Sometimes important information breezes by us, and we hardly notice. Our lives are filled with Twitter, Facebook, 24/7 news and media of every sort. Indeed, everywhere you look, people have something plugged into their ears to drown out the noise and to tune out the distractions.
However, we do not want to overlook one piece of news that was stated in January. We do not want to miss this news because it is worthy of overflowing joy and consideration of how we might see the opportunity for great rejoicing again next year. Good news for a change—no, remarkable news! So what is it?
In the 2016 church year, Oklahoma Baptists saw a very strong increase in the number of baptisms recorded in our churches. The increase was 805 to be exact. One year a trend does not make, but I can tell you that this number bucks an extended trend of dropping baptismal numbers across the Southern Baptist Convention and, indeed, here in Oklahoma. So REJOICE WITH ME! Our churches reached and baptized 805 more people in 2016 than in 2015!
Why did this happen? How did this happen? Only an extensive research project could give the answer, so I do not claim infallibility in my observations. But I do believe there is some anecdotal evidence that can give us a little insight worthy of repetition.
As I have travelled the state, it has become clear that Oklahoma Baptists saw an increase in churches placing the focus on praying for the lost. The convention encouraged our churches to engage in the 3151 Challenge, which called for each of us to pray for 3 lost people in our sphere of influence, learn 1 Gospel presentation, invite 5 people to small group/Sunday School, and share the Gospel with 1 person.
In addition, last fall’s Sunday School material, produced by LifeWay, carried an emphasis on personal evangelism with lessons written by Oklahoma’s own Blake Gideon, pastor of Edmond, First.
I believe this emphasis raised the tide of a refocus on personal responsibility to pray for and share the Gospel with people in our lives who do not know Christ. Southern Baptists, for much of our history, were known for personal evangelism. We had regular visitation, and Sunday School was more evangelistic than fellowship oriented. Southern Baptists trained people in multiple methods of witnessing. We talked about reaching our communities with the Gospel, and we had evangelistic events. Through it all, we kept turning up the heat targeted at personal responsibility to share the Gospel.
This last year we tore a page from our past. While the package was different, the focus returned to prayer and witnessing to the lost. For a Christian, the evangelistic focus and personal responsibility to pray and witness became the focus again. The end result was more people saved and baptized through our churches.
We cannot stop. This year we are asking every believer to pray for three people who do not know Christ. Have you begun praying for your three people? We are asking you to invite your friends to times of evangelistic emphasis in your church. Easter is a great evangelistic opportunity. Who will you invite to hear the cross and resurrection message this Easter? I am challenging you to share the Gospel with three people. Yes, you!
I believe baptisms have increased because pastors, churches and members returned to thinking about, praying for and sharing Christ with lost people—people who are headed for eternal separation from God. We cannot change our focus in 2017. Who are the three people for whom you will pray, invite and share?