Pastors must lead their local congregations to be more evangelistic by personally modeling evangelism and discipleship in their own lives.
Photo by Whitney Clayton
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, fourth from left, makes a point during a panel on evangelism and declining baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix. The panel included: Jonathan Akin, moderator and director of Young Leader Engagement for the North American Mission Board; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC's Executive Committee; Milton A. Hollifield Jr.; and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
That was a common theme among Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders who took part in a panel discussion on evangelism and declining baptisms in the SBC held Monday morning as part of the SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
“The pastor is the key,” said Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and president of the SBC. “He doesn’t do all of the evangelism, but he’s got to be the sparkplug.
“If the pastor of a church is not evangelistic, the church is not going to be evangelistic.”
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), added that a lack of personal disciple-making in the local church has also resulted in a lack of personal evangelism.
“One of the very basic things of making disciples is to help people understand the need to share the gospel with other people and to be obedient to what the Lord has commanded us to do,” Hollifield said.
The panelists addressed the recent Annual Church Profile (ACP) that showed declines in baptism, membership, worship attendance and total giving among churches that cooperate with the SBC.
The ACP showed the number of baptisms in SBC churches declined by nearly 5 percent from 2015 to 2016.
“It’s probably worse than it looks, in all honesty,” said Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee.
Kevin Ezell, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, encouraged pastors to be more intentional about sharing their faith.
“We have to have more gospel conversations,” Ezell said.
Ezell said that if every pastor of the approximately 47,000 SBC churches had at least one gospel conversation a week, that would result in more than 2 million evangelistic encounters in a year.
Hollifield also said pastors should include stories of opportunities they have to share their faith and lead people to the Lord as illustrations in their sermons as a way to encourage their congregations in sharing their faith.
Panelists also addressed some of the fears that pastors may have in being cautious about who they baptize to avoid false assurance of salvation based upon evangelistic techniques that could be described as manipulative, particularly among children.
“I saw some of those abuses,” Page said, speaking of his early days in ministry. “It made me realize the need to be more careful.”
Gaines also stressed the importance of personal discipleship, sharing part of his own testimony of not being discipled or mentored when he first trusted Christ as a 7-year-old boy.
Gaines said he struggled in his faith for about 10 years until he was discipled and mentored as a college student. Gaines said he believes that if had been discipled at age 7, he would have never doubted his salvation for so long.
“I believe a lot of it is discipling those young people,” Gaines said. “I believe a lot of those children get saved, but they’ve never been mentored, and then when they get older they don’t know what they’re talking about so (they think) ‘I guess I’ve never been saved.’
“I think a lot of them were saved, they’ve just never been discipled.”