NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–SBC President Bobby Welch’s heightened vision for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting stretches from an anticipated record number involved in the Crossover evangelistic outreach to baptism services during the convention sessions to a special segment honoring the life and work of Billy Graham.
Welch’s plans have kept convention organizers busier than ever before.
The Florida pastor arrived in Nashville the end of February to begin an intensive two-month push toward the June meeting. He and his wife, Maudellen, temporarily relocated to the convention city in order to focus efforts strategically on the area.
“We moved to middle Tennessee because this is the place of action in June,” said Welch, a native of Fort Payne, Ala., who has led the 4,100-member First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach for 30 years.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said jokingly that Welch has worn out the staff. But all joking aside, Chapman described Welch as “a highly creative movie director” and the annual meeting as “a gigantic film being made on location.”
“Whenever he engages in a process, something’s bound to happen that’s unusual and extraordinary,” Chapman said.
As Welch nears the final quarter of his term as SBC president, his goal is to fill the 23,000-seat Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville for the culmination of Crossover events June 18 and during the annual meeting June 21–22.
Already noted for his unique approach to the presidency -— beginning his year with a bus tour across the nation as well as visiting Canada, Hawaii and Alaska, all in 25 travel days —- Welch said he is doing the same thing now in Tennessee.
By focusing on an 80-mile radius around Nashville, he said, “I want to do what I have done all across the nation. It is intense. I’m speaking two or three times a day.
“I want to move middle Tennessee people toward the convention,” said Welch, who embarked on his “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge! Witness, Win, and Baptize … One Million!” soon after his election as SBC president last year in Indianapolis.
Pushing the goal of baptizing 1 million people between Oct. 1, 2005, and Oct. 1, 2006, Welch plans to launch the challenge during the final session of the annual meeting.
And by bringing more people to the convention, Welch hopes to increase the chances of reaching the goal.
“We are urging churches and associations [across the nation] to be a part of this,” said Welch, who acknowledges setting high goals, possibly even unobtainable goals. But he believes by setting the goals high Southern Baptists will achieve more than they would otherwise.
And, on the flip side, he realizes the results will be very telling of the health of the convention. “This effort is going to expose us,” he said. “If we do not have a significant increase in baptisms after this effort, it will signal we have some extraordinary problems. We will have problems that should shake this convention” after having “wholeheartedly put forth a strong effort.”
But even with the risk of facing heartbreak, Welch chooses to remain always optimistic, consistent with his personality and pattern in ministry.
“If we baptize 1 million or at the very least have a significant increase, we will know that we have broken the code,” he said. “We will know where to go … and that is to stay focused on the main thing, which is the Great Commission.”
Once the answer is known, Welch predicts the leadership of the convention will face crucial decisions about moving forward. “What will they do? Are they committed?” he asked. “This is a very telling time, and it deserves the very best effort.”
And the very best effort is what Welch wants to give.
Chapman described Welch as “an untiring soldier of the cross … a bold and visionary leader.”
“He has a strong conviction that God’s plan for winning the world is through the local church,” Chapman said. “He is willing to go the extra mile in any task he accepts for the sake of the Kingdom.”
Welch, founder of the FAITH/Sunday School Evangelism Strategy, believes Crossover — specifically Saturday’s event — will make or break the Everyone Can goal.
“Dr. Welch … practices what he preaches, and he is praying that Crossover will be the greatest one-day evangelistic effort in the history of the convention,” Chapman said. “Hopefully thousands will arrive in time to participate in Crossover.”
So far, Welch noted, 5,000 have agreed to go door-to-door witnessing in what could be a record-breaking year.
When the volunteers arrive the morning of June 18, they will gather in the Gaylord Entertainment Center for a kickoff rally. During the afternoon, the volunteers will participate in visitation efforts headed up by an area church. That evening, everyone will return to the entertainment center for a time of celebration, testimonies and praise and worship.
“Video clips from the rally and celebration will be shown during the convention meeting,” Welch said, emphasizing his commitment to the Crossover efforts.
Welch also has shaken up the normal routine of SBC annual meeting sessions by adding a new element — baptisms.
Martin King, spokesperson for the North American Mission Board, said the baptisms are being scheduled during the opening of each session and that NAMB officials are helping organize the effort.
King said Nashville-area churches participating in Crossover will be the ones holding the baptisms. “It is certainly possible that people who accept Christ at Crossover could be among this group,” he added.
King and Welch both recognize the confusion a baptism service at the annual meeting could cause, but both explained the convention is not baptizing. The churches will be baptizing the people into their local congregations, King said. It is just the location that is changing.
Another new aspect this year will be a mass choir that will sing during the final session June 22. Larry Black, interim minister of music at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., will lead the choir that Welch hopes will have 2,000 members.
Black, a native of Gadsden, Ala., said more than 900 choir members from across the country are confirmed.
As far as the speakers go, Welch has invited a bivocational pastor, a divorced mother of two and a young pastor to speak. He said the last speaker will be the only well-known speaker — James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Many also will be interested in the segment honoring the life and work of Billy Graham, said Welch, who declined to reveal whether Graham himself would be present.
And while the unusual agenda planned by Welch may draw the most attention, it is Welch’s own address that Chapman does not want to miss. “Because of Dr. Welch’s love for our Lord and our convention and his burden for souls in the coming century, I believe God will give him a message that will stir the hearts of all who hear him on that day,” Chapman said. “God has something unimaginable in store for Southern Baptists.”
Jennifer Davis Rash is managing editor of The Alabama Baptist newsjournal, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org.