Following a successful launch of the Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Nashville this summer, SBC President Bobby Welch is urgently challenging each of the 1,188 Baptist associations across the nation to hold two "associational baptism rallies" between October 1 of this year and September 30, 2006.
His focus on local associations is the key to his strategy for accomplishing the goal of witnessing to, winning, and baptizing one million people within a year.
"My prayer is that we will have bold, urgent, creative leadership emerge out of every association to have two of these baptismal rallies in that one year and that these rallies will begin to spring up all over the different parts of the country," Welch told Baptist Press.
"And when people read about them and hear about them that they too will go and do likewise, and we'll have in the course of twelve months these sparks turn into a raging wildfire of a fresh work for God and Christ across America and around the world," he said.
The associational baptism rallies, as Welch explained, should be a joint effort among all the churches of an association. They should choose a neutral outdoor site at which to hold the rally, and ideally, each participating pastor should bring at least one person to be baptized into his church fellowship at the rally. Times of testimonies, singing, and preaching could accompany the baptisms, according to the desires of each association.
Welch emphasized that the rallies should be held outdoors — unless inclement weather prohibits — so that church members practice getting outside the walls of the church and into the community where people who need Christ roam.
"If we go outside to baptize … the community gets excited and wants to understand what's happening," he said. "The newspaper wants to know, 'What are you doing there? All of these pastors and churches have come together. They're baptizing. What does baptizing mean?' And you will have not only this wonderful opportunity to come together as an association, but you will have a wonderful opportunity to publicly preach the gospel to your whole area free of charge."
Part of the associational emphasis would be for churches to cluster with each other in order to pool resources and knowledge, Welch said. For instance, a church that has had a large number of recent baptisms could join up with a church that has been stagnant for a while.
If one church is larger and has more resources, that church's pastor could offer to preach a revival at the sister church or the large church could send over its choir to present a musical one night, Welch said. Some churches within the association may even choose to share Vacation Bible School teams or let church members equipped for sharing the gospel canvass the neighborhood and find prospects for the smaller congregation, he said.
A DVD of Welch laying out his strategy for the baptism initiative has been filmed, and he hopes one will be mailed to every Southern Baptist pastor, he said.
During the DVD filming, Welch dumped out a box of puzzle pieces to illustrate the part every person in the Convention can play in baptizing one million people in a year. The 1,188 puzzle pieces represent each Baptist association in the country, Welch said.
"You're down in here, and so am I," he said as he moved his fingers through the pieces. As pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, Welch held up a puzzle piece to represent the Halifax Baptist Association, of which his church is a member. He then wrote his name on the puzzle piece, signifying his commitment to join the Everyone Can initiative through his local association.
At the 2006 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, Welch plans to display a large puzzle with pieces representing specific Baptist associations. Between now and then, Baptists who want to be counted in the effort to baptize one million through their associations are urged to visit www.everyonecan.net, click on the link called "You can be a piece of the puzzle!" and provide their name and contact information.
Welch emphasized the need for at least one person in each association to stand up and take the lead in organizing the baptism rallies.
"Now here's the thing that is overwhelmingly important at this point. That is, you must not allow somebody else to take responsibility for it," he said to the camera during taping of the DVD. "I want to — in the best and most sincere way I know how — help you understand that you really are it. You're it! You must take the responsibility."
If a person notifies Welch through the Web site that he or she is taking part in the initiative, that person will be able to look at the puzzle at next year's Convention, find the appropriate association puzzle piece, and then locate his or her name, Welch said.
"These kinds of puzzles don't get put together unless everyone realizes they're in," he said.
And to help everyone get "in" at the same time, Welch is suggesting three dates on which churches nationwide might want to emphasize baptism as a show of unity in the cause. The first date is November 27, the second is Easter Sunday next year, and the third is the following September 30, which will mark the end of the year of one million baptisms.
"I believe [this initiative] has the potential of connecting our pastors and people and churches in the association like never before," Welch said. "This is all part of the commitment to attempt to unify this Convention for a single purpose, and that is reaching people for the gospel's sake."
To learn more about Associational Baptism Rallies or how you can personally be involved in reaching one million people for Christ during the next twelve months, visit