GIBSONVILLE — Vernon Brady spends almost every waking moment thinking and praying about convincing more church leaders to help stop the decline in church attendance across America.
His primary concern is the decline in baptisms and membership in Southern Baptist Convention churches but “our plan will work in any church,” he said.
About 200 churches have agreed to engage in My Friendship Connection, the evangelistic tool he is pushing to encourage members to invite as many people as possible to church for Friendship Day Nov. 2 or Nov. 9. Some will have the day in December.
“We call it ‘Mobilizing Your Church for a Great Day of Outreach,’” he said.
On days when a church leader chooses not to engage the outreach program Brady just keeps knocking.
His passion for My Friendship Connection began at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, just a few miles up the road from Gibsonville where he and his wife operate a bed and breakfast.
Convention President Bobby Welch challenged Baptists to stop the downward spiral and to baptize one million people in a year.
“I’ll do it,” Brady declared silently amidst thousands of people, even though he had no specific plan.
“I remember that sermon like it was yesterday,” Brady said. “God pricked my heart that night. I e-mailed (Welch) the next morning and told him I wanted to do something to help our churches.
“Seeing churches growing and people coming to know Christ as Savior is what I want to see,” he said. “We must stop the decline of our churches, and we can if we work together. Most Southern Baptists are unaware that 80 percent of our churches are in decline and that we had 64,237 fewer baptisms last year than in 1959.”
He consulted with longtime mentor Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University, to design an easy-to-follow strategy that will “work in all churches, even those with less than 100 in attendance with no support staff.”
Together they wrote My Friendship Connection, an updated rewrite of the original “Friend Day.”
The work is a series of sermons, Sunday School lessons and devotions dovetailed to lead church members to a single focus of reaching for Christ someone they already know. This includes detailed instruction on preparation, implementation and follow-up.
Also lending support are nationally prominent pastors like SBC President Johnny Hunt, former SBC President Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., Welch, Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., and Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va.
“I am thrilled that Vernon Brady gave me an opportunity to participate in putting together this material,” Hunt said. “I think God will use it in a mighty way in putting evangelism back on the front burner in your church.”
Brady is confident My Friendship Connection this will work. It was tested in November 2007 with 42 North Carolina and Virginia churches. “We tested all types and sizes,” he said. “Small churches and large churches. Young churches, old churches, small churches averaging 20, large churches with over 12,000, and everything in between.”
Even with contemporary and traditional worship in the mix, the only thing that mattered was that members invited their unchurched friends. “Their friends came,” Brady said. “They preached Jesus and lives were changed.”
The 21 churches that reported showed they normally averaged 14,687 worshipers. They reported 19,710 on “My Friendship Connection Day,” meaning they had 5,023 visitors, Brady said, or 25 percent of their attendance that day.
One pastor said his church averages 175 in attendance and had 294 attending on “My Friendship Connection Day,” including 11 additions to the church. At Brady’s home church, Green Street Baptist in High Point, more than 20 people received Christ as Savior that day.
Brady said his heart’s desire is to see a single Sunday when churches across North America come together with a single focus of reaching their communities for Christ. He pointed out great accomplishments by focused people, such as filling 11.3 million shoeboxes for children abroad or helping people during disasters.
“Can you imagine the results of all of (the convention) coming together on one day with one purpose?” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Burchette, a retired writer/editor at the Greensboro News & Record, can be contacted at [email protected].)