Archives For baptisms

The Briefing

Crossover & Harvest America share timeless Gospel message
More than 700 voices worshiped at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz. on Friday, June 9, kicking off the weekend’s Crossover Arizona and Harvest America events. NAMB’s Crossover Arizona and Greg Laurie’s Harvest America joined forces to host a three-day evangelistic outreach involving training, street evangelism and service projects before culminating in Harvest America’s Sunday night crusade. By the end of that evening, Harvest reported 2,904 salvation decisions at the event with another 494 indicating decisions online.

100s of new churches not enough to satisfy Southern Baptists
Southern Baptists gained almost 500 churches last year, while taking in more than $11 billion. Such statistics would have most US denominations praising the Lord. But because of declines in other metrics that matter more—including their namesake, baptisms—leaders say members should offer lament instead.

Delaware legalizes abortion through all 9 months
Delaware gave pro-abortion advocates a rare but big win last week when Gov. John Carney signed a bill making it legal to kill unborn babies through all nine months of pregnancy. Proponents of the bill drafted it out of fear the Supreme Court might someday overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Trump: ‘It’s time to put a stop to attacks on religion’
President Trump told his political base of evangelical Christians that he would continue to restore the religious liberty many of them feel they’ve lost. “It is time to put a stop to the attacks on religion,” Trump said in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

McDonald’s introduces gay pride fries in rainbow boxes
McDonald’s is serving its signature fries in cheerful rainbow-colored boxes at participating locations throughout the greater California Bay Area, as well as at some D.C. locations. The rainbow fries will be available throughout the month of June.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, World Magazine, Religion News, Houston Chronicle

Raising baptism

ib2newseditor —  March 6, 2017
baptism-cover

Pastor Sammy Simmons of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton baptizes Pastor Adron Robinson of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills while Pastor Brian McWethy of Grace Fellowship in Amboy looks on. They were on a tour of Israel led by IBSA’s Pat Pajak.

As rates continue to decline, can evangelism as a lifestyle make a comeback—and make the difference?

Until recently, the man who accepted Christ at Cross Church a few weeks ago was a skeptic. He was moral and hard-working, said Pastor Tim Rhodus, but he just didn’t buy into Christianity. But a few weeks ago, he came to a point of personal faith.

“It wasn’t an evangelistic message in that guy’s case,” Rhodus said. “It was two-and-a-half years of authentic living in front of him, [so] that he saw it was real.”

At Rhodus’ church, which has campuses in Carlinville, Staunton, and Hettick, evangelism is a way of life—of living, actually. Cross Church offers evangelism training a few times a year where participants learn tools to share their faith, but mostly, they’re encouraged to reflect Christ in their everyday lives.

“It’s not a gimmick or a program,” Rhodus said. “It’s normal people choosing to reflect Jesus in their normal lives. And then God uses that to draw people to himself.
“All you have to do is just not be afraid to have the conversation.”

According to a 2016 survey by LifeWay Research, 79% of unchurched Americans say they don’t mind if their friends talk to them about their faith. But only about one-third of unchurched people say they’d go to a worship service if a friend invited them.

As people grow less and less connected with the church as an institution, the numbers show that churches are finding it more difficult to reach people with the gospel. IBSA churches baptized 3,953 people in 2016, a decrease of 10% from the previous year. And 352 churches reported no baptisms for the year.

“This is the lead strategic concern we should have as we try to help churches,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said of the decline in baptisms.

While possible solutions abound, Rhodus and other leaders have seen people come to Christ through lifestyle-oriented evangelism, a method which has gotten a bad rap when used an excuse to not have difficult conversations. But Rhodus explained Cross Church’s philosophy this way: If you’re a mom, you don’t have to fake being a mom. You are a mom wherever you go. You talk openly about it, you’re proud of it. It’s who you are. “How we try to teach it here is that following Christ ought to be just as authentic.”

