Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, addressing messengers to the Convention’s annual meeting, cited Southern Baptists’ decline in baptisms and missionary numbers in calling for “a groundswell of intentionality like never before to see God’s Great Commission accomplished.”
“It is time to review our ministry assignments. It is time to see if there is any way we can lead our churches” toward heightened resolve in “the work God called them to do,” said Page, whose vision for Great Commission Advance has called churches to elevate their missions involvement through the Cooperative Program.
For the past five years, Page has urged churches to increase their CP gifts by one budget percentage point for Cooperative Program missions and ministries in their states and throughout North America and the world. To date, the “1% CP Challenge” has yielded new stability in CP support.
Page cited Billy Graham’s comments fifty years ago as prophetic, when the famed evangelist declared at the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin:
“[The church] has an energetic passion for unity, but it has all but forgotten our Lord’s commission to evangelize. The next twenty-five years will be the most decisive years since our Lord walked the roads of Galilee. Our world is on fire, and man without God cannot control the flame. The demons of hell have been let loose. The fires of passion, greed, hate and lust are sweeping the world. We live in . . . danger, fear and death. We sense that something is about to happen. We know that things cannot go on as they are.”
Page then asked, “If Billy Graham said that fifty years ago, what do you think he would say if he were speaking to us today?”
Evangelism is becoming an abandoned word in the church, Page said in his address on the opening day of the June 14–15 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
“Despite the fact that our baptisms have reached an abysmal statistical point, we continue to lessen our emphasis and discussion about evangelism.”
Page noted: “We cannot disciple those who we have failed to win to Christ. . . . [W]e fail to see how intricately connected discipleship is with evangelism.”
The slippage of evangelism, Page said, may stem from a number of factors, such as “easy believism” that fails to yield a “corresponding transformation of lifestyle.” Some churches, meanwhile, may tilt toward social ministry that lacks an evangelistic heart and thus fails to fulfill the Great Commission.
Some people might see doctrine as the issue, Page said in an apparent reference to Calvinist and non-Calvinist streams within the SBC. But, Page, who does not embrace the Calvinist view, often called the “doctrines of grace,” noted: “I will tell you people on my side of the fence are lessening in their evangelistic fervor as well as those on the other side of the soteriological fence.
“I believe all of us have backed away and believed society’s lie that people will not listen to us anymore.”
Page said “perhaps the greatest” cause of evangelistic de-emphasis is “a type of assumed universalism which is at work among us.”
“Not only do we have people who are theologically weak and believe that somehow God in His mercy might save everyone; we even believe that if we don’t [share the Gospel] somebody else will get the job done,” Page said.
“We have many people believing that as long as one is a part of a church, that’s all you need to do,” he said. “We even now have people believing that if you’re helping plant a church, that makes it automatically evangelistic.”
All the while, decline, malaise, and lostness continue to mount, Page said.
“We have fewer members of our cooperating churches than any time since 1992. We can no longer even boast, inaccurately, that we have over 16 million. Now we only claim 15.3.
“Our baptisms are at the lowest numbers since before 1948.”
LifeWay Research, Page said, has found that 70 percent of church attendees from the millennial generation give up on church by the age of twenty-three, with many never returning.
“Horribly, we have fewer missionaries on the field than any time since 1993.
“According to our International Mission Board, the number of unreached, unengaged people groups currently numbers over three thousand.”
Page noted: “The bottom line of it all is this: The lack of a transformed people has led to a lack of genuine evangelism. People don’t share because they have not been transformed from within. . . . [W]hen you are truly discipled and growing in the Lord, you want to tell people about Christ.”
Southern Baptists must band together in evangelism, discipleship, and missions, Page said in a video that concluded his message.
“We can do more together than alone. This is the basic Baptist principle by which we have lived, by which we have grown, and by which we are working together. Making disciples of all nations—that is the Great Commission.
“It has been the single mission of the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 170 years . . . . We are many faces, many accents, many languages, but we’re all reading from the same Word, working for the same goal—to share the Gospel with every person on the planet.”
Discipleship and Evangelism: The Two Faces of the Great Commission
An excerpt from Frank S. Page’s SBC report
Southern Baptists, we have a clear and compelling vision— to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.
The lack of a transformed people has led to a lack of genuine evangelism.
Simply put, we must recover the missing “D-word” (Discipleship) if we are to reenergize the dreaded “E-word” (Evangelism).
Is there anyone here who would not agree that we seem to have lost our way? For example:
- We have fewer members of our cooperating churches than any time since 1992, down to less than 15.3 million members.
- Again, our baptisms are the lowest since 1948 when they first crossed the three hundred thousand mark.
- Our baptism ratios continue to plummet. It takes fifty-two church members to see one person won to Christ.
- This year, we have 3,645 missionaries on the field, fewer than any time since 1993.
- One-in-four adults under age thirty are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheistic,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular.”
- According to the IMB, the number of UUPGs (Unreached, Unengaged People Groups) currently number 3,080.
Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press and is a member of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. This news story was previously published in Baptist Press.