English historian Edward Gibbon wrote the classic six volumes: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Volume I was published in 1776 and the last in 1788. Gibbon’s work established him as the first modern historian of Ancient Rome.
Gibbons outlines his thoughts as to “why” this great empire crumbled after three hundred years of world domination. His over-arching theory of Roman’s mighty fall points to the barbarization of the Roman Empire as Roman leaders and citizens depended more and more on foreign mercenaries, slaves, and servants to fight their wars, do their work, and raise their kids, while the citizens of Rome grew weak-willed, lazy, and morally corrupt. Like a worm turning an apple to mush, the empire disintegrated from the inside out.
Is the Southern Baptist Convention experiencing denominational demise? Are our best days behind us? We have used baptisms as a measuring stick for effectiveness, and 1972 was our high-watermark year for baptisms. Four decades later, we have not been able to surpass 445,725 men, women, boys and girls being baptized in one year.
With more churches, more members, more money, larger educational institutions, better educated clergy, more technology, more population, more experts in church growth, and more media avenues than ever before, the hard questions must be asked: Why are we losing ground when God has been sending more people to the USA for us to evangelize? What is wrong with the training that our colleges and seminaries are providing for our young ministers? What are church leaders not doing in order to educate and inspire members to share the gospel on a regular basis?
At one time, many Southern Baptists knew how to share their faith with lost people by using simple Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. It is called the Romans Road.[i] In less than no time, most Sunday School teachers could teach their class to mark their Bibles with this simple strategy of sharing. Little Gideon New Testaments could be found marked up and pages worn. Is this true today? Are we sharing the gospel?
In October 2011, LifeWay surveyed 2,930 American adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more and discovered the following:
1. 80 percent believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith.
2. 61 percent had not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.
3. Sharing Christ was the lowest scoring area out of eight biblical attributes of discipleship.
4. Nearly 48 percent of Christians had invited “zero” people to church in the last six months.[ii]
This study indicates that our “behaving” is not living up to our believing! In other words, we are not doing the things we know that need to be done in order to reach the unreached.
More than a year ago, an SBC pastor wrote a blog entitled: An Open Letter to “Failing” Churches and Foolish Southern Baptists. The pastor disclosed that his church did not record a single baptism in 2011, but he persisted by rebuking Southern Baptist state and national leaders for using the statistics of “no baptism” congregations in the SBC and saying things like, “Some churches didn’t even baptize one person last year.” His premise seemed to be, “You don’t know our situation and context, so don’t judge our church from a distance.”
As a college preacher boy, my first little weekend church was so far out in the sticks that you had to drive toward town to go hunting. It was a 75-mile one way trip, but each year the Lord saved several souls, and we baptized them in the cold Middle Tennessee stream that flowed by the church. When I heard our SBC leaders share statistics of “no” or “low” baptism churches, it spurred me on to being more focused in the task of making new disciples and going to the creek to celebrate through baptism!
Spending some prayerful and thoughtful time planning an evangelistic strategy for the New Year is very helpful in leading a church toward greater evangelistic effectiveness; it can include:
-- Teaching our people how to pray for lost and unchurched friends and family members; interceding on their behalf.
-- Teaching our people how to share the gospel with friends and family members; yes, even the Romans Road.
-- Host different kinds of harvest (evangelistic) events through the ministry of the local church.
-- Host a Vacation Bible School and mini-VBSs in apartment complexes or multi-family housing units.
-- In sermons, the pastor shares with his people those individuals that he has personally witnessed to and/or has led to the Lord. Evangelism is more “caught” than “taught.”
-- Ask people to share their testimonies of coming to Christ in worship services and include those people that played a key role in their journey.
-- Pray for true revival and spiritual awakening during the mid-week services.
-- Have special training for members on “how” to build relationships with lost and un-churched people in order to share the gospel.
-- Have a special night each week or during the month to make evangelistic visits.
Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. We have the precious Word of God. The Holy Spirit will empower us to share Jesus! We have the fellowship of believers to go with us. We are living on borrowed time in these last days; therefore every minister and member must become missionaries to this lost generation.
The Romans Road is narrow and lonely—will you come?
© Ron F. Hale, re-edited on May 29, 2014
[i] In using the term Romans Road, I do not wish to give the impression that this is the only evangelistic approach that should be used. There are many great ways to share the gospel, however, the best way is one that a Christian has used in the past and will use in the future.
[ii] Located at: http://www.lifeway.com/ArticleView?storeId=10054&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&article=research-survey-sharing-christ-2012