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NAMB, Southern Baptist Evangelists strategize to help churches with no/low baptisms


DULUTH — Last year there were approximately 7,500 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that reported zero baptisms. Another 3,000 churches reported only one baptism. Steve W. Lemke, provost and professor at New Orleans Seminary, wrote a scholarly paper in which he stated that it takes 42 Southern Baptists all year to win and baptize one convert.

In 1950 the baptism-to-member ratio was 1:19. In 1954 J. N. Barnette wrote a “study course” book entitled One to Eight, in which he expressed the expectant hope that Southern Baptists would achieve a 1:8 ratio.

Keith Fordham/COGBE

Tim Johnston, assistant professor of evangelism at Midwestern Seminary, baptized converts in a cattle trough at Central Baptist Church, Kansas City.

However, instead of the ratio improving it has grown more alarming with the passing of time. The North America Mission Board and the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists are not only aware of the disturbing trend, but they are attempting to do something about it. NAMB has formulated a plan to provide funds for harvest evangelists to minister in low/no baptism churches.

Georgia Baptist evangelist Keith Fordham was the first volunteer for this pilot project to connect vocational evangelists with churches that have low or no baptisms. Fordham recently traveled to Missouri to teach an evangelism course as an adjunct professor at Midwestern Seminary and to conduct revival services at Central Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. Central had not baptized anyone in 20 years.

Tom Johnston, assistant professor of Evangelism at Midwestern, is the interim pastor of Central and asked Fordham to come to Kansas City to teach a class on vocational evangelism. Fordham was also asked to mobilize all the evangelism classes to go out into the streets of Kansas City to witness and pass out flyers in Arabic, Somali, French, Vietnamese, Spanish and English.

Twenty-eight members of Macedonia Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. joined nearly 50 faculty and students from the seminary in the outreach effort, which included an abbreviated version of Vacation Bible School on Saturday afternoon. As a result of these efforts 16 people were saved and Central Baptist Church baptized 10 of the new converts.

Keith Fordham/COGBE

Southern Seminary student, Sam Fordham, left, and “friend” Newton look on as Tom Johnston conducts the first baptismal service at Central Baptist Church in 20 years.

A tent was set up on the church property for the VBS and for the Friday and Saturday night revival services. A new convert, Danny Friedrich, was lifted from his wheelchair and placed in the cattle trough to be baptized at the Friday night service. It was the first baptism for Central Baptist Church in more than 20 years.

Johnston said, “The outdoor baptism sent a spiritual tremor throughout the neighborhood.” Indeed, it did, because many people from the neighborhood came to the services on Saturday and Sunday. Many rededications and public professions of faith followed that first baptism.

Fordham commented, “All of our efforts were blessed by God. Door-to-door visitation and old-fashioned revival work in inner cities with multilingual people. Preaching and talking about Jesus works anywhere, anytime. It worked for the Apostle Paul in an unseeded gentile society; it will work today.”