Archives For discipleship

Evangelistic_churches_3HEARTLAND | The average Southern Baptist church in the Midwest has 54 people in worship on Sunday mornings, and baptized three last year. But a North American Mission Board study found the top evangelistic churches in the region are charting a different course, said Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism strategies.

The Midwest’s top evangelistic churches with less than 250 in worship attendance averaged 119 in worship and had 23 baptisms. Churches with more than 250 in worship averaged 71 baptisms.

Southerland shared findings from the NAMB study of the top 20 evangelizing churches in every U.S. state at the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Evangelism Conference in March, and in a breakout session at the Midwest Leadership Summit earlier this year. The study resulted in a list of “7 Secrets of Top Evangelistic Churches in the SBC.”

  1. It has a lot to do with the pastor. NAMB studied the pastors of top evangelistic churches and found that the majority described their leadership style as “charismatic” or “transformational,” outranking innovative, command and control, servant, situational, laissez-faire and pace setter.

The pastors they studied were at the churches 10-plus years on average, Southerland said, and 70% of them preach a sermon series on evangelism every year. More than half (55%) put more emphasis on evangelism than discipleship, and 90% share the gospel outside the church at least once a month.

  1. Top evangelistic churches are really good at the Sunday morning experience. Of the pastors surveyed, 93% described their worship as lively and celebratory, 95% were contemporary or blended in worship style, and 96% said they intentionally cultivate a guest-friendly atmosphere. And 70% give an invitation at the end of the service.

Southerland outlined several worship takeaways: make church exciting, work on the quality, be intentionally evangelistic on Sunday morning, and aim for something better than “friendly.” People aren’t looking for friendly, he said, they’re looking for friends.

  1. These churches are actively engaged and serving the community, no matter the size of the congregation. Of the pastors surveyed, 88% said they were well engaged in the community. Of mid-sized top evangelistic churches, 30% attempt service-based ministry efforts to share the gospel regularly, as do 37% of large churches.

It’s OK to start small with community engagement, Southerland counseled, just start somewhere. And preferably not in a vacuum. Talk to community leaders about the needs are, and how your church can help. Involve non-Christians, using the service as an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

  1. Top evangelistic churches communicate well, internally and externally. The average pastor makes too many assumptions about how much people know, Southerland said. They assume the congregation knows the church’s vision, that members are as passionate about reaching people as the pastor, and that they don’t need constant motivation.

But all of those things—and more—need to be communicated. Luckily, more avenues for communication exist now than ever before. Of the top evangelistic church pastors surveyed, 97% use a church Facebook account regularly, Southerland cited. Half of pastors and staff intentionally “friend” guests on Facebook.

  1. Virtually all top evangelistic churches make a big deal out of baptisms—97%, the NAMB survey reported. And 79% of pastors of churches in the mid-size church category preach a yearly sermon on baptism, as do 74% of large-church pastors.

The takeaways, Southerland said, are to preach at least once on baptism every year, provide a forum for people to give their own, recorded testimonies, help baptismal candidates invite family and friends to the service, and train your church to celebrate new spiritual life.

  1. They treat guests really well. In non-evangelistic churches, Southerland said, the service is for the members and guests just happen to be there. Evangelistic churches are the opposite; of the congregations NAMB surveyed 67% of mid-size churches and 85% of large churches had a person responsible for “first impressions” ministry targeted to visitors.

A large majority (70%) emailed, called and sent written mail to a guest within seven days of their visit.

  1. Top evangelistic churches emphasize inviting and personal evangelism. The pastors of the churches NAMB studied were very busy mobilizing their church members to be a witness in the community; 50% offered evangelism training, and 70% of their guests came to church as a result of a personal invitation from a member. Among mid-sized churches, 62% have visitation or organized outreach at least once a month, and 58% of large churches do the same.

Churches that train members in personal evangelism, Southerland said, baptize two-and-a-half times more people than those that don’t.

