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Welch: Nashville could be center of next ‘Great Awakening’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch had fresh fodder for pastors attending the Nashville Baptist Pastors’ Conference luncheon March 21 at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. But his agenda remains unchanged as he continues encouraging SBC pastors and leaders to join his Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.

Welch, who for 30 years has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., launched his Everyone Can campaign via a nationwide bus tour last year. Across the U.S. and into Canada, he has challenged Southern Baptists to “Witness … Win … and Baptize 1 MILLION” people.
“We have some lessons to learn and some actions to take [for the effort to succeed],” Welch told Nashville pastors.

One lesson to learn is the difference between church growth and growing the church, he said.

“You can fill a church and never be evangelistic,” he said. “A church filled with people doesn’t mean the people at church are filled with the right stuff. Church growth is about filling the building with people, and growing the church is about filling church people with the right stuff so they can get out there in the highways and byways and waterways of their lives and fill the people they find with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Welch recalled what one Nashville-area pastor told him about reaching people for Christ.

“This pastor told me, ‘We really don’t need to try to reach folks. And there are two reasons. One is there are too many coming to our church already, and we can’t even visit them all. The second reason is that most of our people live in secured neighborhoods.’”

Advising the pastor of his erroneous thinking, Welch reminded him it was the pastor’s job to “equip the saints to do the work of ministry and evangelism. … You’re not equipping your people. You’re riding on the backs of their church attendance.”

And for those members living in gated and guarded communities, Welch told the pastor, “Get a hold of yourself, friend. That’s all the more reason you’ve got to equip them, because you can’t get in there, and they’ve got the key.”

Welch referenced a survey in the February issue of Ladies’ Home Journal which revealed that millions of its readers are searching for spiritual meaning for their lives. The article’s author asked Welch why so many churches and Christians were not connecting with the millions of searching people.

“My answer was, ‘We have failed them,'” he said.

Welch explained Southern Baptists are drawn to a “fortress mentality, and what I call facility-based evangelism,” meaning that people must come to church before they can hear the Gospel.

“That is not biblical,” said Welch, warning, “It will kill us before it’s over.”

A second lesson pastors must learn is one also they must teach to church members, Welch said.

“If you will teach your people to love fishing, they will keep on fishing until they start catching,” he said. “But if you teach your people to love catching, they will stop fishing…. You’ve got to tell your people about the joy of sharing the Gospel and the thrill of what God is doing.”

Reflecting on a commitment Welch made many years ago, he said there came a time when he decided he needed to get out of his study and onto the streets. He said he realized he could never train God’s people to witness to others as long as he sat behind a desk in his study.

The first week Welch led church evangelism at First Daytona, 18 members went with him. The next week — three. Welch, not wanting to sound conceited, said, “And now, in 12 countries and four different languages, probably a half-million people are doing what we learned to do. You know how that happened?” Welch asked. “It was the day I decided to get out of that office and get me two or three people, and start pouring my life into them.

“Don’t kid yourself. Just because you preach on evangelism every now and then, and because you are a consistent witness — that’s not all there is to it. We have an obligation before God to equip His people.”

Pastors, Welch said, must “learn the secret of balancing the ministry.”

“The natural inclination for pastor and people is toward nurturing and discipleship,” he said. “It takes an extraordinary effort to match that with evangelism.”

Welch recalled what he hears from pastors young and old, and from churches large and small across the United States who respond to his questions concerning the needs of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Challenge and focus” is what Welch said he hears most often.

“Pastors are asking me, ‘Can’t somebody from somewhere say, ‘This one thing we need to do.’ Can’t we all get on the same page for once?’” Welch recalled.

Pastors also complain to Welch they are not being challenged.

“We are in a perpetual motion mode,” he said. “The wheels keep spinning, but we’re not going anywhere.”

Welch also has asked pastors nationwide why they are looking at other programs and ministry ideas outside the SBC and are attending non-SBC conferences and seminars. Their reasoning? “It’s the challenge. They’re trying to do something bigger than life,” he said.

Pastors also tell Welch they see no reason to attend the SBC annual meeting. He said they say, “There is nothing going on there. We already know what’s gonna happen. We just sit and watch the wheels go ‘round. Why spend the money to go?”

Southern Baptists, he said, “are ready to go on an elephant hunt. They’re tired of chasing birds and squirrels and rabbits.”

Welch said he has been criticized by some for setting a lofty goal of winning 1 million people to Christ.

“I tell them, ‘I’ve seen all of that I want to see. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in today,’” he said, referring a steady decline in baptisms.

Welch appealed to pastors to join the Crossover Nashville evangelism effort, which is scheduled for June 18 — just three days prior to the June 21-22 annual Southern Baptist Convention. Some 10,000 people already have committed to the evangelistic thrust. He also asked pastors to bring their choirs to sing in the choir on Wednesday, June 22.

Welch said thousands of Southern Baptists are coming from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii to help in the Crossover Nashville event. He noted the increase in traffic Nashville would experience if an abundance of people come.

“What if there’s grid-lock? What if people just empty their office buildings? What if you have to get out there street preaching and witnessing in these parking lots? What if people are on their knees praying? … What if [Nashville] became the epicenter for the next Great Awakening — how many of you would be for that? I’m tellin’ you boys, it could happen. We’re overdue.”

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  • Norm Miller