Recently, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) publicly announced that 29 percent of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches reported no baptisms, and 47 percent reported two or less. In the SBC 2017 book of reports, NAMB reported that baptisms had fallen to 295,000 in 2016, which is the first time the convention reported less than 300,000 baptisms in decades.
These statistics and trends over the last two decades have raised concern among all Southern Baptists. So much concern that, this year, the convention voted to appoint a special task force to study the issue and bring back to the convention findings on how to revitalize evangelism in Southern Baptist life.
The idea of an evangelism task force is not new to Southern Baptists. In 1904, at the request of Len G. Broughton, a pastor from Georgia, the convention put together a task force to address the need of evangelism in our churches. In 1906, the report to the convention was lengthy, but one portion rings true today:
“But with all our opportunity as Southern Baptists there is a serious weakness. We have the evangelistic soil; we have the evangelistic spirit; but we need a better evangelistic organization. To be sure, this work is, and ought to be, under the direction of the churches, just as every other agency of the denomination is. It is our profound conviction that the supreme centers of evangelism are the churches…but why should Southern Baptists not be better organized?
“…We have a larger number of people scattered over a larger territory, and they are of such a temperament as that organization would be more helpful.
“… What we need is organization that will more vigorously push evangelism throughout…”
After this report, the Home Mission Board (HMB, now known as NAMB) developed the evangelism secretary office within its organization. Over the next 20 years, progress was made across the continent. However, the office was closed for eight years and three months because of the lack of resources caused by the depression.
In 1936, the office was reestablished, and Roland Q. Leavell was elected as the new secretary of evangelism. Leavell put an emphasis on personal evangelism with additional equipping tools; he also wrote manuals on how to conduct a church, city-wide, and/or associational revival.
The convention was energized by the renewed emphasis, and in 1945, they set out to reach one million in one year. The convention fell short of this lofty goal but learned that if ever such a goal were to be reached, a better organizational structure was needed.
In 1947, the first unified program of evangelism for all the state conventions and churches was adopted. Each state convention was to establish a department of evangelism; all associations were to establish two leaders for their churches (one was to be an organizer and the other the general chairman). The strategy centered on associational revivals.
From this, the Home Mission Board had an army by which to organize the convention for evangelism. The HMB evangelism secretary had state directors of evangelism whom he partnered with to train and equip. The state directors of evangelism had two sssociational evangelism leaders in each association who would partner to train and equip their local churches. This army had four tasks:
1. Find and promote the best methods of evangelism known.
2. Hold annual statewide evangelism conferences for the purpose of inspiration and promotion, with a major emphasis on a unified program for mobilizing the church.
3. Give proper effort to the promotion and conduct of simultaneous crusades (today we might say ‘conduct a unified strategy’ rather than crusades).
4. Emphasize the use of the association as the basis of operation.
Today, the SBC has more human, financial and technological resources than ever to reach our continent with the Gospel. What is lacking nationally has been our strength in Oklahoma.
Nationally, we lack the organization necessary to build a nationwide strategy for evangelism, and we don’t have the organization to build synergy for an effort. In Oklahoma, while we still have much to learn and to accomplish in the area of evangelism, we do have the organization to affect the entire state with statewide strategies.
Through partnerships with associations we connected to hundreds of Oklahoma Baptist churches to take the gospel to over a million homes during the ACROSS Oklahoma Campaign. Our ReConnect Sunday School Campaign, with last year’s emphasis on evangelism, equipped Oklahoma Baptist in personal evangelism through associational rallies and carried the Gospel to many through the witness of those who were trained.
In fact the Connect One emphasis of the ReConnect strategy, started in the BGCO, was promoted through associational training events where more than 500 Oklahoma churches participated and then more than 70,000 Oklahoma Baptist accessed the user guide. This created the synergy that led LifeWay to make it a national strategy by placing it in “Bible Studies for Life” material which went to 20,614 churches across North America. Four additional state conventions picked up the strategy. Now I call that a strategy working through a well-defined organization which developed synergy.
Oklahoma Baptists, we have the soil and the spirit for evangelism. We even have the organization through our partnerships with the BGCO, local association, and churches. All we need now is a Matthew 9:38 movement… “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” And without saying too much now, hang on because you will be hearing more about that soon.