The value of a verbal witness cannot be underestimated, he said during a message at the IBSA conference. Especially when most people are broken and looking for a solution to their problems.

“We are far too timid when it comes to sharing the gospel. We are too scared of the culture.” But, “The culture is not near as bad as it could be or will be someday. We’re to take the gospel to the culture and change the culture with Jesus Christ.”

HEARTLAND | Hundreds of leaders from 13 states across the Midwest were in Springfield, Ill., last week for the Midwest Leadership Summit, a triennial training event facilitated by state Baptist conventions in the region and national Southern Baptist entities. These “man on the street” interviews were conducted on Wednesday, a day full a breakout sessions on evangelism and discipleship, missions, women’s ministry, and dozens of other topics.

Read more about the Midwest Leadership Summit at, and in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at


Larry Thompson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is preaching at the IBSA Pastors' Conference on the "seismic" spiritual shift described in Acts 10. Follow the Pastors' Conference at

Larry Thompson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is preaching at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference on the “seismic spiritual shift” described in Acts 10. Follow the Pastors’ Conference at

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Okay. Here’s my qualification to talk about Halloween on campus: I served as a campus minister for seven years in Carbondale. Beginning in the 1980s, Carbondale became known for its raucous Halloween celebrations. In fact, most folks these days refer to them as “the riots.” Cars got turned over. Store windows were busted. Bottles were thrown at police. After a particularly violent weekend in 2000, city officials closed the bars on “the Strip” each Halloween in hopes that it would discourage the behavior. Instead, students just celebrated a week earlier in what is now infamously “Unofficial Halloween” (or simply “Unofficial” if you’re a cool kid).

Even this year, Unofficial got bonkers and police showed up in riot gear to mace and pepper spray the crowd after a car got turned over just blocks from campus.

Chase_Abner_callout_Oct30I never found an effective way to engage students during Unofficial outside of throwing my own tamer Halloween party. I can’t talk about that or I’ll draw the ire of my more fundamentalist friends. However, I can talk about what I think students’ fascination with Halloween reveals about culture on campus.

The Supernatural
Part of what makes haunted houses and scary movies enticing to people is the notion that there are malicious spirits that walk among us. In some ways, it’s a subtle rejection of the naturalistic worldview that can be common on campus, especially among those immersed in the physical sciences. Even as Dawkins-flavored atheists/agnostics become more vocal, research shows that the majority of Millennials believe in God with “absolute certainty.”

While it may be disconcerting to see students toy with the concept of evil spirits for the sake of entertainment, I encourage you to see it as a bridge to talk about Christ. Christians, of all people, should be ready to affirm the existence of a paranormal reality and to point others to the one who is ultimately victorious over evil.

Research by the National Retail Federation predicts that 67.4% of 18-24-year-olds will spend money on Halloween costumes this year. These young adults predict that they’ll each spend about $40 on their costumes. I guarantee that these students aren’t going to shell out that much cash to get all dressed up and have nowhere to go.

The point of wearing a costume is to join the throngs of costumed students in the campus community – to see and be seen. Halloween reveals, almost as well as athletic events, that students want to be a part of a community rallying around a common purpose. Like all people, they have an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong and they want to celebrate.

Our ministries have so much more to offer that desire than Halloween can provide. We can provide ongoing community that is centered around an eternal purpose realized in the mission of God.

When I try to figure out what might motivate a college student to don a costume and go make mischief (like tipping a car over or assaulting police officers, cf. “Unofficial” above), one answer that comes to mind is boredom. I think a lot of the trouble students get into at Halloween stems from the extended adolescence that finds fertile ground during college. Without a clear path to make a difference in the world, many students will use their freedom from immediate parental guidance to indulge some of our basest desires simply for lack of something better to do.

