Evangelism trend continues dowward
By Bob Baysinger
February 17, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) general 30-year downward trend in evangelism continued in 2003.
MBC churches reported 13,184 baptisms for the 2003 church year (June, 2002 – July, 2003), the lowest number of baptisms reported statewide since 1996 when the baptism total was 13,300.
A Pathway analysis of the MBC summary of statistics indicates that the 10-year average for baptisms in MBC churches was 17,361. That average dropped to 14,980 for the 1980s, to 14,461 for the 1990s and is down to 13,681 the first four years of this decade.
The 2003 figure represents about 90 percent of MBC churches. Ten percent of the churches have not filed a statistical report.
“I’m afraid this reflects what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole," said David Clippard, MBC executive director. “My fear is that we will be theologically correct and spiritually dead.
“It is obvious that we (the MBC) are distracted and the main thing in not the main thing in our life."
Four churches consistently set the pace for Missouri Baptists in baptisms, and those four continued at the top in 2003 with Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty, leading with 238 baptisms. Pleasant Valley’s total – although still No. 1 in the state – represented a drop from the church’s 268 baptisms recorded during 2002.
First Baptist, Raytown, again ranked second with 230 baptisms, up from the church’s 214 baptisms of 2002. Second Baptist Church, Springfield, increased its baptism total from 123 to 144 to move into the No. 3 position for 2003, and First Baptist, Arnold, ranked third a year ago, dropped to fourth in the rankings because of a decrease in baptisms from 184 in 2002 to 143 in 2003.
Although the statewide picture represented a decline, there were locations where evangelism was very much alive, particularly in some of the smaller and newer Missouri Baptist churches during 2003.
For example, West County Community Church at Wildwood, pastored by Phil Hunter, former MBC evangelism director, baptized 115 people in 2003, 86 more than the 29 baptized the year before. The baptism total made West County the No. 5 church in baptisms in Missouri.
“The first reason we’re reaching people is the sovereignty of God and seeking Him in prayer because He is the Lord of the harvest," Hunter said. “It’s a work of God. No one leads anyone to Jesus, We water and sow the seeds, but it is God who gives the harvest."
Hunter said he has challenged everyone in his church to list the names of seven lost people and pray for them every day for 70 days leading up to Easter.
“We pray for lost people every day," Hunter said. “I have asked the people to invite the people they are praying for to the Easter service. God does his work and calls us to join in that work. What we need to realize that our work is futile if we try to do it by ourselves."
Records reveal that 377 Missouri Baptists churches baptized no one in 2003. Another 164 churches baptized only one, and 121 churches baptized only two.
“The way to get a church on fire," Hunter said, “is to get the pastor on fire. The reason so many churches have bottomed out is because the pastors have bottomed out. If you look at God’s Word, when the man of God gets on fire, things get on fire around him."
Hunter said he tries to keep his priorities in order.
“I have a priority that every Monday my goal is to have at least three appointments that week to sit down and take people through the Gospel," Hunter said. “Most pastors don’t have that as a goal. If pastors will go back and get before God, he will help them set priorities. And God’s priority is always people."
Harmony Baptist, Waynesville, also turned up the evangelism flame in 2003.
The church, located west of Waynesville along I-44, recorded 84 baptisms last year, up from the 34 reported the previous year, according to Dwain Carter, pastor.
“It was just a change in the mentality of the church," Carter said. “We changed our way of doing evangelism … from corporate evangelism to personal evangelism. We’re also starting a new leadership team. We’ll be changing from the committee concept to a team concept."
Data from the 2003 Annual Church Profile reveals that four of the newer churches recorded the highest membership-baptism ratios in the state, led by Fairview Baptist Church at Jennings.
Fairview, with only 110 members, had 63 baptisms.
This statistic topped the state in membership-baptism ratio. It required 1.7 Fairview members to reach one person for Christ compared to the 26.7 members required to reach one person at Pleasant Valley.
Ramon Jones has served as Fairview’s pastor since the churched was launched two years ago.
“We have a lot of ‘Generation X’ people in our church, and they have a lot of personal contact with people on the street," Jones said. “We have a program we call ‘Taking It to the Streets.’ All we do is take some Baptist tracts with us, go out on the streets and offer them Jesus. Every first Sunday we baptize people."
Another new Baptist church, Stonebridge in Springfield, continued reaching people for Christ at an impressive rate, with 66 baptisms during 2003 – a 2.5 member-baptism ratio.
Started as a mission out of two established Springfield churches, Ridgecrest and Second Springfield, Stonebridge was constituted as a church on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2003. Led by Pastor Mark Killingsworth, Stonebridge recorded 32 baptisms its first year as a mission church.
“We are an experimental church," Killingsworth said. “We recruited members out of Ridgecrest, Second Springfield and other churches to help us start a new church. We decided to try this experiment to see if we would have a better chance of reaching more people. The result is that we’ve had 172 conversions and 86 baptisms in two years. We’re trying to be culturally relevant."
Another evangelistic-minded church in 2003 was New Harmony Baptist Church at Salem, with 40 baptisms and only 411 members, making the membership-baptism ratio at 10-1.
David Gidcumb is in his 15th year as pastor at New Harmony.
“We don’t have an organized visitation program, but we do encourage and teach the people that every member is a minister," Gidcumb said. “I even tell the people who are not members that they are responsible to live our God’s Word and let God shine through their lives."
New Harmony ’s building was destroyed by fire in 1998. The church relocated to a more visible site and is now averaging more than 500 in attendance every Sunday.
“When you look across our convention (in Missouri ) and see churches like these absolutely setting the field on fire, it tells me that there is not a problem with the harvest," Clippard said. “The problem is that there are not enough harvesters. This is what we need to be praying for … praying that God would raise up some more harvesters here in Missouri."
Hunter said he is convinced that any Missouri Baptist church can reach people for Christ if they will seek the passion of Christ.
“I’m sure many have heard the phrase that “if you’re following Jesus, you’re going to be fishing for men.’ If Baptists would only say that His passion is going to be my passion," Hunter said.
“I am so thankful that I had a mom that led me to Christ when I was a seven-year-old boy and taught me to have a passion for other people."