Friday, June 17, 2005

CONVENTION BLOGGING III. The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Of course, we do self report. The convention is the largest gathering of evangelical Christians in the world, not that we would ever brag about something like that.

There are zillions more Catholics in the U.S. than Baptists, but we are twice the size of our nearest competitor, I mean sister denomination.

What most of us realize is that, despite our lead in size, SBC growth is stagnant. Or, in laymen’s terms, we aren’t growing. Not only that, but we cannot find many of our members. They are on the rolls, but they have wandered off and we cannot find them.

SBC President Welch says the denomination is in the “doldrums”. In an amazing bit of candor and self awareness, Welch also said the denomination faces a challenge to determine whether it is on the right path. I do not think I ever heard the SBC leadership admit something could be wrong, especially with their leadership.

Of course, the first place every SBC President and leader goes when facing this lack of growth is evangelism. “If our convention will extend itself out toward the people — wherever they are — and emphasize the main thing, which is the spiritual good of them and their families and the good of the people around them, then the convention will rally to itself for the greater good,” he said." If you read that sentence carefully, you will see it does not really mean anything. But, I think he meant to say Southern Baptists need to be more evangelistic.

Welch did admit that the annual number of baptisms in the convention had been largely unchanged for decades. He finds this "a worrisome sign because baptism is “the first giant step in discipleship, a relationship with the Lord and Christ.” One of the problems might be that we almost never recruit disciples. We tell people to pray a prayer and they will avoid hell. I cannot remember an evangelistic sermon where the preacher said be a disciple. Sometimes you get what you pay for. I think we are.

“If this convention does not have a significant uplift, then it has every reason to pause and ask itself, ‘Do we have deeper problems than we realize?’” Welch states. He has made a renewal of evangelistic outreach the cornerstone of his administration. The problem with that approach is, evangelism has been the cornerstone of every SBC initiative for a long time. We promote it, we train people for it, and we make them feel guilty if they do not do it.

But they still do not do it. And that is what Welch should think about. Why are they not? And, did they ever?

I don't think they ever did. I know lots of old Baptists. Very few of them have been actively evangelistic. Most of the converts have been one in "revivals", crusades, Vacation Bible School, and special events. The problem is, many people today will not go to these special events to be confronted with the gospel.

So, President Welch has two problems he can chew on. First, realize the truth about evangelistic method and history. Second, consider that our theology of evangelism may just be wrong and may have been wrong for a long time. And now it is coming home to roost.

Welch was elected last year partly on a pledge to seek 1 million new baptisms. The SBC has never baptized even half that many people in a year. They won't this year either. Even if every Southern Baptist on the roll went out every Tuesday night all year long they would not baptize that many.

Welch also said “We are suffering because of good people doing good things at the exclusion of the main thing ... getting outside of the walls of the church and reconnecting in New Testament Jesus terms with the people of the world and meeting them at the point of their greatest need. That’s the greatest cry.” Here, President Welch, is part of your problem. The main thing is not evangelism. The main thing is worship. A people that do not worship will not evangelize, because they have no motivation. And, people will not be drawn to a church that does not worship, because it is just a motivation seminar for more witnesses.

Remember, if you are losing money selling widgets, selling them faster and harder won't make you more money. The SBC thinks if it does the thing that isn't working harder and harder, it will work.

I once heard it said that stupidity was doing the same thing repeatedly, but expecting a different result. I don't want to be harsh, but the principle if worth noting.
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