One way that our ministries can serve students (even before they know Jesus) is to provide them with opportunities to make a positive impact in the surrounding community. These students may not ever be ready to teach Bible studies, but they can read to underprivileged children, clean up litter, or clean out gutters for the elderly. Imagine the Gospel-centered conversations that could occur between students as they do community projects together. Imagine the good that could be done for your city if you find a way to channel bored students’ talents and energy into a Kingdom-focused alternative.

The Gospel
I know some will accuse me of over-thinking things. “Can’t Halloween just be about fun, Chase?” Of course it can, but even the desire for fun reveals something about the human condition, no? We all chase various things in hopes of being satisfied. So whether students are seeking supernatural affirmation that there’s more to life than what they see…or a sense of belonging with others…or an escape from a routine, meaningless existence…the Gospel of the Kingdom offers more than they could dream.

So, this weekend, I’m not asking you to ruin anyone’s Halloween fun. But as you observe the celebration (and probably mischief) in your campus community, let it freshly awaken you to why you’re there and why collegiate ministry matters.

Chase Abner is collegiate evangelism strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?"

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?”

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

Arnold, Mo. | Voice crackling with intensity, David Platt painted a picture of the current status of the gospel: With seven billion people in the world, even the most liberal estimates leave 4 or 5 billion who do not know Christ. And a couple billion of those have never even heard the gospel, added the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

“If that’s true in the world…then we don’t have time to play games in the church,” he told the crowd gathered at First Baptist Church in Arnold, south of St. Louis.

“We don’t have time to waste our lives on a nice, casual, comfortable, cultural version of Christianity. Because, number one, that’s not Christianity. Number two, God’s created us for something so much greater than that.”

Hundreds of people gathered Oct. 6 for the St. Louis-area stop of the Send North America Experience Tour. The two-hour service, facilitated by the North American Mission Board, was part of a multi-city effort leading up to the national Send North America Conference in August 2015.

Worshipers of all ages stood and sang before Platt came to the podium. He started his message with the bleak reality of billions of people who don’t know Christ. Then, he preached better news from the Book of Acts. Reading from the end of chapter 7 through the beginning of 8, he told the audience that it’s “ordinary people” through whom the gospel is spread.

In a part of northern India known as a spiritual graveyard, Platt said, a chicken farmer and a school superintendent attended a disciple-making training session where they were assigned to go out into the villages and ask how they could pray for the people there. The two men didn’t expect success, Platt said, but they went anyway. Near the end of their time in the village, they met a man who said he had heard about Jesus, and wanted to know more. The man went to get his family so that they could hear the good news too. Around 20 people in the village came to Christ. A few years later, there are 350 churches in villages in that part of India.

“Let’s put aside an unhealthy dependence on places and programs and realize that the gospel in ordinary people has power,” Platt said. But it’s not their own power. The extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit was at work in Acts and is still at work in Christians today, and through that it, believers proclaim the gospel, Platt said.

Many believers say they witness through their lives, by being kind. “Hopefully, that’s a given,” he said, as the audience laughed. “Nobody gets on a witness stand and smiles. They speak. They testify. And this is why the spirit is in us, that we might speak the gospel.”

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, early disciples also prayed and fasted, he continued. And they suffered.

“How will we ever show the world a proper, clear picture of Jesus if everything always goes right for us?” Platt asked. Suffering makes sense in the life of a believer.

“If our lives are on the front lines making the gospel known in our communities and cities and to the ends of the earth, we can expect to be met with the full force of hell.”

Alan and Jean Lasley sat three rows from the front of the auditorium with their pastor and his wife and another couple from First Baptist Church in Red Bud. Platt’s simple delivery was the thing he would take away from the evening, Alan said.

“Just be more intent on telling others about Jesus,” Jean said of what she had heard. A simple message for sure, and clear. As Platt concluded his message, he appealed to every ordinary disciple in the room.

“In a world and a time and a place where God has put us, in a city where God has put you, let’s say we consider our lives worth nothing to us if only we may finish this race and complete this task the Lord Jesus has given us.