More talk and more action
The decline in baptisms isn’t just a problem in Illinois. Nationally, baptisms in Southern Baptist churches fell 3.3% in 2016 from the previous year, and the total has fallen eight of the last 10 years, according to data from LifeWay Christian Resources. In an informal Twitter survey last summer, LifeWay President Thom Rainer asked why many churches are less evangelistic than they once were. The top response: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.”

Tim Rhodus agrees. “If people aren’t coming to Christ, we should be broken-hearted,” he said. “If there’s a budget crisis (at the church), we call a timeout and have big meetings about budget crises. We don’t have big meetings [if] nobody got baptized in a while, because nobody wants to own that.”

But owning up to the evangelism crisis is exactly what Christians are called to do, said Levi Hart, pastor of Ignite Church in Breese. His church baptized 16 people last year while meeting in a bar in Hart’s hometown. “We’ve got some excited people,” Hart said of his congregation, and they’re excited about making disciples.

Hart pointed to Jesus’ example in the New Testament. “His absolute focus was bringing people to himself.” After Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

“I think it starts with (church) leadership being in that place as well,” Hart said. “‘Bringing people to Jesus is my food, it’s my sustenance, it’s the way I will spiritually thrive.’”

Gospel conversations
Even with an evangelism method focused on living out one’s faith naturally, it can be difficult to know what to talk about when the opportunity arises. Hart encourages people to start with their own story.

“Our testimony should be the easiest story we know how to tell,” he said. “It should be like the back of our hand.” And not just the moment we were saved, Hart said, but how God led us to that moment, and what he’s done in our lives since then.

And sometimes, an evangelistic encounter starts with a simple question, said Associate Executive Director Pat Pajak, who directs IBSA’s evangelism efforts.

“My wife and I have always made it a practice when we go out to dinner to say to the waitress, ‘Hey we’re going to pray for our meal in just a minute. How can we pray for you today?’” That’s one way to do lifestyle evangelism, which Pajak also calls “conversational evangelism.”

“You start a conversation with someone and you make it plain that you are a Christian and that you have a concern for that person. It’s the way I live my life publicly before somebody else so that they say, ‘There’s something that they have that I want in my life.’”

While evangelism tools and training resources can be helpful, when an opportunity is presented to share the gospel, a memorized presentation isn’t required, Pajak said.

“I’ve used part of the Roman Road, along with the F.A.I.T.H. presentation, a few things I learned from Evangelism Explosion, and some Continuous Witness Training. In other words, you don’t need a canned approach that’s been carefully memorized, but rather a desire to help those who’ve never heard the story of why Jesus died and rose from the dead, and how he can change their life for all eternity.”

At Cross Church, Tim Rhodus encourages his church members to live evangelistically by authentically, accurately representing Christ. “You be you,” he advises them. “Let Jesus be himself in and through you. And then all the other things fall into place.” After all, the man who recently came to faith at Cross Church was drawn by watching the Christians around him live authentically.

“Increasing baptisms is more about the spiritual temperature in the room,” Rhodus said, “and whether the people are good reflections of [Christ] from Monday to Saturday.”

Our ultimate purpose
A 2012 LifeWay Research survey found that while 80% of people who attend church at least once a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, 61% had not told someone how to become a Christian in the previous six months. And 48% hadn’t invited anyone to church in the same time period.

While a pastor isn’t solely responsible for reinvigorating evangelism in his church, he does have an integral part to play, Pajak said. He gave an example of pastor who’s able to stand before his church on Sunday morning as a couple walks down the aisle who he personally led to Christ. As pastors are engaged in evangelism and modeling it before their congregations, it sends a message to their congregation.

“Can you imagine what would happen if we had a couple of thousand people in our churches spread out all across Illinois who took this thing seriously—the Great Commission—and really began to share their faith with friends and neighbors and co-workers and family members? What a difference that could make evangelistically, and in baptisms in our churches,” Pajak said.

Rhodus, whose church has grown from 90 people to more than 600 in his 17-year tenure, said the authenticity he thinks is so crucial to reaching people with the gospel starts at the top. Like the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

A church follows its pastor’s example, Rhodus said, and churches that see lives transformed by the gospel are led by pastors who radiate that.

