Seeking to shift attention away from what Southern Baptists are against to “what we’re for,” Southern Baptist Convention president Bobby Welch leaves Sunday on a 25-day nationwide bus trip promoting his goal of baptizing 1 million people in a year.
“The world knows what Southern Baptists are against,” Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., said in a DVD sent to 70,000 church and denominational leaders announcing his “Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” effort to more than double the number of yearly baptisms in Southern Baptist churches, reversing decades of decline. “They need to know what we’re for.”
Elected SBC president in June, Welch says it is time—25 years after the so-called conservative resurgence pitted fundamentalists against moderates in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination—to seize the high ground and unite around sharing the gospel.
“We don’t have one thing in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we don’t have one thing in our churches, that soul-winning won’t solve,” he said.
Welch will embark on a 45-foot-long bus, built by the same company that built President Bush’s campaign bus, painted with faces of Southern Baptists against a backdrop of the American flag emblazoned with the words, “The Southern Baptist Convention Kingdom Challenge: Everyone Can Witness, Win and Baptize … One Million!” The design also reads, “Do all you can … with all you have … where you are … NOW!”
Welch plans to log about 20,000 miles in 25 travel days between Aug. 29 and Oct. 7, visiting all 50 states and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The format includes visiting a church in each state, viewing a 5-7 minute video, comments by Welch, and going out for door-to-door evangelism. Welch said he hopes to include “all kinds of churches,” including both large and small congregations and those using different styles. He said he would like to visit Asian, Hispanic, American-Indian, storefront and rural churches, and some with bivocational pastors.
Seventeen of 52 churches on Welch’s itinerary as reported in Baptist Press are First Baptist churches. Some would be classified as mega-churches. Three don’t include “Baptist” in their name, and one has a Spanish name.
On board the bus will be a six-person team of Welch, two drivers, a Baptist Press reporter, a media specialist and a coordinator.
Welch also said he will invite the executive director, president and Baptist paper editor of each state convention to join him on the bus as he tours their state.
Welch is hoping the initiative will help invigorate a convention that some leaders fear may be on the brink of decline.
Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said at the convention this summer that four straight years of declining baptisms “reflects a denomination that has lost its focus,” and lamented that few young ministers are becoming involved in the convention.
Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, warned that the convention must never be “driven by politics.”
“I am concerned now that we have affirmed by vigorous endeavor that Southern Baptists are a people of the book, that we will develop a censorious, exclusivist, intolerant spirit,” Chapman said. “If this occurs, we will be the poorer for it.”
A special committee studying denominational funding reported last fall that the convention and its entities face “serious financial challenges” in the 21st century. Both SBC mission boards have reduced staff in their home offices, and the International Mission Board has delayed deployment of missionaries due to lack of funds.
The convention has also suffered a black eye with much of the public from publicity over issues like wifely submission, women in ministry and the Disney boycott. Most recently, it was over the SBC’s decision to leave the Baptist World Alliance, propped up by what many said were bogus charges that the alliance is liberal and pro-homosexual.
A bigger problem, Welch says, is that Southern Baptists are failing to reach their loved ones, friends and families for Christ. He says 1 million baptisms is an achievable goal—even though Southern Baptists baptized just 377,000 last year—if they are led to unify around evangelism.
Welch’s six-pronged program asks Baptist church members to pledge to train and equip for evangelism, try to witness and lead people to be baptized, adopt biblical stewardship, support Vacation Bible School and start new Sunday school classes or churches.
He also is encouraging churches to bring large numbers of lay members to next year’s SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., for the official launch of Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.
“We’re headed into a transition in this convention,” Welch said in his message on the DVD. “We don’t know where that’s going to lead us and leave us as a convention better, worse or stagnated.
“It could lead us into a transformation like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.