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Wake Up Callcomment (0)

May 22, 2014


A task force designed to address declining baptisms among Southern Baptist churches released its full report May 12. 

An urgent, immediate call for spiritual renewal and personal commitment to evangelism and discipleship are the common threads among five recommendations made by the Pastors’ Task Force on Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms. The national task force, aimed at addressing the continued decrease in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches, was convened last year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Most task force members are pastors, including Alabama Baptist Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery.

“Southern Baptists’ downward spiral in baptisms is the fruit of our spiritual lukewarmness,” said task force member Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla. “I am greatly encouraged by the stirring I see among us toward spiritual awakening and the need for the resurgence of the Great Commission. This task force work and report gives me hope.”

The group was formed, in part, because the 2012 Annual Church Profile reported a drop of 5.52 percent in the number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, confirming a two-decade downward trend. 

Sammy Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), noted baptisms in Alabama have reflected the downward trend as well.

Gilbreath said he has great respect for the task force members and knows they did extensive study on the topic. He added it’s encouraging “that we finally admit that baptisms have been on the decline. I pray that this recognition will cause us to place evangelism back on the front burner and realize that without intentional evangelism we get unintentional universalism.” 

Recognizing the issue

Al Gilbert, vice president for evangelism at NAMB, facilitated the group’s meetings. LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer assisted the task force with research support.

“Recognition and ownership of the issue are keys to reversing the decline,” Gilbert said. 

The task force identified five key areas, described as problems, that pastors and churches must address to reverse the baptism decline: 

  • Spiritual — “With urgency, we must join together in fervent and effective prayer for spiritual awakening in our churches and our nation.”
  • Leadership — “As pastors we must intentionally model and prioritize personal evangelism while providing clear pathways for our congregations to follow.”
  • Disciple-making — “As pastors we must create a disciple-making culture — focusing on multiplying disciples who know how to grow in Christ and lead others to Christ.”
  • Next generation — “As pastors we must leverage our influence, activity and resources to reach and make disciples of the Next Generation.” 
  • Celebration — “As pastors we must celebrate new life in Christ as people publicly profess their faith through baptism. We must establish an ethos of joy that celebrates the practice of personal evangelism and its fruit.”

Kevin Hamm, pastor of Gardendale First Baptist Church, which topped baptisms in Alabama in 2013, said, “The task force committee did an excellent job of not only identifying the problems but more importantly laying out a clear plan to answer those problems.” 

“The answer begins with the pastor,” Hamm said. “He is the shepherd that God has placed over the congregation. The pastor cannot expect out of his people what he is not doing himself. I often say, ‘I cannot give away what I don’t have and I cannot lead my people to a place that I have not been.’”

Hamm added that many first reactions to disappointing news is hopelessness. 

“Depression and discouragement is not the answer. We must refocus our attention on God and God alone,” he said. “As long as we have breath in our lungs there is hope for a turnaround in our nation, and that turnaround begins in the church house not the White House. We must become intentional about addressing each of the five targeted areas (in the task force report).”

Task force member Manpoong “Dennis” Kim, pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Md., said, “I am grateful for this endeavor’s commitment to renew the passion for evangelism that ultimately begs the question, ‘How then should we proceed?’” 

From 1950 to 2011 Southern Baptists baptized an average of 379,711 people annually. Only twice during that time did the numbers dip more than 10 percent below that average. But in 2012 the decline was 13 percent off the average — the worst drop in 62 years.

The report itself takes an even more sobering view of the issue. The report states: “SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] baptisms reached a plateau in the 1950s, peaked in the 1970s and have stayed fairly constant since that time ... The problem is even greater than these numbers indicate. Considering how the North American population has increased substantially between the 1950s’ baptism peak and today, these figures indicate how much ground we have lost and are losing.”

Hamm noted the task force report should be a “wake up call to all of us. We are in a desperate need of revival, and I’m not just talking about a series of meetings. I’m talking about a sin-repenting, life-altering, city-changing, nation-awakening, church-shaking revival. We need a mighty move of God.”

Personal statement of action

Gilbert said, “The recommendations are unanimous, but more than that, these men have made this a personal statement of action and they are hopeful that every pastor will review the list and see if they can identify with it. Our hope is that pastors will join us to make these recommendations personal and take action to affect change.”

As part of assisting Alabama Baptist churches through the SBOM evangelism office, Gilbreath noted the 10-year “GPS” (God’s Plan for Sharing) evangelism strategy. 

“We have adopted (that) strategy ... recommended by the North American Mission Board and our State Board of Missions,” he reported. “We have had great buy-in and participation from our churches and associations.

“My prayer is for every believer in Alabama to pray, ‘Lord give me a new burden for the lost and don’t let us lose Alabama on our watch.’” (BP, TAB)

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