Every year, LifeWay Christian Resources compiles a list of statistics drawn from the Annual Church Profile (ACP) that serves as a health check for Southern Baptist churches. Over the last few years, the reading has been showing signs of trouble.
From 2011 to 2016, reports from the ACP have repeated the same news—number of churches up, number of baptisms down. Trends in baptisms, which reflect the addition of new believers to a congregation, have been steadily declining for a decade or more. Leaders in Southern Baptist life have been fighting to reverse that trend.
Now the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has partnered with LifeWay, the SBC Executive Committee, and state Baptist conventions on an initiative designed to encourage churches, pastors, and members to have more Gospel conversations.
The Gospel Conversation Challenge (GC Challenge) provides churches, associations, and state conventions with an opportunity to pledge their commitment to having Gospel conversations with the lost from now through June 2018.
“We want to help pastors make it a priority in their church,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “This is a way to get people thinking about it and talking about the Gospel every day. We hope that by hearing other peoples’ Gospel conversation stories, other believers will see how simple it is to incorporate these conversations into life.”
A website, GCChallenge.com, contains a place where pastors can record the number of Gospel conversations their church will pledge to initiate through June 2018. The goal is to help pastors mobilize their churches to share their faith.
“Evangelism does not happen without intentionality,” said LifeWay President and CEO Thom Rainer. “The GC Challenge gives churches an opportunity to make evangelism a priority as they send out church members to share the Gospel with friends, family, and neighbors.”
The GC Challenge website includes a place for anyone to upload a GC:60 video where individuals describe their latest Gospel conversation in sixty seconds. Several pastors, laypeople, and Southern Baptist denominational leaders have had the chance to submit their own videos, including Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
“I am honored to be a part of encouraging our brothers and sisters to take up the GC Challenge. This initiative is one of encouragement and accountability,” Page said. “I have long been encouraging our people to share the Gospel. I join in this movement to engage every church and every church member in having Gospel conversations, which lead people to the opportunity to give their lives to the Lord Jesus!”
While the GC Challenge is designed to spark Christians toward action, the initiative also recognizes the need to assist Southern Baptists in praying for the lost. The site includes a prayer guide that includes over forty different groups of people that Christians can pray will be open to responding to the Gospel. The guide lists those whom many people tend to overlook and describes some small steps believers can take to engage them in a Gospel conversation.
“The Gospel is the essence of our hope in this life and the next,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “We are thrilled to be a part of what God is doing across the Southern Baptist Convention to focus the Church on her first mission—sharing the Gospel.”
The goal of the GC Challenge is to have churches commit to starting one million Gospel conversations between now and the June gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. That may seem like a daunting number, but if seventy-five people in one church commit to sharing their faith once a month for twelve months, that would lead one congregation to start nine hundred Gospel conversations. With more than forty-seven thousand cooperating churches in the SBC, one million Gospel conversations is an attainable goal.
“I’m excited about the GC Challenge’s goal of initiating one million opportunities to share the Gospel,” explained Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “Think of the ripple effect that could have as people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. That is an eternal game-changer for hopefully millions of people.”
The goal for each conversation is that believers would be able to present the Gospel in its entirety and offer an individual an opportunity to respond.
“It’s my prayer,” said Rainer, “that the GC Challenge will spark millions of conversations that God will use to bring about the spiritual transformation of men and women, boys and girls.”
With some intentionality, every conversation can be molded into a Gospel conversation. Even a simple discussion about someone’s day can be transformed into a dialogue about the eternal hope of Jesus Christ. The GC Challenge website points Christians toward resources that help them facilitate such conversations.
From tools like the 3 Circles Evangelism Kit to books like Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out, the GC Challenge provides several ways to inspire and equip believers to talk about their faith.
“Our state convention evangelism team is conducting 3 Circles trainings across the state,” said Chitwood regarding Kentucky’s plans to participate. “We are constantly hearing reports about how God is using the witnessing efforts of our pastors and church members to bring the lost to Christ.”
Evangelism is a major focus for Southern Baptist churches, and the GC Challenge is one way for pastors to spur their congregations on to having Gospel conversations with their neighbors.
“I’m thankful to Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board for partnering with LifeWay to equip churches in their mission of making disciples and engaging the world with the Gospel,” said Rainer. “May God lead our churches to evangelism renewal.”
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board and is a member of First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Georgia.