ACP Report: A true indicator?

June 3, 2014

by Les Puryear, pastor
Bethany Baptist Church
Gulf, N. Car.

Regarding the latest report of declining baptisms in the SBC, there have been many who have responded to this issue by saying that our churches have been disobedient to the Lord and neglected evangelism. I have read comments to the effect that the SBC needs revival because our baptisms are down. We do need revival in all of our churches so we can bring to salvation as many people as possible. But is the problem of people not receiving Christ as bad as it is reported? Perhaps not.

For example, our church averages 60 in Sunday morning worship. During VBS last year, we led 15 youngsters to Christ. Ten of the 15 conversions were youngsters who went to other Baptist churches or churches in other denominations. We rejoiced that God had saved 15 of the 48 VBS attendees. What a mighty work of God! However, when the work of God through our church was reported in the ACP, we recorded five baptisms. Five of these converts attended our church, therefore, we baptized 5 of them. But did God reach five or 15 during the year? 

Thus far this year, two youngsters have received Christ in our RA and GA programs. We haven’t baptized them because their parents, who don’t go to church, won’t let us baptize them. The parents refuse, saying their children were baptized as infants and additional baptisms are unnecessary. I have been unsuccessful in convincing them of the need for believer’s baptism. If we do not baptize anyone between now and the end of August, we will have to report zero baptisms. Does that mean that our church has neglected evangelism or not borne any fruit for the Kingdom of God? No. We have been privileged to see two people receive Jesus as Lord and Savior; however, the ACP report would reflect that no one had come to Christ through the outreach efforts of our church. Such a conclusion would be untrue.

The problem of only reporting baptisms on our ACP report is that much of God’s work is overlooked. Our leaders decry the lack of reaching people for Christ because reported baptisms went down; however, the number of people who have received Christ through our churches may have actually increased. In my opinion, when we report baptisms only, we report the very minimum amount of conversions that have actually been attained during the year. There are so many more people who have come to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit working through our local churches than are ever reported.

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe very strongly that every new believer in Christ should be obedient to the command of Christ (Matt. 28:19) and be baptized when a conscious decision is made to receive Christ. However, the fact is that not every person we reach for Christ will be baptized. I wish that were not true, but it is true.

Unless we change our method of reporting the actual number of people who have received Christ, the outcry of our leaders with regard to decreasing baptisms will fall on  deaf ears in many local churches. Many of us are working very hard to reach our communities and beyond for Christ. Many of us are seeing God move in mighty ways. But not all of this fruit is reported because of the limitations of the reporting mechanism. When I hear someone say that our church is not actively involved in evangelism because we may report zero baptisms, I find their comment to be uninformed and misguided. The problem may not be with our local churches, but in our inability to get an accurate count of conversions in the Convention. Let’s find out how many people have actually received Christ through our churches before we begin throwing stones at our local churches.

Fortunately, this problem has an easy fix. LifeWay can add one line item to the ACP to record the total number of conversions. If that one line item is added, then we can have a more accurate measurement of evangelism fruit in our local churches. If total conversions decrease, then we will have something to complain about.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

William Thornton

No one argues that the ACP does not show the totality of a church’s ministry but the baptism figure is valid for comparison over time. Few would argue that it is not a true indicator of declining evangelistic results in SBC life. While a figure for “conversions” would be interesting, it would be a very soft, subjective, and unreliable statistic. At least baptisms is a hard figure.

I’m glad your church is having success in both conversions and baptisms.

Leslie Puryear

William,

Thank you for your comment.

I understand your point of view that baptisms are a “hard figure,” but I also believe that conversions can be just as accurate. In my opinion, number of conversions are no less accurate than are number of baptisms. When one indicates a desire to receive Christ as Lord and Savior and expresses their trust in Christ for salvation through whatever means acceptable to the local church (i.e., sinner’s prayer, etc.,) why is that less “hard” and more subjective than baptisms? Perhaps it could be said that we do not know if the one expressing their trust in Christ but not being baptized, is truly sincere. The same argument can be made for baptisms as well. Just because someone walks down an aisle and is baptized does not necessarily mean they have truly received Christ, thus the baptism numbers are susceptible to subjective unreliability as any other method of reporting. Personally, I prefer to see data that more closely records all of God’s work instead of some of it.

William Thornton

Les, any measure is soft in that only God knows what decision is real or what baptism is actually following a genuine conversion; however, if you and I witness an immersion we would both count “1”, whereas if we both shared the Gospel with a crowd of VBS children followed by an invitation we would both do our best but it is likely that one of us would be more aggressive or more forceful in asking for visible decisions based on what we said and thereby end up with different numbers. Baptisms are discrete, objective acts easily counted. Whatever they don’t convey it is a valid measure when one compares from year to year.

We both know some evangelists and pastors who have made their living counting “decisions” of a loosely defined sort.

Regardless, I would look for the ACP to be simpler, not more complicated, since more and more churches are refusing to file it anyway.

Leslie Puryear

William,

Thanks again for your comment. I always enjoy reading your point of view.

The number of conversions would meet all of the criteria you mentioned. Yes, evangelists do go overboard sometimes and this may reflect baptisms. In regard to the simpler ACP, I couldn’t agree with you more. There are a lot of questions that could be eliminated. What I am proposing is adding one more line: conversions or decisions or whatever one may wish to name it.

Les

Ron F. Hale

Les,
I’m pretty sure we recorded “public professions of faith” one year in Illinois. Thanks for your article!

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available