NASHVILLE, Tenn.?The mobilization of thousands of Southern Baptists for the June 18 Crossover Evangelism outreach and the increased attendance at the June 21-22 annual meeting in Nashville provided SBC President Bobby Welch with the indicators he was looking for to consider this year’s meeting a success.
Welch told reporters at a June 21 news conference he would come to such a conclusion “if we have a substantial effort on Saturday at Crossover?which I think is a foregone conclusion now that we have [reports] and it was a lot bigger than we even thought?and if there is good attendance at this convention and we moved forward with a lot of spirit with the ‘Everyone Can! Kingdom Challenge.’
“If the convention at any level will go to the people about the most important thing to those people?the eternal spiritual well-being of their loved ones, family and friends?then we can go forward with the same endeavors,” he said, referring to his challenge to unite around evangelism.
Welch, co-creator of the popular FAITH evangelism strategy, led a 50-state, 25-day bus tour in August and September to encourage a convention-wide effort to win 1 million people to Christ. Many involved in this year’s Crossover effort noted their participation was prompted by Welch’s challenge and on the opening day of the annual meeting registration of messengers from local Southern Baptist churches surpassed 11,000.
Welch believes Southern Baptists need a unity of purpose that will draw them together on a quest. “You can come do evangelism at this convention when you may not come for anything else. We have a lot of people listening, hearing and thinking” about that priority, Welch said. “Younger pastors light up when you start talking about that.”
The hardest part of presenting that challenge during his first year as president involved “trying to find the way that everyone could come on board with a unity of purpose for evangelism and still maintain their personality, peculiarities, methodology and their schedule.” He called on Southern Baptists to work their hardest within a 12-month period to do all they can to enlarge the kingdom of God.
In order to “fan the fire” of evangelism, Welch said he will try to go to large gatherings of Southern Baptists such as annual state convention meetings and evangelism conferences. “If you can’t be for evangelism you’ve got to wonder what you are here about. It’s the lowest common denominator. It has Christ in it, the word of God and the Great Commission.
Asked by Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry if he had considered inviting Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-related churches to join in this evangelistic emphasis, Welch said, “Nobody’s telling anybody not to try to reach people. You might be surprised to know there were one or two churches involved with CBF that I did stop at on the bus trip. That usually shocks some people, but I did,” he added. “Someone would call and say, ‘Did you know that’s a CBF church?’ If they want to go soul-winning, God bless them,” Welch responded.
The pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., explained why he encouraged several local churches to publicly baptize new converts as a part of the convention program. “The whole reason to do it was to emphasize and promote what we’re emphasizing and promoting?and that is baptizing.” Recalling a comment that Southern Baptists surely knew about baptism in Nashville, Welch said such public demonstrations would provide over 10,000 churches with the first baptism they’d seen in 12 months because they didn’t baptize anybody.
“We’ll promote it and encourage it and I hope they’ll go home and think we need to do this.” Welch said baptism is “that huge first, giant step toward a local body and discipleship. We’re not making it easy?that bar is just as high as it’s ever been,” he added, contrasting the call to baptize one million people with the “million more in ’54” campaign “where we’d do anything to get them in there.”
Asked by a Boston Globe reporter why baptisms had leveled off in recent years, Welch said, “The reason we’re not doing the baptisms is that we’ve given up on trying to get into people’s lives. We’re afraid of them. We go out there and we get involved in their lives and we will discover that some of them have spiritual needs,” he added.
While discovering the ministry needs in the lives of people, Christians will want to do more for those who are sick and need medicine, those who have kids and need jobs to support them, Welch said. Asked if he finds political activism to be a distraction from the primary task of evangelism, Welch said, “I’m not calling on them to give it up. I want the best political leaders we can get, but I’m not thinking for one heartbeat political leaders are going to do our spiritual work for us. But I believe if we do the spiritual work like Jesus did, we will be involved inescapably in the lives of people and what’s better for them in their community.
“So many pastors are looking for the drive-through window to order a silver bullet and be done with it. It’s not out there. It’s hard work to break ground,” Welch said. “You get away with just about anything until you bust hell open.”
Reporters pressed Welch to