“Ordinary people in this room, every single follower of Christ with extraordinary power….wherever God leads you, whether he leaves you here the rest of your life, or sends you to people who’ve never heard the gospel. Testify. Preach. Pray. Give. Even suffer, for the spread of this gospel, to the ends of the earth.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Volunteers from Illinois are serving this week near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. One team member is Alison Howell, whose daughter, Mackenzie, wrote a children's book to raise money to help re-build the country.

Many mission teams from Illinois have served in Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake. This photo was taken during a one-week trip to the country last summer; read stories and see more photos here.

HEARTLAND | Mackenzie Howell
was just five years old when she saw a TV program about the massive earthquake that destroyed parts of Haiti in January 2010. The young Texan decided immediately she needed to do something to help.


Volunteers from Illinois are serving this week near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. One team member is Alison Howell, whose daughter, Mackenzie, wrote a children’s book to raise money to help re-build the country.

Since then, she’s raised thousands of dollars for re-building efforts in the country through several different enterprises, including a book about a courageous Haitian girl named Leila.

Mackenzie’s projects connected her with IBSA’s Bob Elmore, who facilitates mission trips to Haiti. Mackenzie’s mom is on one of those trips this week, writing letters to her daughter every day from Haiti. Alison Howell hopes to learn more about the country this week, in preparation for when Mackenzie is ready to go herself.

In her first letter Aug. 3, Alison talked about how God sometimes calls people to do hard things.

“Remember last week in Sunday School when we talked about how God asked Paul and Barnabas to do some difficult things, but they always obeyed Him because they knew that they could trust Him. You and I can trust Him too.

“I can trust Him to take care of me in Haiti, and even more importantly to take care of you, brother and Daddy while I’m gone. You can trust Him to give you the courage to do what He is asking you to do too.”

Follow Alison Howell’s mission trip at her blog, “Letters to my daughter from Haiti.”

Students meet in their "family group" at Super Summer, IBSA's discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

Students meet in a “family group” at Super Summer, IBSA’s discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

HEARTLAND | When you ask him if students in his youth group are different after they experience Super Summer, Tim Drury pops open his laptop and pulls up a video of Hannah Batista sharing her testimony. Hannah came to Christ last summer during the annual discipleship week at Greenville College.

Most students are already Christians when they get to Super Summer, which is sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. But the week is still life-changing. They grow, and they want to grow more, said Drury, youth minister at FBC Bethalto.

“My job as a student pastor is to take what they’ve learned, and for the other 51 weeks of the year, help them put it into practice.”

It’s something he’s been learning how to do since the early 2000s, when he first came to Super Summer as a youth pastor. He now serves as an assistant dean in the gray school, a group for students preparing to go to college in the fall. The dean of the gray school, Lakeland Baptist Pastor Phil Nelson, has been at every Super Summer since the beginning, more than 20 years ago.

The students aren’t the only ones being mentored, Drury said. He’s being discipled too, by pastors like Nelson who take a week away from their churches to come to Greenville.

Caleb Ellis was a student in Drury’s gray school this year. The 18-year-old, who’s also from Bethalto, likened his first Super Summer to drinking from a fire hose. But he learned “tools for practical, modern faith,” and was already talking in Greenville about how he could go home and start Gospel conversations with a friend from another culture.

When he came to Bethalto, Drury said, “I needed something that did heavy discipleship and challenged our kids to look more like Jesus.” Super Summer helps fill in the gaps caused by the time limitations he faces as a youth minister. He may only see most students once a week, for example, and it’s difficult to do intensive classes for specific ages or genders. But in Greenville, his students are “under the pressure of the Gospel” – it’s a refining process for them, an opportunity to evaluate their relationship with Christ.

And for him. The students are learning things here that he’s still learning, Drury said.

For more on Super Summer, read the July 28 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online later this week at


Hannah Batista shares her testimony in a video produced by FBC Bethalto.

