Whatever happened to evangelism?


In the early 1970s Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Menninger was an American psychiatrist who concluded that while almost everyone grapples with a sense of guilt and shame, the word “sin” has almost vanished from our vocabulary.

I am beginning to wonder if “evangelism” has not disappeared from the vocabulary of many of our churches. Several years ago Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote an article that appeared in The Christian Post. He stated, “Any prayerful approach to evangelism is better than what most churches are doing, because most churches are doing little or nothing.”

Southern Baptist membership has declined for ten consecutive years. That translates into 1.1 million fewer Southern Baptists than in 2006. Baptisms, long considered the benchmark for church and denominational health, dropped to the lowest level in 70 years. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members. That simply means that it takes one whole year for 54 Southern Baptists to win one person to faith in Jesus Christ. That is a tragedy!

The number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 479, but that does not come close to reversing the decline in the number of baptisms.

One of the more disturbing statistics is that in 2010 Southern Baptist churches averaged 6,195,449 in worship and in 2016 the average worship attendance was 5,200,716. So, in the last seven years worship attendance has declined by almost one million in our SBC churches.

Mark Tooley, writing for The Institute on Religion and Democracy, stated that the Methodist Church had 10,331,574 members in 1965 and became an 11 million-member denomination when it merged with the United Brethren Church in 1968. However, the merged denominations now called the United Methodist Church have only 7.3 million members due to a continual decline since the late 1960s.

Toole explains his theory on the decline: “Methodism’s official seminaries were all captured by liberalism by the 1920s. Most clergy weren’t seminary trained until mid-century, but the course of study materials for non-seminary trained clergy closely followed seminary curricula. By the 1960s nearly all of the clergy would have been trained in theological modernism, denying or minimizing the supernatural and personal salvation in favor of Social Gospel and therapeutic themes.

“A 1967 survey found 60 percent of Methodist clergy disbelieving the Virgin Birth and 50 percent disbelieving the Resurrection. The impact on membership was predictable. Absent the imperative for soul saving and confidence in Christian doctrine, gaining new adherents became more of a sociological exercise or a bid for institutional preservation. Neither inspires great zeal.”

Our seminaries seem to be committed to the inerrancy of the Holy Scripture, so what is the problem? We profess to believe every word of the Bible, but have we allowed our evangelism efforts to lapse into a sociological exercise? Are we more interested in institutional preservation than aggressive soul winning? Have we gotten to the place that we are satisfied with our Laodicean lifestyle? Is it possible that many of our mission trips and outreach events are reinventions of the social gospel we so vehemently condemned in the 60s and 70s?

Do people come to church today to hear some affirming word from their preacher today? I am thinking that many people come to church to be placated, mollified, and pacified. Maybe we need to hear some “woes” from the pulpit in this 21st century.

When Amos, a rustic Old Testament prophet, came to town he left his pacifier at home. He was God’s man with God’s message and he started by crying “Woe!” What he delivered was not a felt-needs sermon or seeker-friendly sermon. He shouted “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!”

Amos was not a prophet, nor was he the son of a prophet. He had no seminary education, but had spent his life on the farm as a herdsman and gatherer of sycamore fruit. The name Amos means “burdened.” And that is exactly what he was. His burden compelled him to denounce the luxury of the people in his day and condemn their lack of concern for those around them.

We have the right message. We have the right education. We have more lost people to reach than ever before. What we need is a burden, a compassion for the lost. It is time for pastors and their churches to develop a soul-winning strategy and use it to saturate their communities with the story of God’s redeeming love.

It is not always easy to share one’s faith. Sometimes, it is nothing less than hard work. No one promised that the Christian life would be an unobstructed limousine ride to heaven. In fact, when we invited Christ into our hearts He commanded us to take up our cross and follow Him. A cross is the antithesis of an easy chair.

He called us to be fishers of men; and if we aren’t fishing, we aren’t following.

Our Georgia Baptist Convention theme this year is WIN Georgia. I am thankful President Thomas Hammond wants this theme to permeate every facet of the annual meeting and I trust we will all return to our homes and churches with a new passion to reach the lost. Georgia Baptists, this is on us! I pray that those coming behind us will never have to ask, “Whatever happened to evangelism?”

evangelism, GBC annual meeting, Win Georgia, witness