ROCK SPRING — Joel Southerland accepted the call as lead pastor of Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Spring on Dec. 4. He has been serving as executive director of Evangelism for the North American Board for three years, but his role with NAMB will not change. In other words, he is going to wear two hats.
Southerland has been serving as the transitional pastor of Peavine for almost a year and after months of strong preaching and splendid leadership the nine-member pastor search team voted unanimously to call him as pastor and permit him to continue with his same responsibilities at NAMB.
Southerland carefully explained that he would preach, cast the vision for the church, and provide leadership for the staff, but that he would only agree to being considered as pastor if he were allowed to continue in his full-time role at the mission board. The staff wholeheartedly agreed to increase their responsibilities in order to provide complete and comprehensive services to the church, thus allowing Southerland to serve in the dual roles.
Passion for evangelism
When the nine-member pastor search team brought Southerland’s name to the church as their recommendation, each vocally declared their decision was unanimous. Out of almost 700 votes cast there was only one negative vote. Afterwards the church responded to the announcement with a standing ovation.
During the interim the church has experienced significant growth with a 20 percent attendance gain. Now, it is averaging over 1,000 in worship each Sunday morning.
Southerland’s passion is evangelism. He lives and breathes it. It is in his DNA. In a recent interview he lamented that 29 percent of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention baptize no one, 48 percent baptize two or less, and 67 percent baptize five or less each year.
He stated, “We have a lot going on in evangelism. We can only respond to needs at the request of a state convention or an association. Currently, we are well able to meet all the needs brought to our attention.”
Southerland is also being proactive in terms of strategizing and developing plans to reach our continent for Christ.
First, Southerland wants to see every church on mission. He conducted an extensive survey to see what takes a church out of the realm of the normative into the realm of highly effective evangelism. He used two metrics and three size categories to find the top 20 evangelistic churches in every state. Five hundred churches responded to the survey – enough to give a good snapshot.
Southerland said, “We were looking for ‘evergreen principles’ – principles that are true regardless of technology, time, culture, or context.”
The survey revealed three factors of churches strong in evangelism:
- They follow the leadership of the pastor. These pastors have a vibrant vision, a simple strategy, and are able to create a contagious culture.
- They don’t just gather to gather, but with purpose and intent. When they gather they expect to see people come to faith in Christ. They are engaging, expectant, and evangelistic.
- Their people live on mission. They are seeking to be missionaries wherever God has placed them. They are sharing their faith consistently; and they are serving according to their passions and calling.
Southerland is committed to teaching these “evergreen principles” wherever possible. For more information check www.namb.net/yourchurchonmission.
Workshop and witnessing tools
The second major thrust of NAMB’s evangelism strategy is the Engage 24 Workshops. Southerland explains, “We had three of the workshops this year and are planning to have four next year. In these workshops we will have leading evangelistic pastors who teach attendees how to create an evangelistic culture, how to make Sundays more evangelistic while increasing attendance and response, how to adapt a cultural mindset shift in order to share the Gospel more effectively, and how to develop team strategies to mobilize more members in evangelism as well as follow-up strategies.
The third issue NAMB’s Evangelism Ministry is concentrating on is the “3 Circles.” This is a simple, but powerful witnessing tool pastors and churches can use to present the Gospel. Southerland stated, “We have distributed over 2 million “3 Circles Training Guides.” These guides will help pastors train their congregations to witness.
“We are also working with John Metter, James Merritt, and Steve Gaines to create an evangelism kit. By the end of next year we will have four kits to train people in evangelism. These kits include sermons, activities, Bible studies, a book, and a thumb-drive, which we make available at our cost.
“We are also building an apologetics website and sponsoring an evangelistic apologetics conference.”
Implementing at home
Fourth, Southerland also expressed excitement about next June’s Crossover Arizona. Crossover always offers a wide range of evangelistic activities that take place before the Southern Baptist Convention each year.
At the invitation of the North American Mission Board, Southern California evangelistic pastor Greg Laurie has scheduled his national Harvest America outreach at the University of Phoenix Stadium for June 11, 2017, which will coincide with Southern Baptists’ Crossover efforts.
There are more initiatives on the docket for NAMB’s Evangelism Ministry, but the above information should give some understanding that there is more evangelism help available that most churches are using.
It would appear what Joel Southerland is seeking to do as NAMB’s executive director of Evangelism is to implement at Peavine Baptist Church what he is learning and teaching around the nation. What he learns from others he can implement at home.