Where has the emphasis on personal and church evangelism gone? If looking at most churches, clearly evangelism ranks somewhere in the lower recesses of the priority list. While most church leaders would state that the purpose of the church is to reach people, they often mean reach other Christians, not unbelievers.
Look at your church’s bulletin next Sunday. Find the events or activities that have evangelization of the lost as the implied, let alone stated, purpose of the event. Ask pastors and staff members how much time they each spend in personal evangelism, and I suspect you would be shocked at the small amount of time. Look in the mirror and ask how many times you seek to share the Jesus you say you love and the one you say is the only way for a person to experience eternal life.
Sunday School was once the end of the spear in regard to evangelism. Southern Baptists sought to invite unsaved people to come into the group; they sought to love unsaved people and build bridges to share Christ. Sunday School teachers and members shared Christ during class time and testified a living faith in Christ before the unbelieving class members. Personal visits were made and Christians sought one-on-one opportunities to share the Gospel. Above all, Sunday School was a reaching organization, not just a Bible study or fellowship organization.
The same is true on a denominational level. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has said that the primary way of reaching America is through church planting. While I believe strongly in church planting, I would say that we are getting the cart before the horse. In the New Testament, personal evangelism and proclamation evangelism were first. Churches were then planted out of the fruit of evangelism. Southern Baptists have little national emphasis on evangelism and no evangelism strategy for the nearly 50,000 Southern Baptist churches. The only NAMB evangelism tool is called the “3 Circles” evangelistic initiative, which is a good tool, but certainly does not fit everyone.
I am pleased that in Oklahoma, we are in the midst of the Connect>1 personal evangelism campaign through Sunday School. This campaign is a personal evangelism approach designed to return personal evangelism to the cutting edge of Sunday School. The focus is on praying for and sharing the Gospel with people in our circle of influence and those we reach out to through Sunday School. The focus is designed to press all of us toward personal evangelism through praying and seeking opportunities to share the Gospel with people we long to see saved. Thus far, 12 state conventions have picked up the campaign and are personalizing the materials for their states. More than 1.5 million people who study the Bible Studies for Life Sunday School curriculum from LifeWay will be engaged this fall.
My purpose is not to depress or castigate. I had to lay a groundwork for my cry in the Southern Baptist wilderness nationally, locally, and personally. It is long past time for Southern Baptists to reprioritize church and personal evangelism. I cry out to NAMB to do more than promote evangelism, but to develop evangelistic strategies in concert with state conventions to assist the local church in prioritizing and practicing personal evangelism.
Baptisms continue to decline in our churches and, thus, denominationally. Now is the time to begin to make personal evangelism through the local church a priority at every level of Southern Baptist life. This adjustment will require a hard evaluation of priorities. The Southern Baptist denomination must take a lead in challenging and assisting the churches. Churches must relook at everything they do to make evangelism the heart of their ministries. Personally, each follower of Christ must develop a heart to pray for and share with lost people the Good News of Jesus. When evangelism returns to the center of church ministry, baptisms will rise and church planting will penetrate lostness.