For several years, we as Southern Baptists have been asking how we can reverse the downward trend of baptisms within our convention. There are no easy answers, and we obviously need to pray and seek a fresh movement of God’s Spirit. We must also commit ourselves to personal evangelism and take advantage of opportunities to engage people in gospel conversations and make a clear call for them to trust Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
As we wrestle with these issues, I am in agreement with what my friend and North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell told messengers attending this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, just a few weeks ago.
“Southern Baptist Convention, we do have an evangelism issue that we need to address,” Ezell said. “But I am confident that the problem in evangelism is symptomatic of an even deeper problem that we have when it comes to discipleship – to make disciples that make disciples that make disciples.”
Ezell’s remarks were part of a report from a disciple-making task force appointed by NAMB and LifeWay Christian Resources. A separate task force on evangelism appointed by former SBC President Steve Gaines also reported its findings to messengers. Taken together, these two reports show the importance of the link between evangelism and discipleship. They also provide some practical suggestions and recommendations that may be helpful to you and your church.
The disciple-making task force recommended that churches increase efforts around Bible engagement, examine the connection between salvation decisions and involvement in a group, and examine the number of groups that multiply on a regular basis.
The task force also cited a LifeWay study that found that the top spiritual discipline for a believer to participate in is Bible engagement, adding that those who do so give more, serve more and evangelize more.
The evangelism task force recommended that churches conduct annual witness training events and adopt a goal for baptisms. The task force also recommended pastors to model personal evangelism and present public gospel invitations of various kinds, calling unbelievers to repent and believe.
Additionally, the task force called on all Southern Baptists to “renew with great urgency the priority of evangelizing the next generations.”
As we have worked with churches, associations and other ministry partners here in North Carolina in recent years as part of our “impacting lostness through disciple-making” strategy, one of the things we have tried to emphasize is that disciple-making must involve both evangelism and discipleship. You can’t have one without the other.
I have often said that evangelism is the first step in making disciples, but it is not the only step.
We must continue to walk alongside new believers, nurture them in their faith by helping them encounter God through His Word, and encourage them to do the same with others. That’s what making disciples is all about.
“He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing …” (Psalm 126:6).