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‘What Now, America?’ initiative seeks 1 million baptisms by 2005

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–What would it take for Southern Baptists to baptize 1 million people, begin 100,000 new intentionally evangelistic Bible study groups and start 2,500 new churches in a single year?

“There’s not a system or a program in place to produce 1 million baptisms,” said John Yarbrough, vice president of evangelization at the North American Mission Board. “If we could do it, then we wouldn’t need God, but with God all things are possible.”

Such is the heartfelt conviction of a national task force made up of Southern Baptists on the local, state and national level who have set convention-wide goals in 2005 for baptisms and new intentionally evangelistic Bible study units, as well as new churches.

To date, the SBC’s best years for baptisms and church plants are 1972 with 445,725 baptisms and 1999’s mark of 1,747 new Southern Baptist churches, according to statistics recorded by NAMB.

After more than two years of praying and planning, representatives with the North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union, Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, SBC Executive Committee, state conventions and associations have announced a national emphasis called, “What Now, America?” and, for Canada, “What Now, Canada?” The emphasis is being launched this year and will culminate in an evangelistic media campaign in 2005.

By posing the question: “What Now?” organizers say they are prompting Southern Baptists and the culture at large to pause and take inventory of their lives to determine if they are truly experiencing all that God desires for them.

Task force members describe this national campaign as a means to equip and mobilize Southern Baptists for an evangelism and church planting movement unprecedented in the convention’s 158-year history.

J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention and chairman of the “What Now, America?” national task force, challenged each Southern Baptist church, association and state convention to set their own goals as part of reaching the larger convention-wide goals.

“We want every Southern Baptist to be involved in this exciting challenge to reach our nation for Christ, but this is not a program with assigned goals,” White said. “We believe God desires to do something greater than we can even envision.”

White said the Georgia convention has set a goal to record 50,000 baptisms in 2005, eclipsing that state convention’s current annual level of 37,000.

Bill Taylor, director of LifeWay’s church resources network partnerships, said the SBC goals for baptisms, new intentionally evangelistic Bible study units and church plants capture much of the heart and passion of Southern Baptists.

“We have always been a denomination that wants to reach the unsaved and unchurched with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Taylor said. “New Bible study groups that facilitate spiritual growth and mutual accountability often reach the lost and unchurched in larger numbers than existing groups. Establishing new Bible study groups is foundational in starting new churches as well as extending the evangelistic reach of existing churches.”

Richard Harris, vice president of church planting at NAMB, added, “The task force believes that focusing on baptizing new believers, starting new Bible study units and planting new congregations will capture the healthy, reproduction concept of the New Testament and challenge Southern Baptists to refocus their energies and resources on God’s primary agenda.”

To that end, the national task force is calling for at least 1 million Southern Baptists this year to commit to pray regularly for personal repentance, personal revival and a national spiritual awakening. This convention-wide prayer initiative, called “Be … One In A Million,” is based on 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Participants can register for the prayer initiative at www.namb.net/prayer. Many Baptist state convention and SBC entity websites also have links to the registration site. Those who register and have e-mail capabilities will receive weekly prayer requests throughout 2003, including heart-searching questions and selected Scripture passages to help undergird their prayer efforts.

Yarbrough described prayer as the most crucial step toward realizing a movement of God necessary to fulfill the convention’s goals for baptisms, Bible study units and new church starts in 2005.

“Repentance always precedes revival and revival always results in evangelism,” Yarbrough said.

Taylor agreed that prayer, more than anything else, will be the key to transforming these goals into reality. “Failure will be insured if this just becomes more activity,” Taylor said. “Drawing near to God, having compassionate hearts for the needs of people and being directed by the Holy Spirit will result in more baptisms, new Bible studies and new churches than ever before. The beginning point is prayer.”

In 2004, Southern Baptists will be challenged to focus on soul-winning training. The emphasis calls for at least 1 million Southern Baptists to undergo evangelism or soul-winning training.

Yarbrough cited the 2001 “U.S. Congregational Life Survey” of 2,000 Southern Baptists as an example of the importance of soul-winning training. The survey found that those who had been equipped to witness were twice as likely to share their faith and four times more likely to actually lead someone to receive Christ.

“If we would equip them, how much more effective could they be at not just sharing their faith but giving that person to whom they’re witnessing an opportunity to receive Christ,” Yarbrough suggested.

In the spring of 2005, “What Now, America?” and “What Now, Canada?” media campaigns will be launched through television, radio, newspaper and billboard advertising. The campaign theme may be adapted to fit each locale by substituting for the word “America” or “Canada,” the respective state, association, city or church. For example: “What Now, Colorado?” or “What Now, Denver?” or “What Now, First Baptist?”

“We don’t need a program,” Yarbrough said. “We really need to be part of a movement of God. We need to see a movement of God never seen in our generation, a great spiritual awakening that encompasses North America.”

Beginning in February, more information about “What Now, America?” and “What Now, Canada?” will be available online at www.whatnowamerica.com or www.whatnowcanada.com; or by calling (770) 410-6305; or e-mail: [email protected].
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  • Lee Weeks