HEARTLAND | The last year of Hannah Batista’s life has been different from the first 16. Last summer, she accepted Christ during Super Summer, a week that’s less about camp activities and more about discipling students.

Through a series of tough circumstances, Hannah had ended up living in the home of a member of First Baptist Church in Bethalto. She was an unwilling church attender, and an unwilling Super Summer participant when she wound up at Greenville College last June. “I was guilted into going, honestly,” she says now.

But during the week, something changed. Lots of things, actually. In the quiet of her dorm room on the last night of the week, Hannah accepted Christ.

“Everything I thought I knew was being torn down, and in its place, something new was being built up,” she said from her seat in the dining hall at this year’s Super Summer. Hannah is now a leader in her youth group, and was baptized this year by her youth pastor, Tim Drury.

Watch a video of Hannah’s testimony and baptism at FBC Bethalto (courtesy of the church’s Facebook page).

Study kits are great tools, but they don’t make disciples

COMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts

Discipleship doesn’t come in a box. Lessons come in boxes, neatly packageHeath_Tibbettsd with DVDs and participant guides. And for years, discipleship to me was the newest lessons from great teachers. It was all I had ever known, until God called me to a church outside the Bible Belt.

Our Southern Baptist church in Pennsylvania was mainly comprised of former Catholics, Methodists, or unchurched people. Many in our congregation
came from a background where they had never been encouraged to read the Bible. One former Catholic who joined told me, “Our priest said if we ever needed to know something from Scripture, he’d tell us.” It became quickly apparent that doing discipleship the same old way wasn’t going to work.

And then I began to ask myself a tougher question: Did it ever work?

Much of our discipleship today fails because of a lack of biblical literacy. We have assumed for so long that those within our congregations are having a personal devotional time of some sort because they’re Christians. The reality is that many lack this important time with the Lord, not because they don’t love God, but because they were never discipled on how to do it.

So we scrapped our random discipleship efforts in Pennsylvania. We canceled all the classes, not because the subjects or teachers were bad, but because there was no fruit. Our pastoral staff and wives established discipleship groups. We didn’t promote them in the bulletin, but as individual leaders we identified potential future disciple makers. We established these as regular groups, meeting at least on a monthly basis. We prayed together, ate  together, and studied the Bible together. As group leaders, we did this to make disciples who would make disciples.

When God called our family to northern Illinois this year, I had the opportunity to step back and look at my group. Corey had been silent and plagued with guilt over his lack of depth as a believer. He’s now the leader of the group, and a new deacon in the church. Matt was becoming serious about studying the Bible, but often unwilling to commit. He’s now leading the youth ministry since my departure and learning to be a doer. And after two years, another man finally left the comfort of those friends to invest in a new group, where he will pass along the lessons of personal discipleship he learned.

Jesus’ earthly ministry over a three-year stretch was marked by twelve disciples. That ministry would barely register a blip on the radar of many church leaders today because of its humble beginnings. But as a result of Jesus’ personal investment in those men, churches were started, the Gospel spread, and many were saved. Jesus gave us a simple model: love them then lead them. This is the lesson I am now living out.

Here at First Baptist Church in Machesney Park, Ill., there are many dreams I have for our church. I dream of a church that is debt-free. I dream of a church that is focused outside of our walls. I dream of a church where our people live in a passionate relationship with their Savior. And all those dreams are tied to personal discipleship.

Disciples will give, disciples will go, and disciples will grow. But for these dreams to become reality, I must set the example as pastor. So I will invest in the lives of our people, finding those who can be grown not only as disciples, but disciple makers. It will grow our First family closer to God and each other.

Christ called us in Matthew 28:19 to “Go therefore and make disciples.” Andy Stanley and Beth Moore are great teachers, but they can’t make disciples for you. Discipleship requires personal investment that a box cannot provide. I challenge you to examine discipleship in your church. How can you personally invest in the lives of your church family such that you will make disciples who make disciples?

Heath Tibbetts is pastor of FBC Machesney Park, Ill.