The evangelism news this week centered around the decline of baptisms within the Southern Baptist Convention.
A decline in baptisms, no matter the denomination or church tells me that personal evangelism is not happening.
That causes me to feel grief. . . Why are we not baptizing people?
The task force report itself is full of the actual statistics, and identifies potential problems behind the decline of baptisms.
Spiritual: “Many of our SBC pastors and churches are not effectively engaged in sharing the gospel and yet continue business as usual. We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.”
Leadership: “Many pastors have confessed to being overwhelmed in the operation and ministries of the church to the neglect of being involved in regular personal evangelism. This lack of leading by example is negatively impacting our church members’ engagement in personal evangelism.”
Discipleship: “Many pastors have confessed to focusing on attendance while giving little attention to reproducing fruit-bearing disciples who are involved in intentional evangelism.”
The Next Generation: “Although our churches have increasingly provided programs for children, students and young adults, we are not being effective in winning and discipling the next generation to follow Christ.”
Celebration: “Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.”
Baptism is the Fruit of Personal Evangelism
I don’t believe the sinner’s prayer is the final ending point of personal evangelism. Rather, a growing disciple is what I look for.
The visible mark of the results of personal evangelism is baptism. For those Christian faith traditions that practice infant baptism, a renewal of baptismal vows would accomplish the same siginificant mark that a person is growing in faith in Christ.
I don’t want to deviate into the arguments over mode or method of baptism, or even get into discussions of re-baptism of previously baptized infants. Those are side debates to the point here.
The lack of baptisms simply reveals the disappointing truth that personal evangelism is falling apart.
Personal Baptism is what “done” looks like
As I shared in a previous story, we once did contact evangelism in a local park.
The Spirit of God had prepared a woman well in advance to receive Christ that afternoon.
When we spoke to her spiritual thirst through our dramas, she felt her need for Christ. Tears had formed in her eyes. Hope was rising in her heart. Conviction of the brokenness of her own sin swirled the emotions from deep places.
She sought out our pastor’s wife immediately after the short talk when the drama was over.
This is where the sinner’s prayer served its purpose. It allowed her to respond to the power of God that was convincing her of sin and her need for Christ. She prayed with our pastor’s wife to invite Christ into her life.
That week, she started attending our church.
She took baptism a few months later and is now regularly sharing her faith.
A similar park outreach is where Patricia did intentional evangelism which led to 2 baptisms in 6 months.
Don’t lose that vision of Baptism
Over the years, I have talked with several churches that have lost this vision of personal baptism.
Their vision is survival, budget maintenance, or keeping the sheep well fed.
For them, the important focus is all about discipleship. I don’t sense any excitement about the gospel’s power of redemption.
I have asked:
“What would it take to see 10 adult baptisms this year?”
In those churches, I have seen
- sighs of hopelessness,
- quick objections, and even
- instant pessimism that 10 baptisms are not possible.
No vision for personal baptisms suggests they have lost the vision to reach people for Christ.
There is no excitement about what Jesus can do to transform a life.
I wouldn’t want to stay involved in such a church.
Even if I came for a few weeks because the people were nice and welcoming, I don’t think I’d stay long term if the church doesn’t have a compelling vision to reach the lost.
You can get involved
You can have the joy of introducing a person to Jesus Christ.
Watching people awaken to their faith in Christ because of your personal evangelism work is one of the greatest joys you can experience as a Christian.
Being there when they take the step of personal baptism is an emotionally charged moment – you planted the seed, you watered the seed, and now you see the fruit, right in front of you.
My own Personal Evangelism Teaching on DVD
I have a DVD (or digital download) set that focuses on a conversational style evangelism that would be effective in:
- casual conversation between friends
- causal conversation between strangers
Read more about the Effective Evangelism Conversations in the store.
It is a recording of a live seminar I gave in 2012.
It can be one step to increasing the number of personal conversations that you have that could lead to seeing your friends get baptized.