Church leaders advise on evangelism
MBC seeks counsel
to reverse sagging evangelistic efforts
JEFFERSON CITY – When Gary Taylor joined the staff of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) as the director of evangelism six weeks ago, he knew it was too big a mission for just one man.
“When I was the pastor of First Baptist O’Fallon,” he said, “I couldn’t wrap my arms around 2,500 people, and even as a pastor of just ten people, I couldn’t do it. So how am I supposed to help evangelize the whole state of Missouri?”
His answer, of course, is that he cannot, but he does have an idea how to get started, beginning with Proverbs 20:18: “Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance.”
“I’d like to hear from the field – from the guys that are out there on the front lines – what we need to do to touch Missouri,” he said. “I don’t have an agenda. I want to hear through you what we can do together to reach this state for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Taylor organized a meeting, inviting representatives from every association in the state to meet and form a think tank of sorts to help reverse Missouri’s downward trend in evangelism and baptism. About 25 showed up. In 1980, Missouri Baptist churches baptized 20,574 souls. In the past ten years, the average has dropped to 13,565. In 2006, the the number dropped to 12,503.
The group’s agenda was simple. They brain-stormed on seven questions Taylor brought to the floor.
1. What’s keeping us from reaching our communities for Christ?
2. What kind of environment must we have in our churches to attract and retain people?
3. What “bridge event” is working in your community to reach people?
4. What are you doing in your church to train your people in personal evangelism? What can the Evangelism Office do to resource and assist training?
5. What ongoing things are you doing that are effectively reaching people for Christ?
6. We only have 400 churches represented at the Evangelism Conference. What can we do to have more involved? What will it take to get young pastors involved?
7. “Southern Baptists have a harvest-oriented denomination in an unseeded generation,” Chuck Kelley, president, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said recently. How does this statement relate to what we need to do to reach Missouri for Christ?
The answers to the first question “What’s keeping us from reaching our communities for Christ?” ranged from apathy, an unregenerate church, lack of burden and poor leadership to fear of the lost, unnecessary busyness, hypocrisy and simple disobedience to God’s command.
The ideal environment to attract and retain people? The group emphasized being genuine, positive, joyful, showing a personal interest and forgiving as Christ forgave.
“Bridge” events currently working in Missouri ran the gamut from the traditional – food ministries, Vacation Bible School, and revivals – to the innovative – autism support groups, Celebrate Recovery and hosting dinners for local police and fire fighters.
The churches represented trained their congregations in a number of personal evangelism methods including Share Jesus Without Fear, F.A.I.T.H., Evangelism Explosion, etc. Still, some preferred “just doing it” and letting their testimony speak for itself. They suggested part of the annual MBC evangelism conference be dedicated to training and doing personal evangelism.
What ongoing things are people doing to effectively reach people for Christ? The participants – a healthy mix of younger and older generations – touted Sunday School as one of their best evangelistic tools. As long as the intention was winning souls, the method did not seem to matter.
Their suggestions for improving the annual evangelism conference included more hands-on training and a focus on smaller and bi-vocational churches. They suggested that scholarships to provide housing and a more centralized location might increase participation, while providing child care and more promotion might draw in younger pastors and laity.
For the last of Taylor’s questions, the gathering determined that Missouri Baptists must work from a missional mindset, and boldly witness without preconceived assumptions.
“I’m very encouraged,” Taylor said. “I’m very pleased with the input and insight these people have from their churches. I think we’re going to be able to take this and begin to work towards some solutions and new ideas. This is where our strategy for evangelizing Missouri is going to come from.”