Southern Baptist evangelists who are concerned about the evangelism and baptism trends they see in the Southern Baptist Convention want to partner with pastors and local churches in efforts to reach the lost.
Members of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, who met in Jackson, Tennessee, for a summit in March, produced a white paper entitled “Southern Baptist Evangelists Offer Hope in the Face of Declining Baptisms.”
Jerry Drace, who helped convene the summit and who is one of the past presidents of this group of Southern Baptist evangelists, said the purpose of the paper is to express concern over the decline of reported baptisms and to let pastors know “that we really, truly want to come alongside them and serve them.”
“The methods of evangelism may change, and they have, but the message never changes,” Drace said. “We as evangelists are very capable of delivering the message, even if we have to change methods.”
Several evangelists are using the internet to reach both Christian gatherings and unreached people in the US and in other countries. Sammy Tippit, one of the group’s evangelists, recently conducted a series of Skype crusades from his home in Texas to the Punjab region of India. About 120,000 people attended in various locations with about 35,000 making public professions of faith in Christ. Locally trained pastors follow up with those who make decisions for further discipleship training .
Vocational evangelists and pastors in the SBC have for more than seventy years shared a common goal of reaching the lost and discipling the saved, the paper says.
“Thousands of our churches have experienced the blessings and reaped the rewards of having experienced the preaching of God-called evangelists gifted with ‘drawing the net’ and ‘gathering the harvest,’” the paper continues. “The pastor and the evangelist have always been partners in obeying our Lord’s instructions found in Matthew 28:19–20.”
But the denomination is facing a crisis, the paper says, as seen in the decline of baptisms. The paper cites statistics compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources indicating that the SBC lost more than two hundred thousand members last year and baptized fewer than three hundred thousand new converts for the first time in sixty-eight years.
Overall, SBC membership is more than a million fewer than it was in 2006, while the paper notes that the number of SBC churches has grown for each of the last seventeen years.
In a day of social media and rapid changes in how people relate and communicate with one another, the challenge of evangelism is connecting the claims of Christ “to a culture where information is altered at best and erased at worst,” the paper says.
In response to these trends, evangelists want pastors to know of their availability to help churches in a variety of ways. The evangelists argue in the paper that public evangelistic gatherings still have a place in the church and that individual personal evangelism, media evangelism, and public proclamation have been present in every spiritual awakening for the past two thousand years.
This is where vocational evangelists, the paper says, can assist and support pastors in their evangelistic efforts. While these vocational evangelists are entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel, many of them have expertise in financial, medical, and family issues, in addition to other topics that are relevant to the church today.
They also have members who are qualified to lead special events, such as men’s events, women’s events, and other gatherings for different “affinity” groups.
“Most of the evangelists are not just guys who can [just] go in and preach,” Drace said. “They can come in and address special groups in the church.”
The paper emphasizes the willingness of vocational evangelists “to serve any pastor, anywhere, at any time.”
“Mass evangelism is not a thing of the past, but refocusing its expressions will call for new methods,” the paper says. “Together, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we can once again hear voices who have been cut to the heart cry out as on the Day of Pentecost with the question, ‘Brothers, what must we do?’”
A full version of the white paper developed from the Evangelists’ Summit ’18 meeting is available at www.sbcevangelist.org.
Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and is a member of Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson.