Sparked by evangelism efforts connected with this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tenn., could become the epicenter of America’s next great religious awakening, according to the convention’s president.
SBC president Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., has relocated temporarily to Nashville to promote his Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism. Previously he embarked on a 50-state bus tour, urging Southern Baptists to step up evangelism effort to reach a goal of 1 million baptisms.
According to Baptist Press, Welch told pastors meeting at Nashville’s First Baptist Church March 21 that 10,000 people have committed to join Crossover Nashville, a three-day evangelistic effort just prior to the June 21-22 SBC annual meeting.
If they all show up, Welch advised local pastors to look for traffic to increase due to an abundance of visitors.
“What if there’s gridlock? What if people just empty their office buildings? What if you have to get out there street preaching and witnessing in these parking lots? What if people are on their knees praying?” Welch imagined.
“What if [Nashville] became the epicenter for the next Great Awakening–how many of you would be for that? I’m tellin’ you boys, it could happen. We’re overdue.”
Great Awakening is the term used by historians to describe periods of religious revival and revolution in American religious thought.
The First Great Awakening occurred among American Protestants in the 1730s and 1740s. Sparked by preachers including Jonathan Edwards, best known for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and English evangelist George Whitfield, the movement sparked revival among Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and spread from the middle colonies to Puritans and Baptists in New England.
A Second Great Awakening in the 1820s and 1830s prompted social reform in New England like temperance and prison reform. In the West it spawned the camp meeting, a new form of religious expression that set the stage for organized revivals as the primary method of expansion for groups like Baptists and Methodists.
Some historians identify a Third Great Awakening in the latter half of the 19th century, also termed the Missionary Awakening. Challenges to traditional Christianity in the form of Marxism and Darwinism prompted reactions like Modernist Christianity, which sought to reconcile the Bible with science, and Fundamentalism, a reactionary movement opposed to any effort to undermine the Bible’s authority.
Welch earlier told churches in the Knoxville area that about 4,000 people have signed up to do event evangelism in Nashville, and another 6,000 have signed up for door-to-door witnessing.
Welch said 10,000 people hitting the streets for evangelism could be the largest single evangelistic effort in all of church history, but he doesn’t know that for sure. To date, about 1,800 is the largest number of participants in the annual Crossover effort that precedes each SBC annual meeting.
Southern Baptist leaders have made bold predictions before. In 1999, a brochure requested 100,000 volunteers to converge on Chicago in a “Strategic Focus Cities” initiative, prompting a request by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago to modify the plan.
Southern Baptist leaders refused to call off the blitz but scaled their projections down to 25,000 people over three years. Officials said about 5,000 volunteers actually took part in events across the city at the project’s launch in July 2000.
A former Army Ranger, Welch compares the ideal church to the forward-operations base of a military endeavor, the place nearest the front lines from which soldiers embark on their missions and then return for re-supply and re-deployment.
“The forward-operations base is not designed for people to stay there,” Welch said in a sermon in Knoxville. He said Southern Baptists have suffered under the delusion far too long that filling the church with people and activities is the end-game. “But it’s not. We need to be out there, where the lost and longing harvest is.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.