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 September 11, 2001, stirred him to wonder aloud, "Where will they hit?" Welch recounted during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee's September 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
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, Florida, repeated his thoughts to every crowd he addressed on his fifty-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 undertook the bus tour, which was at its halfway point during the Executive Committee meetings:
1) He wanted to reflect a collage of the SBC through its diverse churches across America.
2) He wanted to invite a variety of Baptist state convention workers and other leaders to ride on the bus for dialog sessions in their respective states.
3) He wanted 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 up to that point, 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 were on the bus or followed him as he shared the gospel on the street.
Many of the secular reporters at the tour's stops first approached with yawning disinterest, Welch said. They told 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 thought 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 had gleaned up to that point 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 was 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 fifty-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 said 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.
The "Everyone Can" road tour left Nashville Wednesday evening, September 23, and the continental U.S. part of the tour concluded in Tacoma, Washington, on October 5. From there Welch flew to Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii from October 5-8.
Focus and Challenge!
by Bobby Welch
Southern Baptist pastors and people say they understand and appreciate the past convention battle for the Bible and the soul of the SBC, and they are glad it was won.
Further, they are committed to staying vigilant on these matters.
However, they want to see these gains translated into action that unites us, challenges us, grows us, and reaches lost souls here and around the world.
These are some of the things I am hearing in the cross-country bus trip I am making to launch "The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism" campaign, which has the goal of "Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!" by Southern Baptist churches in one year.
We are now at a time where we do not need to hear only a defense of the Word of God but we urgently must have an unprecedented dissemination of the Word.
Younger and older pastors may have some differences of opinions but they take the same perspective on many things, such as their answers to the following questions:
Which pastors and people should be placed in leadership roles?
NOT those seeking position, power, influence, prestige, BUT those demonstrating a servant lifestyle exemplified by sacrifice, soul-winning, and self-denial, as well as support and involvement in SBC efforts, including Cooperative Program giving to support national and international missions and ministry.
A number of people have emphasized to me that it should not be forgotten that multiplied thousands of both young and older pastors and staff persons have remained extremely committed and active in SBC causes and efforts.
Why are many becoming less and less active in SBC efforts?
They usually are inactive because they do not find a compelling reason to be more active. They are not willing to go somewhere if it leads to nowhere.
Why do they look to other networks, organizations, and people outside the SBC?
It is not always for something "new" but usually for something they believe to be challenging and worthwhile. They want a God-sized challenge that is worth the best of the rest of their lives.
What is the biggest need in the SBC?
Focus and challenge! Whether true or not, there is the feeling that too much is too fragmented and compartmentalized, with most organizations running in different directions.
A clear-cut, God-sized goal and unified effort would be welcomed. The SBC must immediately achieve a unity of purpose for evangelism. If we do not, we will prove our critics in the press and elsewhere to be prophets in their prediction that our days are numbered.
Bobby Welch is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. This column was adapted from his address to the SBC Executive Committee September 20 in Nashville, Tennessee.