning of baptism and relate salvation to that as well,” he added.
As he asks churches to give it all they’ve got heading into the home stretch, Welch has not let up on his mission of pushing Southern Baptists toward reaching the world for Christ as he continues travel from “church to church, association to association” across the country.
“I have not let up at all since turning over the presidency, and I have no intention of letting up,” he said. “For Southern Baptists, the quest to witness, win and baptize has never been a one-year emphasis. It has been a biblical mandate right out of the mouth of the Son of God for every believer. We’ll continue after September to do more than ever before.”