February 25, 2003
ARNOLD – A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention believes the biggest problem facing Missouri Baptist churches is not putting first things first.
Bailey Smith, who is a former convention president, says the problem of declining and plateaued churches exists throughout the SBC – and in Missouri – because churches have taken the emphasis off soul winning and revivals.
"I would say churches need to get back to putting first things first," Smith said during an interview at the "Bailey Smith Real Evangelism Conference" at First Baptist Church, Arnold. "Churches need to get back to the basics – soul winning and revivals."
Smith has been involved in full-time evangelism since leaving the pastorate of First Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.
Smith said the percentage of Baptist churches that have plateaued or are declining is higher in Missouri than at the national level. The statistic for all Southern Baptist churches is 74 percent, while the Missouri statistic is 80 percent.
Smith is convinced that people can still be reached through revival efforts. He said many pastors have quit having revivals because they don’t think revivals will work. "But they didn’t stop working until we quit having them," Smith added.
What has happened in Missouri, generally speaking, is the same thing that has happened everywhere, Smith said. Baptists have lost their desire for evangelism.
"Years ago, I heard Ramsey Pollard say that one day Baptists will get rich and comfortable and become like the Methodists and Presbyterians. He said we’d quit having Sunday night services and start to decline," Smith recalled. "I didn’t believe it at the time, but he was prophetically correct.
"Our attitude today is that a committee can do it. God says just help yourself. We can’t stay in existence without revival and without great moments of conviction. So many churches have chosen survival over revival."
Since entering evangelism Smith said he has had many opportunities to counsel with Baptist pastors.
"It’s amazing how many pastors tell me how people in their churches speak ugly and unkind things and try to get them voted out," Smith explained. "There are so many deacons who believe they run the church, and all this comes about when we don’t do what we’re supposed to be doing. We turn on each other."
In his book Real Evangelism, Smith urges churches and pastors to establish goals.
"Wouldn’t it be super if all Christians in the world would set numerical goals for their soul winning?" Smith writes.
"Why not?" Smith responds when asked if he still believes in setting goals.
"I heard Jimmy Draper say just the other night that Southern Baptists baptized the same number of people in 2002 as they did in 1954.
"The revealing statistic is that we had 12,000 churches in 1954. Today, we have 44,000 churches," Smith said. "I’m surprised when I see any church that baptizes less than 52 people a year. If a pastor can’t win one person a week, he’s backsliding. We can only play with paper clips so long!
"When Jerry Falwell started Thomas Road Baptist Church, he made 100 visits a day, six days a week. The problem is that we’ve got some lazy pastors and lazy deacons today. There’s no conflict between sweat and faith. If we would just confront some people with the gospel, they may say ‘yes.’"
Smith said he is afraid that a lot of Missouri Southern Baptist churches have been substituting good things for the best thing.
"A church may have nice music, a nice sermon and a nice budget. But it’s like the little boy who brought the report card home with a F in arithmetic, spelling and English and an A in deportment. When he took the report card home, his dad looked at it and said, ‘You’re a neat, well mannered, stupid kid.’
"I go by these beautifully landscaped churches that have spent more on landscaping than on evangelism," Smith added. "They’re tucked back in a little residential community and have become nothing more than a country club with a steeple on top."
Smith said he can’t blame some people for quitting church when they go and see what they see.
He said he had a friend who decided to return to church after the 9-11 tragedy. Smith said the friend selected a Methodist church to visit and was shocked at what he found. "He told me that there was a woman preacher who spoke for 20 minutes, calling the Apostle Paul a fool for believing the things he wrote," Smith said.
"People know what church ought to be. When they don’t see it, they don’t come back."
One of the big obstacles Missouri Baptist churches will have to overcome if they return to putting first things first, Smith said, is laziness.
"Laziness has made its way into the pews of the parishioners," he stated. "It’s natural for Christians to be lazy. I battle it all the time. All of us do. We get tired. I travel constantly and have to ask God to help me speak to that person about his soul.
"A lot of times I get up and am introduced as an effective soul winner, but I know I’ve passed up opportunities."
Smith said he fears the reason why many Baptists are not more concerned about reaching others for Christ is that they do not know Christ themselves.
"I’ve seen 40,000 people saved preaching my "Wheat and Tares" message. I was a lost church member," Smith explained. "And there are a lot of others, too. We do have a largely unredeemed membership.
"Fifty percent of the people in a recent survey said they had never been born again, and they were all active in evangelical churches.
"We’ve got to see America as a mission field. We’ve got to go back to making every service an opportunity for somebody to be saved. We’ve got to get away from the idea that we’ve got to be fed. We’re so full now we can’t get anything done.
"We’ve got to get back to putting first things first."