Spiritual results aren’t always easy to measure. And they certainly can’t be humanly manufactured. But one metric that can be at least an indicator of God’s Spirit at work, and of thriving spiritual health in churches, is baptisms. Healthy churches should consistently see new believers born into the Kingdom of God and united into church fellowship.
For the past several years, IBSA churches have reported right around 5,000 baptisms per year. But when the 2014 Annual Church Profiles from IBSA churches were compiled earlier this year, the total had dropped to just over 4,500.
There were a few extenuating circumstances in 2014, and I hope the total will be back up this year. But this stable-to-declining baptism rate has led our staff at IBSA to ask, “Is there anything we should do differently?”
Those discussions led us to some research. And we discovered that, while only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their need for Christ, churches that consistently baptize new believers are often engaging in one or more of the following five, seed-sowing commitments.
Vacation Bible School. 43% of Americans come to Christ before age 13, and 64% before age 18. An evangelistic VBS is still one of the most effective ways to reach children, and their families, with the gospel.
Witness Training. While most born-again adults believe they have a responsibility to share their faith with others, only 52% have done so within the past year, and 31% say they “never” evangelize. Churches that are seeing people come to faith in Christ equip their members with a variety of strategies and tools for sharing their faith story. And they create an atmosphere of encouragement, accountability, and celebration within the church that makes it “normal” to talk about how and with whom members are sharing their faith each week.
Outreach Events. Some Christians are confrontational evangelists like Peter and Paul. But many are natural “bringers” like Andrew. Churches that baptize new believers regularly have worship services that are accessible and truly inviting to guests each week. But they also provide multiple outreach events throughout the year such as block parties, concerts, fall festivals, or even service projects. These give their members natural opportunities to invite friends and family to meet other Christians and feel welcome at church.
New Groups. Whether it’s a new Sunday school class, new home groups, or new ministries such as mother’s day out or men’s service group, new groups can give a church multiple settings in which personal, evangelistic relationships can grow. Each new group can be a new bridge across which the gospel may flow, and across which new believers can enter the Kingdom of God.
Evangelistic Prayer. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 95% of those who accept Jesus as savior report that they were regularly prayed for by someone else for a significant amount of time prior to their salvation. An intentional, evangelistic prayer strategy may be the single most important commitment a church can make toward seeing people come to Christ. It is prayer that sensitizes the church’s heart toward specific lost people. And it is prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in their lives.
At the IBSA Annual Meeting this month, messengers were challenged to consider and commit to these five evangelistic actions. 146 of them did. During the coming year, our IBSA staff will be working in a focused way with these churches. If your church would like to be part of a regional cohort to focus on these areas, please contact us. We believe that churches that embrace these evangelistic commitments will thrive. And that just happens to rhyme with five.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.