In 2014, the SBC experienced the lowest number of baptisms since 1947,
reflecting a decline in 8 of the last 10 years.*
The number of members which Southern Baptist churches lost in 2014,
the largest one-year decline since 1881 … in spite of the total number
of SBC congregations increasing for 15 consecutive years.**
The number of missionaries other nations sent to the United States
in 2010. This establishes the U.S. as receiving the greatest number
of missionaries in the world.***
As Southern Baptists struggle to accept the fact that hundreds of missionaries will be recalled in the coming months to balance the International Mission Board budget, the lostness of the world comes into sharp focus.
But looking at statistics on the home front shows Southern Baptists aren’t doing very well in their own backyard, either.
Statistics out of Nashville tell the story on the domestic front in sobering numbers: the denomination is adding churches but losing members in record amounts.
The most sobering of all statistics comes from a story first reported in Christianity Today that shows just how lost the United States is. In 2010, according to the report issued by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, the United States received more missionaries in 2010 than any country in the world.
How many? Exactly 32,400 from other nations who now view the U.S. as a vast mission field.
The study also estimates that in just five years – by 2020 – more than 9 in 10 people in the world will be “religious,” but not necessarily Christian. That is an increase of 2% over similar data collected in 2010.
It predicts that Christianity “will be only the fifth-fastest growing religion in the world, coming in behind the Baha’i faith, Islam, Sikhism, and Jainism.”
That is why the Mission Georgia state missions offering is so important to reaching the state’s 7.1 million unchurched residents. And as GBC Executive Director J. Robert White has said regarding the need to reach Georgia, “If we don’t support our own mission field, no one else is going to rush in to do our work for us.”
The state missions offering is just as important as other offerings, such as those collected for the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board, he said.
“It is NAMB’s primary responsibility to reach North America and the IMB’s role to reach the international mission field, both with assistance from the local church. Likewise, it is Georgia Baptists’ responsibility to reach their state for Christ.”
The key is through effective evangelism strategies, and in many instances that involves vocational evangelists as outlined in Ephesians 4:11.
The Gordon-Conwell study is disturbing to many but especially to Georgia Baptist evangelists who see a steady decline in personal and mass evangelism over the past several decades.
Duluth resident Bailey Smith, the dean of many Southern Baptist evangelists, says the study should awaken many to the lostness of America in general and Georgia in particular.
‘An apostate nation’
“The other nations obviously see us as an apostate nation, morally corrupt, and spiritually bankrupt. We have 3,000 people who leave our churches every week, basically never to return,” Smith said as he looked back over nearly a half-century of ministry, 30 years in vocational evangelism.
He has seen both sides of the evangelist equation. He served as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, OK for a dozen years when the church averaged 1,100 baptisms a year. The church even had a baptistry that could conduct five baptisms simultaneously (one immediately after another, then another five would enter the baptistry) and they frequently had three group baptisms in one service. He was the only Southern Baptist pastor to baptize 2,000 in a single year.
More to the point, he is the only man of any denomination to leave a 20,000-member church to enter vocational evangelism.
“What made Southern Baptists great is congregational singing, confrontational preaching, and compassionate evangelism,” he told The Index.
He believes today’s music, while embraced by many, lacks deep theological truths on which a pastor can deliver a sermon.
Fewer revivals equals fewer baptisms Georgia Baptist evangelist Steve Hale believes the decline in revivals is directly tied to a decline in baptisms. It seems that a weeklong revival in the Spring and Fall is just too time-consuming for many.
“Certainly, a four-day spiritual emphasis may not be conducive for every church setting, but the reality it this: 98% of SBC churches fail to baptize 29 people annually while many evangelists will see an average of that many, and more, for any given revival … regardless of the size church. It’s all about leadership and intentionality.
“The United States of America is a world leader in practically every immoral category while at the same time having more churches, more Bibles, more Christian schools, more Christian bookstores, and more Christian radio/television programming than anywhere on the planet,” he added.
Many interviewed for this article agreed. Some mentioned that at the denomination’s June 2013 meeting in Houston, TX, the theme “Revive Us That We May Be One” lacked a single vocational evangelist on the program.
Less demand domestically, more demand internationally
Some evangelists, noting the sharp decrease in speaking engagements domestically, note an interesting phenomenon: an increase of invitations to preach the Gospel overseas. They see it as an interesting contradiction.
On the other hand, others speak to the need for fellow evangelists to diversify their ministry, keeping true to the message while clothing it in different formats. Take, for instance, Paulding County evangelist Dennis Nunn, who heads Every Believer A Witness Ministry.
“Evangelists need to change without changing the message,” he says. ”Our numbers have shrunken by two-thirds but some of that attrition could have been prevented by evangelists changing their approach. While the proclamation of the Gospel has not changed, the way it is proclaimed has in many instances.”