Before he planted Ignite Church in Breese, Levi Hart reconnected with a high school friend whom he started discipling. The man is now the discipleship director for Ignite. “He is all about discipleship,” Hart said. “He wants to see people not just get saved, but discipled and grown up (in their faith).”

That example brings him great joy, Hart said, because the mission of making disciples is a Christian’s ultimate purpose, and therefore the thing that brings the most fulfillment. When pastors and leaders communicate that to their congregations, the excitement is contagious.

“I really think it comes down to this very simple, basic thing,” Hart said. “Each one of us living our life on mission, and that being not just taught, but lived out.”

-Meredith Flynn

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Pastor Brad Sloan baptizes his daughter, Delaney, at Dahlgren Baptist Church.

Pastor Brad Sloan baptizes his daughter, Delaney, at Dahlgren Baptist Church.

How did Dahlgren Baptist Church move from two baptisms in 2014 to 17 last year?

“I’ll give you the short answer: It’s all about Jesus,” said Pastor Brad Sloan.

His church is located in a small, predominantly Catholic village 15 miles southeast of Mt. Vernon, IL. “There were a few people who were like, man, I don’t know if you’ll ever see much growth there,” said Sloan, who was installed as pastor in August of 2014.

The church hasn’t yet seen massive growth, “but what we have seen are souls (saved).”

Dahlgren’s Awana program for children reaches kids in the community whose parents aren’t yet connected to the church. Last summer, the church held its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years, with 33 kids in attendance.

In 2015, Dahlgren Baptist Church hosted its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years.

In 2015, Dahlgren Baptist Church hosted its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years.

Through those outreach efforts and intentional Sunday school-based discipleship, Sloan is trying to inspire in his leaders a hunger for people to come to know Christ. In turn, the leaders challenge the students they’re discipling to examine what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.

“We’ve just had a lot of victory (in student ministry) when kids begin to be challenged: Hey, what do you believe about Christ?”

In 2015, the majority of Dahlgren’s baptisms were children (although the total also included a family and a grandmother, Sloan said). The kids are now participating in children’s church and youth activities, and are learning to share their faith. The church also works to engage parents as they come to pick up their children from church.

Sloan sees revival happening in his community, particularly in the schools, as students are being stirred to really live like Christ.

“There’s not one person in this little village that Jesus can’t impact,” he said, “and it’s up to us to introduce them to him.”

Stirring the Waters

After three years of declining baptisms, SBC leaders are calling it what it is—an evangelism crisis.

What happened to evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention?”

The question, posed by SBC President Ronnie Floyd, came after the Annual Church Profile reports completed by Southern Baptist churches showed a third consecutive year of declining baptisms.

In fact, the total for 2014 (the most recent year for which national statistics are currently available) is the lowest number of baptisms since 1947. Southern Baptist churches baptized 305,301 people, a 1.63% decrease from the previous year. An in Illinois, the annual number of baptisms, which has hovered around 5,000, dropped to 4,400 in 2015.

“Deplorable” is how Floyd described the reality that even though there are more SBC churches than ever, and an ever larger population to reach with the gospel, it’s simply not happening—at least, not according to the baptism numbers.

Recently, Floyd and other SBC leaders have been increasingly vocal about how the numbers reflect an even bigger problem: an evangelism crisis.

“Lostness in North America is having a bigger impact on Southern Baptists than Southern Baptists are having on lostness,” New Orleans Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said at a recent chapel service.

The picture is bleak, but all is not lost, SBC leaders seem to agree. A turnaround is dependent on renewed appreciation for and dedication to evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention and in individual churches. Church members need models, leaders who are soul winners themselves and can train people in the pews to share their faith.

“Let’s not be paralyzed,” Floyd wrote on his blog, urging Baptists to action. “Do something. Do more than you are doing now. Take a risk.

“Return to the importance of reaching and baptizing people.”

