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November 11, 2004
SAN ANTONIO (BP)--As I emphasized last year, the 1 million emphasis on baptisms by churches in the Southern Baptist Convention was to be the target that would challenge everyone to do their very best. Like the bar for high jumpers, the goal of 1 million baptisms was and is to draw the very best effort from us as the "jumpers."
It has done precisely what was hoped for by so many pastors and churches. A large number of our people made their very best efforts for Great Commission evangelism-discipleship. Many broke their recent history records in baptisms and more set new benchmarks in evangelism-discipleship and baptisms.
For these people, it has been life-changing, world-changing and eternity-changing. They will never settle for low bar jumping again.
The 2006 decline in baptisms in SBC churches likely will disclose that while many did their very best, many others did about the same or less than before. This, of course, amplifies the point that has not yet been seized –- the critical importance of a convention-wide unified effort for a unified purpose.
Such a synergy cannot be accomplished by one person over one or two years. It demands a collective commitment by a vast number of leaders at all levels of the SBC -- national, state and association and especially the local church. It absolutely can be done, should be done and must be done soon. Any and all distractions that take us off this course now are forcing the SBC beyond the point from which there is no return.
Someone said to me, "I shudder to think where we would be this year in baptisms if we had not had such an all-out 'sounding of the alarm' as the 'Everyone Can' initiative over the last year did." While that initiative did encourage a lot of people to do their best, it was still only an alarm. There must be a unified acceleration for Great Commission evangelism-discipleship convention-wide. We must be honest and realistic -– we are not waiting on God, God is waiting on us.
One of the little-recognized deterrents to many people's earnest hard work in evangelism has to do with the last decade of poor seed sowing. It is impossible to reap much or anything where little or no seed has been sown, watered and cultivated. This last decade has seen many persons preoccupied with attempting to discover a magic way to do evangelism that does not call on people to go out into the world and intentionally sow seeds. We are now all faced with vast wastelands of seedless soil in North America.
Even though most local churches do not do enough going to share the Gospel, they do, on average, have a heart and desire to reach the world and their family and friends around them. Given leadership and training in that area, they do very well. I see it all the time. This week in a neighborhood church of around 100 attendees in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, in one and a half hours "ordinary" church people helped more than 20 people pray to receive Christ and are hot into the follow-up. All these were in walking distance of their church.
This year's report of a decline in baptisms in the face of an all-out effort by so many sounds the most urgent cry Southern Baptists will ever hear, and it comes from the handwriting that is now on our wall -– and it is this: BACK TO THE FIELDS!
Bobby Welch is the newly named Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. He is the SBC's immediate past president and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he served 32 years.