Archives For baptisms

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017 — 1 Comment

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.

ACP tallies reveal challenge

Lisa Sergent —  February 29, 2016

Good attendance tempered by fewer baptisms

For IBSA churches, 2015 was a year of ups and downs: giving and attendance were up, but baptisms were down.

“It seems clear to me that being a Baptist here in Illinois, indeed being a Christian in America, is becoming increasingly counter-cultural,” IBSA executive director Nate Adams said. “We no longer reach people and grow churches simply by opening the doors on Sunday morning.”

A rebounding economy and continued emphasis on missions giving may be behind a 1.53% increase in Cooperative Program giving to $6,230,082 (reported prior to completion of the annual audit) and a 10% hike in the Mission Illinois Offering last year at $403,595, according to the tallies of the Annual Church Profiles submitted by IBSA churches.

Total membership is up by more than 1,000 in IBSA churches (to 193,972), and worship attendance is up by almost 5,000 (7.3%) over the previous year. But baptisms declined by 2.4% to 4,400. That’s down 105 from the previous year, and down from recent averages around 5,000 per year.

On the positive side, the number of churches reporting baptisms was 591, up 29 churches from the previous year; and the number reporting zero baptisms was down by 25 churches to 366.

“The need has never been greater to live out 1 Corinthians 9 and become all things to all people to reach some, while also living out Romans 12 and refusing to be conformed to the culture in which we find ourselves,” Adams said.

Another bright spot in the 2015 ACP report is participation in missions and leadership development: Just under 24,000 volunteers from IBSA churches were mobilized for missions projects in Illinois and worldwide. And IBSA trained 8,932 leaders from 592 churches in a variety of ways, for a total of 20,203 personal training sessions.

And in a new reporting category, IBSA set a goal for 2015 of at least 100 new Bible study groups; churches blew past that goal and started 229 groups.

“One way to summarize those two contrasting pictures of our mission here in Illinois might be to simply say that fewer people are doing more with less,” Adams concluded. “Another way might be to say that some churches are doing well, while others are struggling. My primary concern is that, in total, our churches’ cumulative statewide impact on lostness in Illinois is not growing, at least not numerically.”

And with at least 8 million people in Illinois who do not know Jesus Christ personally, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

IBSA has targeted five areas for kingdom growth in 2016, rolled out at the Annual Meeting in November: evangelistic prayer, witness training, outreach events, expanded VBS, and new groups. A study in the Midwest showed that churches engaging in these activities were more likely to lead people to faith in Christ and to grow disciples. The IBSA Church Resources Team is assisting all churches that want equipping in these areas.

Look for a full report on baptisms and the evangelistic activity of IBSA churches in a future issue of the Illinois Baptist.

– Staff

The State of the Mission

Lisa Sergent —  January 25, 2016

Nate Adams State of the MissionI’m writing this the day after watching President Obama’s final State of the Union Address. After almost an hour of evidence and persuasion, the President neared the end of his address by declaring, “And that’s why I stand here, as confident as I have ever been, that the state of our Union is strong.”

A few minutes later, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivered the Republican response, acknowledging that President Obama “spoke eloquently about grand things,” and that “he is at his best when he does that.” Then she quickly added, “Unfortunately, the President’s record has often fallen short of his soaring words.” She went on to describe what she called a weak economy, a crushing national debt, an ineffective healthcare plan, chaotic unrest in many cities, and “the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th.”

And so viewers were left to wonder which facts to believe, which leader to trust, and which picture of America is most accurate.

I understand the dilemma, though. Here at IBSA, we are at the time of year when we cumulate and analyze data from almost a thousand churches’ Annual Church Profiles (ACPs).

Looking at some measurements, the state of our mission here in Illinois appears strong, at least compared to the previous year. The number of new church plants rebounded from 7 in 2014 to 22 in 2015. Cooperative Program missions giving was up 1.5% in 2015, and Mission Illinois Offering giving was up more than 10%. Mission trip participation remained strong at just under 24,000 volunteers.

But other measurements might produce a different picture. Baptisms reported by IBSA churches in 2015 are down from 2013 for the second straight year, and overall worship attendance and Bible study participation were flat to down as well.

My primary concern is that, in total, our churches’ statewide, cumulative impact on lostness in Illinois is not growing, at least not numerically.

President Obama quipped near the beginning of his address that he would try to be brief, because he knew there were several in Congress who were anxious to get back to Iowa (to campaign for the 2016 Presidential election). His joke underscored the reality that, whatever you may think about the current state of things, the more important issue is where we go from here.

To advance our mission here in Illinois, I would challenge us toward two primary imperatives—evangelism and leadership development.

I wrote recently about five actions in churches that, statistically speaking, most often result in people coming to faith in Christ. They are an evangelistic prayer strategy, Vacation Bible School, witness training, outreach events, and starting intentional new groups. If your church could use some help in these areas, our IBSA staff would love to assist.

I would also challenge us all to develop leaders more intentionally in our churches. At this month’s Illinois Leadership Summit, more than 200 church leaders are gathering at the IBSA Building in Springfield to explore what it means to “lead self, lead followers, lead leaders, and lead organizations” more effectively. Even if you miss the Summit, our IBSA staff will welcome the opportunity to help you and your church leaders with an intentional leadership development process.

In many ways, the state of our churches’ mission here in Illinois is still strong. But to keep it that way, and to advance the gospel into the lostness of Illinois, we must recommit to the important work of evangelism and leadership development.

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