Nunn, who has served as an officer with the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists and former president of Conference of Georgia Baptist Evangelists (now Georgia Baptist Evangelists), said “we know that revivals increase baptisms, but we also know that about 25% of evangelists see about 75% of the baptisms. That 25% must be doing something right.
“The local church no longer sees value in holding a revival. But it might if it is approached in a different manner.”
Harvest vs. equippers
For a long time he did not see himself as a successful evangelist because he did not see large results. But evangelists are more than just reaping a harvest; they are also equippers, he came to realize.
For instance, Nunn recently completed a four-day witness training event Aug. 16-19 at First Statesboro. Pastor John Waters, in a Revival Report column entry submitted to The Index, described the event as being held on a Sunday-Wednesday “revival format” where Nunn trained members on how to use their personal testimony in witnessing and shared practical suggestions and tools to create a culture of evangelism within the church.
Waters said the event “had record crowds” for each session with standing room only for the opening Sunday night workshop … a time when most churches have cancelled evening worship.
“Our people don’t need to be told they need to grow in Christ, they need to be shown how,” Nunn says. “I had to realize that I don’t have the gift of being a harvest evangelist, I am an equipper.”
When he is asked to lead a harvest revival, he refers the pastor to other evangelists with that gift. Jon Reed is one such individual, among others, who can be located on the Georgia Baptist Evangelists website.
Reed, whose ministry is named Focused Evangelism, is among those who have seen an increase in speaking invitations. But he is concerned that revivals have decreased from Spring and Fall two-week events, to one-week events, and now Sunday to Wednesday … and even one-day “revivals.”
More shallow Gospel presentation
“One-day ‘harvest revivals” are not bad, just not the best. There is obviously a much shallower presentation of the Gospel … 45 minutes at best,” explained Reed. “It really takes at least two or three presentations to a lost person to lay the foundation of a presentation.“The longer the revival, the greater the harvest.”Brian Fossett is among those reporting “unbelievable salvations” through his 15 years of ministry … describing more than 200 professions of faith in just 10 days in Vidalia. About 150 were recorded in an area-wide crusade, 50 a few days later at Smith Street Baptist Church, and nearly 20 in a chapel service at neighboring Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon.
Len Turner of Woodstock served as a pastor and staff member for 30 years before entering vocational evangelism … after a 16-month sabbatical for burnout. He says that equips him to understand the demands of the pastorate and the need of ministers serving under considerable stress.
That’s why he has broadened his ministry beyond just revivals.
“In addition to four-day or one-day revivals I provide conferences on topics such as faith, home, prophecy, and spiritual warfare. There are many areas that are of interest to people and will meet needs in their lives and can build the body of Christ,” he said.
State missions offering never ceases sharing
For some people, when they are asked to name a mission field their first response is Africa. Others may say Montana.
A growing number, though, are responding with TyTy, Macon, Bainbridge, or Augusta.
That’s because Mission Georgia is putting a fresh face on missions on our doorstep as the state’s unchurched population hovers around 70 percent, or 7.1-million men and women, boys and girls. And the numbers are only growing as the state continues to attract immigrants and businesses.
Some of those immigrants will put down roots. Others will return as missionaries to their homelands and hometowns, bearers of the Good News that they heard from a Georgia Baptist church or a state missionary.
Maybe a homeless single mother accepts Christ through a new outreach of the Augusta Association’s Broad Street Mission Center and her young children ask about the change in her life … and she replies “Jesus loves me, this I know …” Perhaps a college student comes to saving faith through a Bible study hosted by a Baptist Campus Ministry.
Regardless of the method, GBC’s state missions offering works around the clock, around the state to bring the Good News to the mission field right here at home.
GBC website offers evangelism tools
Evangelist Dennis Nunn has high praise for GBC Executive Director J. Robert White and the emphasis the state convention has placed on evangelism and the need for enlisting evangelists.
Georgia Baptist pastors have several web-based options to help them refine their evangelism strategies and increase baptisms. Much of the resources are peer-based and include “real world” feedback on what works and what doesn’t from statewide pastors.
The primary website is evangelismga.com and connects to all the related sites.
The second site, gbctopbaptizing.com, includes a 2014 list of churches with the most baptisms and, in many instances, interviews with pastors.
The third site features the state convention’s core evangelism strategy and can be found at 6estrategy.com. Six instructional videos cover topics such as Praying for the Lost by Name, Servant Evangelism, Event Evangelism, Personal Evangelism, The Sunday Morning Experience, and Team Evangelism.
The fourth site, revivalprep.com, includes videos and downloadable PDFs that can help a pastor successfully plan, promote and follow up an evangelistic revival.
State Missionary Scott Smith suggests starting with 6estrategy.com because if a church follows the guidelines found on that site alone a congregation can usually double their current baptism numbers.
Evangelist Brian Fossett agrees.
“All of the sites are good and the brief videos really get the pastor’s juices flowing. The revival prep site is really fantastic and very comprehensive.”