Mission drift

One reason some leaders cite for the SBC’s decline in baptisms, and overall in evangelism, is a culture that sidelines those things. In an address to the SBC Executive Committee in February, Floyd spoke about a critical shift that has brought the denomination to this point:

“Years ago, something happened where pastors and churches that reached and baptized people effectively came under the microscope of other Baptists who oftentimes did not have a heart for evangelism themselves. A culture of skepticism about evangelism began to creep into our convention. Evangelism began to die.”

Even the way we talk about evangelism is different, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak. The weekly opportunity to go out “soul winning” has been replaced with more politically correct titles such as outreach, or more often the practice has been lost altogether. “In the process, born-again believers have lost the passion and emphasis on reaching into the pagan pool and bringing the lost to Christ,” said Pajak, who leads the Church Consulting Team.

Recent research supports this: A 2012 study by LifeWay Research found that while 80% of Protestant church-goers believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, 61% hadn’t told anyone how to become a Christian in the previous six months. Nearly half (48%) hadn’t invited an unchurched person to attend a church event or service in six months.

LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer broke down the research this way: “…The typical churchgoer tells less than one person how to become a Christian in a given year. The number for more than half of respondents was zero. The second most frequent answer was one.”

The shirt says it all -- Emily Zimmer is baptized by Pastor Tracy Smith at First Baptist Church in Mt. Zion.

The shirt says it all — Emily Zimmer is baptized by Pastor Tracy Smith at First Baptist Church in Mt. Zion, one of many congregations in Illinois that experienced large increases in baptisms in 2015.

To right the ship, SBC leaders have pointed first to the need for spiritual awakening—first in churches, then in the culture at large. But there are also solutions to be found at the denominational level and in local churches, starting with leaders.

Floyd recalled a time when only preachers who led strong evangelistic churches were invited to speak at the SBC Pastors’ Conference and annual meeting. Those leaders were also the ones nominated for denominational offices. In his November blog post about the state of evangelism in the SBC, Floyd seemed to call for a return to those principles.

“Quite honestly, I am not impressed by how many books a pastor sells, how many Twitter followers he may have, at how many conferences he speaks, how great of a preacher he is, or how much his church does around the world if he pastors or is associated with a church that has a lame commitment to evangelizing and baptizing lost people and reaching his own community with the gospel of Christ.”

At the local level, too, leaders can help reverse the decline by creating an environment that is conducive to evangelism, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson.

“The pastors who are effectively reaching people for Christ are creating an environment of evangelism in their churches,” said Emerson, whose Church Resources team equips churches in evangelism.

“They are making sure every ministry has an evangelistic purpose, they are designing their worship services to communicate the gospel and offer an opportunity for people to make a decision. These churches are training their members to effectively enter into gospel conversations.”

Modeling evangelism

Scott Foshie is one pastor currently training his congregation to have those gospel conversations. Steeleville Baptist Church will start evangelism training in April, based on the “Can We Talk?” program created by Texas pastor (and FBC Pastors’ Conference President) John Meador.

“When it’s time to bridge a conversation from small talk to gospel talk, that’s an awkward transition for people to make,” said Foshie, who has pastored the church since early 2015. The six-week curriculum combines training with practical experience; teams of three people go out into the community, visiting neighbors and practicing gospel conversations.

Foshie’s personal stake in the training goes beyond the fact that it’s happening at his church. As a student of the F.A.I.T.H. evangelism training tool, he led his future wife, Audra, to faith in Christ.

“Personal evangelism training is very important to me because it changed my life. So, I want people to experience that. Personal evangelism training unleashes the army of the Lord, (it’s) what God has called us to do.”

But first, people have to face down a common obstacle: fear. The pastor likened sharing the gospel to someone handing you the keys to their sports car and telling you to take it around town.

“What we need to teach them is, hey, you step out in faith, you begin to learn to share, you simply share, and the Holy Spirit’s going to help you,” Foshie said.

“Once people learn to share the gospel, it changes their life completely.”

