Published January 15, 2004
Georgia Baptists still have a ways to go.
While a string of annual reports have shown an increasing number of baptisms, a rise in church membership, and growth in attendance in worship and Sunday School, those figures offer a false sense of security when viewed against a background of real population growth. While more Georgians are finding faith in Christ, statistics indicate that nearly 70 percent of the states 8,383,915 residents remain unchurched.
"Georgia Baptists are to be commended for year-over-year increases in several areas as reported on the Annual Church Profile for the past several years," said GBC Executive Director J. Robert White. "But the truth of the matter is we are simply not keeping up with the explosive growth that has come to Georgia in the past several years."
That streak of continued gains may be at an end if churches do not catch the vision of a lost population in need of the gospel. Figures from the 2002 Annual Church Profile, the most recent available, show the states baptisms dropped 5.3 percent in 2002 from 2001, from 36,280 to 34,482. And, that was a decrease of 2,700 from the states highest year of 37,182 reported in 1998.
"One years figures do not indicate a trend, but if left unchecked does not bode well for the future," says Mike Minnix, vice president for the Executive Office for Evangelization.
Baptisms in the previous decade may have increased from 32,194 in 1990 to 37,016 in 2000 an increase of 15 percent but they pale when viewed against the states 26.4 percent population jump during the same time frame.
Georgia is enjoying robust growth that is double that of the nations 13.1 percent rate as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau on its Web site. That growth also builds a strong case for starting new churches, adds Jim Millirons, specialist in New Church Development Ministries with the GBC.
"Georgia is lost, diverse, and changing at a rapid rate. As Rick Warren has said, We need all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. We can present the gospel in a variety of contexts in our state without compromising the gospel message."
"We are as much of a mission field as any state in the nation or country in the world with our 70 percent unchurched rate. Its imperative that we start churches to reach Georgians for Christ," Millirons said.
"What Now, Georgia?"
God has blessed Georgia Baptists with abundant riches and He is calling on them to share those riches with the lost who need to hear about His love, say denominational leaders. That calling will take shape next year in the Peach State in a massive campaign called "What Now, Georgia?," that organizers say are prompting Georgia Baptists and the culture at large to take inventory of their lives to determine if they are experiencing all that God desires for them.
Task force members describe the campaign which will be known as "What Now, America?" and "What Now, Canada?" as a means to equip and mobilize Southern Baptists for an evangelism and church planting movement unprecedented in the conventions 158-year history.
White, chairman of the "What Now, America?" national task force, is challenging each Southern Baptist church, association and state convention to set their own goals as part of reaching the larger convention-wide goals.
"We want every Southern Baptist to be involved in this exciting challenge to reach our nation for Christ, but this is not a program with assigned goals," he said. "We believe God desires to do something greater than we can even envision."
White said the Georgia convention has set a goal of 50,000 baptisms in 2005, eclipsing the state conventions most recent total by 15,518.
Is such a goal possible?
Jimmy Blanton, associational missionary for Columbus Association, believes its not only possible, but might be a little low. He recently pointed out that its not only possible but is entirely practical for Georgia Baptists to double the current number of baptisms to more than 70,000.
According to his calculations Georgia Baptists have:
36,000 Bible study units in 3,600 churches;
2,865 Sunday School directors;
10,896 ministerial staff members;
28,800 deacons at an average of eight per church;
about 200 state and associational missionaries.
"If each one would simply reach one person for Jesus and see them baptized in one of our Georgia Baptist churches, we would have 79,061 baptisms next year. Then if you were to add to that what we have done in any recent year, we could easily see more than 100,000 baptisms in our churches in a single year.
"Even if we did what we normally do in a given year and add to it one salvation per Sunday School unit in our churches, we would baptize nearly 75,000 people," he says.
A foundation in prayer
Before the national "What Now?" effort becomes a reality, it must be bathed in prayer, leaders say. To that end, the national task force is calling for at least 1 million Southern Baptists to commit to pray regularly for personal repentance, personal revival and a national spiritual awakening. This convention-wide prayer initiative, called "Be ... One In A Million," is based on 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Georgia Baptists can register for the prayer initiative at www.oneinamillionprayer.com. Those who register and have e-mail capabilities will receive weekly prayer requests, including heart-searching questions and selected Scripture passages to help undergird their prayer efforts. Individuals who do not have Internet access can call the North American Mission Board at (770) 410-6000 to request to be put on a mailing list.
Minnix cited the 2001 U.S. Congregational Life Survey of 2,000 Southern Baptists as an example of the importance of soul-winning training. The survey found that those who had been equipped to witness were twice as likely to share their faith and four times more likely to actually lead someone to receive Christ.
Super Evangelism Seminars
"To help churches and associations reach our state for Christ, we are hosting more than 20 regional What Now, Georgia? Super Evangelism Seminars. These practical workshops will familiarize our churches with new strategies in revival, prayer, and personal witnessing."
"The Research Services Department of the Georgia Baptist Convention now estimates that up to 70 percent of Georgians do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. We want to give as many of them as possible an opportunity to hear the Good News from laypersons within their own community."
Minnix said the first of the training seminars will be held at Jamestown Baptist Church in Waycross on Jan 26. The training will begin at 7 p.m. and conclude at 8:30 p.m.
Statewide revivals set for 2005
This years revival preparation seminars will be followed next year by WAVE revivals, a series of simultaneous revivals that begin in Southwest/ Southeast Georgia in February 2005 and conclude in the Northwest/Northeast portion of the state in April. They will coincide with national revivals planned throughout North America.
Millions said many of those being won to Christ this year and next will find a home in one of the many new churches being launched by Georgia Baptists.
"Georgia Baptists started 75 new churches in 2003 and we anticipate up to 80 this year. Our prayer is that from 2005 onward we will launch 100 churches annually.
Millions noted new churches, on average, are more effective and more efficient in evangelism than existing churches. Recent studies indicate that about 50 percent of GBC membership gain comes from new churches and that up to 70 percent of those in new churches were previously unchurched.
He also stated that more than 100,000 persons attend churches planted in the state in the past 20 years. Those same churches account for 13 percent of all Georgia Baptist baptisms.
"We are grateful to God as he continues to raise up apostle-like church planters and partnering churches and associations to start healthy kingdom churches empowering kingdom growth."
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