Some of you may think I sound like Johnny One Note, a 1937 show tune from the Rogers and Hart musical Babes in Arms. The one note that Johnny sang was “Ahh.” One of the verses goes like this:
“Poor Johnny one note got in Aida / Indeed, a great chance to be brave / He took his one note, howled like the north wind / Brought forth wind that made critics rave / While Verdi turned ‘round in his grace.”
The one note I have echoed for over 15 years as the editor of The Christian Index is evangelism. I have lamented the decline in baptisms in our churches, the waning number of churches having revivals, the renewed emergence of reformed theology in our denomination that seems to make evangelism an ancillary issue, the reduction of the evangelism staff at the North American Mission Board, the dearth of soul winning emphases in our churches, the paucity of evangelistic sermons from our pulpits, the fact that we live in an unseeded generation, and the influence of a secular society that has dulled our sensitivity to absolute truth.
The recent statistical report from our Georgia Baptist churches in 2017 ACR information they have provided indicate that our evangelism numbers have continued the decline. That has become characteristic of our denomination over the past two decades.
Scott Smith, who is a consultant with the Evangelism Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention recently produced a video entitled “Evangelism in Crisis.” In the video Smith reported, “Last year 47 percent of our 3,600 churches baptized no one – zero. What that means is that the best evangelist in that church, the pastor or whoever would assume that role – maybe even the children’s leader could not figure out a way to win even one child and get them into the baptistry to follow the Lord in baptism.”
Smith continued, “Only 12.95 percent of our churches baptized more than 10 new believers. We are baptizing 5.63 per 100 people in our worship services. Twenty years ago, we were baptizing 11.21 per 100 people in our worship services. That is a dramatic shift in the wrong direction.
In 2012 New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley spoke in chapel at the seminary and stated, “Southern Baptists are the new Methodist” and he was speaking of the danger of following the mainline denomination into deep decline and all the problems that typically follow.
Michael Catt, in his blog reflected on Kelley’s message to the students at NOBTS and explained, “In 1945, Kelley noted, SBC churches baptized approximately 257,000 people into local congregations. Ten years later, SBC churches baptized a record 417,000 people. Never again have Southern Baptists experienced the dramatic growth in baptisms that typified the 1940s and 50s.
“Kelley attributed the baptism explosion of that 10-year period to doing church the way a farmer operates a farm. A successful farmer obtains land, plants, cultivates, sows, and reaps. He said the current generation of Southern Baptists are no longer farming their way to fruitfulness.”
Smith added, “The median baptism number is one. In other words, there are as many churches that baptize one or less than there are churches that baptize more than one.”
The average worship attendance of our churches in 2017 was 143. The median number in worship was 65. What that means is that there are as many churches that have more than 65 as the number of churches that have 65 or less. However, while average and median worship attendance has remained virtually the same for 20 years, the average number of baptisms has declined from 11.21 to 5.63 and median baptisms declined from 5 to 1.
Smith concluded, “We must begin to view and address our church members as missionaries. If you are saved by grace, born again by the Spirit of God you are a called person, remaining here to be a missionary.
“We fellowship down here; we will fellowship in heaven. We sing down here; we will sing in heaven. We eat together down here; we will eat together in heaven. We hear the Word of God down here; the Word of God will not pass away. The Word of God in heaven will be in heaven. Everything we can do spiritually down here, we can do in heaven. There is only one thing we can do down here that we can’t do in heaven, and that is tell people who are far from God that they can know God through Jesus. And that is the reason we are here. If that is the case, we must begin to address our people as sent people, as missionaries.”
Many who want to emphasize discipleship contend that it is quite sufficient to just get our church members in discipleship and accountability groups. “Our goal,” they say, “is to develop Christ followers.” That sounds good and noble, but once we learn God’s truths we are responsible for heeding them.
Junior Hill was preaching at the Georgia Baptist Evangelism Conference at Hebron Baptist Church back in the early 1990s and said, “Jesus declared to his disciples, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And I would say to you, ‘If you are not fishing, you are not following.’”
Watch Scott Smith’s video here.