(an edited article by Pastor J.D. Greer on the Who’s your one Evangelism plan)
Intentional evangelism has always been a defining characteristic of Southern Baptist mission—and rightly so, because evangelism is the primary tool by which we fulfill the Great Commission. Everything else Southern Baptists do is ultimately in support of evangelistic disciple-making. The criteria upon which our churches should measure their success is by how many Christians are actively winning souls and training them to win the multitudes. Apart from that, all the money we raise, buildings we build, ministries we organize, sermons we preach, and songs we write don’t move the mission forward. Without this one thing, we fail.
Many today, most notably our current President Steve Gaines, have raised the question of whether we are losing our laser-like focus on evangelism, as indicated by several recent developments:
First, we’ve seen a precipitous decline in baptisms and membership. This decline is particularly troubling, as Alan Cross points out, considering that most Southern Baptist churches are located in the Southeast, where the overall population is growing the quickest. Our surrounding communities are growing by leaps and bounds, while our churches are—for the most part—shrinking.
Second, many churches in our Convention seem to lack a clear evangelism strategy. In the church where I grew up, Wednesday-afternoon soul-winning was your first act of sanctification! Not kidding. I got saved on a Friday and went on my first soul-winning cold-call that next Wednesday. For various reasons, most churches have gone away from that. But what has replaced it? Door-to-door evangelism was where I learned to share the gospel. Are “ordinary” Southern Baptists equipped to share the gospel? Do they believe it is their responsibility? Are they actually doing it?
Just about everybody in the SBC agrees that we need to get good at making disciples again.
The question of the hour is, “How?”
How Can Southern Baptists Make Disciples Again?
We need a spiritual awakening that leads to action.
Historically, revivals have not begun with lost people getting saved but with the church getting “re-converted” to the gospel, which then leads to massive evangelism. Revival is an intensification of the normal operations of the Holy Spirit. Until the Spirit comes, all else is lost.
Our reforms are not limited to spiritual ones (i.e., pray more, care about the lost more), but they certainly must begin there. Quite simply, many of us no longer feel the urgency of the gospel message. We do not long, like Paul did, for our countrymen to be saved, to the point that we’d be willing to go to hell ourselves if it meant they would come to Christ (Romans 9:1-3). We have grown complacent in our size, our budgets, and our secure retirement plans and no longer burn with the same evangelistic zeal that we once did when we had none of those things. A recent study revealed that nearly 90 percent of active, church-going evangelicals have never even shared their faith with someone outside of their family. Only 20 percent of churches in the U.S. are growing, and only 1 percent are growing by reaching lost people.
Our goal should be that we make it as hard as possible to go to hell from our communities. Has everyone in your community heard a compelling presentation of the gospel and been given a chance to respond? I think often of the words of Charles Spurgeon, who said,
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
We’ve got to celebrate the right things.
The proverbial wisdom is true: You replicate what you celebrate. That means if what we mainly celebrate are buildings and budgets, then that’s everyone will aspire to as the marks of success. That’s why, at the Summit, we’re always celebrating stories of our people bringing others to Christ. Whenever we baptize someone, we try to include in the baptismal pool the person who brought that new believer to faith.
Of course, we should celebrate growing attendance, new church plants, mission gifts. and mission trips, because those are important, too. But if these things are not producing new disciples, what good are they? Shuffling bored Christians around isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he issued the Great Commission.
Our problem is not that we haven’t found the right program that enables us to reach the world. Our problem is that we don’t yearn to see lost people saved and God’s glory spread over the earth bad enough to build whatever ships are required to reach people for Christ.
We’ve got to do whatever it takes to reach the lost.
What grows the church in any age does not change: belief in the gospel, commitment to the authority of Scripture, deep commitment to prayer, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win the lost. Jesus summarized his ministry as “seeking and saving the lost” (Luke 19:10). We should summarize ours the same.
There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and history cannot end until they have been given a gospel witness. God has been incredibly gracious to our Convention. Why would the Holy Spirit have done that if it were not to give us an unprecedented effectiveness among our neighbors, in our nation, and around the world? God does what he does not to preserve institutions but for the sake of the Great Commission. We must still ask, in all that we do, “Does this help us better seek and save the lost?”
Who’s Your One?
In 1954, the SBC set a goal of getting 1 million people in Sunday School. They called it the “Million More in ’54” campaign. It was a crazy big goal, and even though they didn’t reach 1 million, they were able to get 600,000 people involved—way more than were previously going. Many of those people trusted Christ for the first time. That’s what happens when you paint a vision of the possible: People take ownership for it, and the Spirit starts to move in fresh ways.
Recently, at The Summit Church, we tried something similar. We asked each member of our congregation to identify one person they could pray for and seek to bring to Christ over the year. The phrase we kept repeating was, “Who’s your one?” It’s not an elaborate or complicated idea, but this simple idea led to our most evangelistically effective year to date. Because of this intentional push toward evangelism, we ended up baptizing 700 people last year. What an incredible joy it was to have people come up to me at church and say, “Pastor, this is my one.” Or to see them stand in the baptistry with someone and tell me later, “That was her! She was my one!”
On any given weekend, there are more than 5 million Southern Baptists gathering to worship around the country. Can you imagine the impact we would make if every one of them asked God to let him or her lead one person to Christ next year?
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of several books including Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send.
Copyright © 2017 J.D. Greear Ministries. All rights reserved.