Reported IMB baptisms drop sharply; lowest since 1969
The Louisiana Baptist Message reports overseas baptisms by the International Mission Board 2015 dropped to 54,762 from the 190,957 reported for 2014, according to information submitted by the International Mission Board in response to a request by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Likewise, the number of new churches fell from 13,824 to 3,842 over the same one-year period.

Groups urge NCAA to end ties to Title IX waiver colleges
As March Madness started, a homosexual advocacy group began pressuring the NCAA to exclude from its membership all schools with federal government approval to “discriminate” against transgender individuals on religious grounds. Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. predicted the NCAA eventually will succumb to pressure from activists and grant the request to ban schools with a biblically orthodox view of human sexuality from America’s most prominent college athletics association.

Wheaton names first female provost
For the first time in Wheaton College’s over 150-year history, the Illinois evangelical higher education institution has named a woman to be the school’s provost. Wheaton College President Philip Ryken announced Seattle Pacific University assistant provost and Wheaton alumna Margaret Diddams will take over as provost after current provost Stanton Jones steps down later this year.

Tchividjian fired over prior affair
The grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, Tullian Tchividjian, has been fired by another church after confessing to another affair that he previously had. The news broke when Willow Creek Church in Winter Springs, FL, explained that the 43-year-old pastor admitted he had an affair with another woman, which he had not previously mentioned.

Billboard: Nuns are sticking with St. Louis
Racial tensions and severe floods have rocked St. Louis in recent months. Then, the city’s NFL team announced it’s move to Los Angeles. But the Catholic nuns of the metropolitan area want the city to know that they are sticking around and they have launched a billboard campaign to show their commitment, featuring the message “We have faith in you, St. Louis.”

Sources: Louisiana Baptist Message, Baptist Press, Christian Post, One News Now, Religion News Service

Greear and Gaines

Steve Gaines and JD Greear are candidates for Southern Baptist Convention President in 2016.

As the candidates jostle among themselves in the race for United States president, the race for Southern Baptist Convention president has become a two-man race. Last week, Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins announced he will nominate J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., to be the next SBC president. Today, Georgia pastor and past SBC president Johnny Hunt announced he is nominating Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., to serve in that position.

Greear, 42, is seen by some as part of a new wave of younger SBC leaders. While Gaines, 58, is seen by others as an establishment candidate. With the convention three months away, there is plenty of time for additional candidates to throw their hats in the ring for the office and for other SBC posts as well.

Cooperative Program giving has become an important benchmark for recent SBC presidential candidates and it looks like that will continue. Scroggins said in his press release that Greear’s church, The Summit, “voted last year to give $390,000 to the Cooperative Program in 2016, making it one of the top CP giving churches in the state of North Carolina and the SBC.” A 230% increase in The Summit’s CP giving according to Scroggins.

Baptist Press reported, “Three years ago, the congregation [The Summit] voted to increase its giving through the Cooperative Program over a five-year period to 2.4% of undesignated receipts…The Summit reached its goal two years early.”

Baptist Press also talked with Gaines’ Bellevue and was told the “finance committee is recommending that the congregation give $1 million during its 2016-17 church year through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding state- and SBC-level missions and ministries. That will total approximately 4.6% of undesignated receipts.” Baptist Press calculated “between 2011 and 2016, the church has increased its CP giving by 278%.”

The SBC is also focusing on increasing baptism numbers in its churches after multiple years of decreases. Annual Church Profiles (ACP) show The Summit’s baptisms have increased from 19 in 2002, when Greear arrived, to 928 in 2014. Gaines has served as Bellevue’s pastor for 11 years. The church, which was previously led by the late Adrian Rogers, has averaged 481 baptisms per year during his tenure according to ACP reports.

Both candidates are married and each have four children (Gaines also has nine grandchildren). And, both hold master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees, Greear from Southeastern Seminary and Gaines from Southwestern Seminary.

The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will take place June 14-15 in St. Louis, MO. Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd is finishing his second term in the post. Floyd is pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas.

Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., nominated Greear March 2, and Hunt, and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., nominated Gaines March 9.