January 5th, 2021 / By: Kie Bowman | SBTC President / comments
It’s no secret Southern Baptists are reaching fewer people for Christ than in previous decades. Even before the coronavirus global pandemic, we were in trouble.
Our denomination raises enormous amounts of money for missions; we train ministers in theologically conservative seminaries; we publish excellent resources, and we are surrounded by incredible Southern Baptist leaders. Some of these leaders are admired around the world. Yet something has gone wrong with the harvest. We aren’t reaching enough lost people. We aren’t spiritually reproducing ourselves as often or as effectively as we should.
Our story is partially told with numbers. In the last decade we’ve lost more than a million people from our worship services. In the last two years, instead of slowing or reversing the negative trend, we reported the single greatest membership decline in over 100 years. The most telling statistic in that recent report—the one fact that cannot be ignored—is our overall decline in baptisms. Our most reliable metric for measuring evangelistic health has fallen to at least a 75-year low. Reversing the downward spiral of evangelistic effectiveness over time has the potential to reverse all of our negative trends.
Put simply, we Southern Baptists have to evangelize our way out of our declines. I’m not suggesting evangelism alone is the solution to our challenges, but apart from evangelism, no solution exists.
I want to recommend a few practical ways to improve our evangelistic results. There are more factors than the limited number mentioned here, but these are crucial for success.
Evangelism is a spiritual battle, and it is won first in the prayer room. Jesus said to pray for more laborers for the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). Paul urged us to pray for evangelistic opportunities (Colossians 4:3-4). History has repeatedly demonstrated that prayer precedes evangelistic impact. Whether it was the Great Awakening, the Prayer Revival of 1857-1858, the Shantung Revival, or a successful local church evangelistic service, every great evangelistic surge has been triggered by extraordinary prayer. As individuals and as churches, we need to develop an evangelistic, Great Commission prayer strategy. What will you do in 2021 to make a prayer strategy a reality in your context?
Churches that train their members to share the gospel have greater evangelistic influence than those that do not. A recent survey of Southern Baptist Convention churches in Georgia, for instance, is a tale of good news and bad news. The bad news is almost 80 percent of these churches do not offer evangelism training. The good news is that among the most evangelistic churches in Georgia, almost 90 percent do offer evangelism training. The contrast is dramatic and the facts point to the importance of equipping the people to share the gospel.
I agree with the frequently heard adage, “Leadership comes with a microphone.” In a church, the voice most likely to be heard is that of the lead or senior pastor. His support, therefore, is essential in keeping the congregation focused on evangelism. The pastor helps create the culture of the church. If he is setting an example in personal evangelism, preaching evangelistic messages, encouraging the people to attend training, and leading the staff to stay focused on evangelism, the church will respond. While as a denomination we are reaching fewer people, there are exceptions to the trend. Leadership is a factor. The research clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of the most evangelistic SBC churches are led by intentionally evangelistic pastors who lead by example.
Churches and individual believers do not accidentally become more evangelistic. They decide to take action. In these days everything is unsettled due to the cultural disruption of COVID-19. It is therefore an excellent time to refocus our energies on reaching the lost and baptizing new believers. Now is the time to begin.