Published May 12, 2005
Georgia Baptists baptized nearly 6 percent more individuals in 2004 than in the previous year, sharply reversing a 3-year decline. Churches reported 36,134 baptisms - an increase of 2,023 - in the 2004 church year that ran from October 2003 through September 2004.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the marginal growth reported nationwide by the Southern Baptist Convention in early April. While the denomination also posted a gain that reversed a [four-year] decline, it only managed to eek out an additional 10,590 baptisms from 42 state conventions and fellowships. Georgia's gains accounted for a fifth of those.
Both state and national numbers were compiled from information churches submitted to the Annual Church Profile, the methodology which congregations use to report gains and losses for the most recent year. It's a snapshot of the denomination that serves as an annual report card on a variety of ministry and evangelism areas.
The figures were compiled by the GBC's Research Services and released in early May.
Georgia fared well almost across the board as it posted gains in a variety of significant areas. Among those:
Total offering receipts showed a 5.5 percent increase in giving ($49,738,325) to $959,738,197.
Baptisms show surprising gain
Georgia's positive showing in baptisms is the strongest among four of its five neighboring conventions.
Alabama reported a 5.8 percent increase while North Carolina dropped 4.9 percent. Both Florida and South Carolina remained flat with .007 and .002 percent gains, respectively. Only Tennessee, with a 7.2 percent gain, reported a higher baptism percentage though they were less numerically.
The bump in baptisms comes on the heels of a reorganization of the Convention's evangelism office which occurred in 2002. That was the year GBC Executive Director J. Robert White elevated the department to the executive office level and brought in Lilburn pastor Mike Minnix as vice president for evangelism.
While Evangelism Ministries cannot take full credit for the uptick, the numbers do come in the wake of an aggressive stance by the office to train and equip laity for personal evangelism and to challenge churches to pursue intentional plans of evangelism. A renewed emphasis on evangelistic praying, conducting revivals and crusades, using vocational evangelists, and personal witness also received more visibility.
"There is a direct link between the place evangelism has on the priority list in the convention and its churches, and the number of baptisms we report. Evangelism must be among the top concerns and ministries of the local church, otherwise our churches will decline in baptisms, Bible study, worship attendance and missions giving," Minnix said in commenting on the ACP tally.
As a result of that new emphasis, in the 2004 church year:
White said he was "extremely pleased" to see the growth in several areas of ministry in Georgia.
"I believe that the significant increase in baptisms is due to the responsiveness of our churches to the outstanding leadership of Evangelism Ministries under the leadership of Dr. Minnix. 'What Now, Georgia? with its emphasis upon increasing baptisms, church plants and new units in Sunday School has begun to have an incredible impact, even in the year prior to the target year of 2005.
"This clearly reveals that when we train our people in evangelism, encourage them to engage in soul winning and call upon our churches to have revivals, we baptize more new believers. I anticipate a very significant increase in baptisms on the 2005 ACP report.
"It is noteworthy that Sunday School enrollment accounted for 52.8% of the total Sunday School enrollment increase for the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a tribute to our leadership in Sunday School both at the Convention and throughout our churches. Further, Georgia Baptists accounted for 34.4% of the total membership increase of the SBC. These numbers are very encouraging."
More laity equipped to share their faith
Just as significant as the higher baptism increase is the resulting decline in the number of resident members needed to win an individual to faith in Christ. As a result, the baptism ratio for Georgia went from 30:1 to 29:1, a strong indication that Georgia churches are becoming more effective in their outreach.
Some of that can be attributed to the SAVED seminars on personal evangelism and the 59 MET (59 Minute Evangelism Training) curricula that were instituted by Evangelism Ministries early in the reorganization.
The statewide emphasis on personal evangelism and revivals laid the groundwork for the state's "What Now, Georgia" evangelistic emphasis which is currently underway. During that time frame the convention has set a goal of 50,000 baptisms (up 36,134 from 2004), start more than 100 new churches (up from 72) and see the creation of 3,500 new units in Sunday School (up from 3,093).
On the national level, the SBC reported 387,947 baptisms in 2004, up 2.8% from the previous year's 377,357.
LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said the small uptick "is slight, but an increase of more than 10,000 over the previous year is encouraging."
He noted that the current denominational emphasis on baptizing one million people during 2005 wasn't initiated until last summer's annual meeting in Indianapolis and only allowed churches who accepted the challenge to be a part of the initiative for a short time before the end of the reporting year. Draper said he would be "surprised if we didn't see a considerable jump" in baptisms when information is gathered for 2005.
SBC President Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., has also championed the evangelism and personal witnessing cause for the past year. He is calling for a massive evangelistic outreach the weekend prior to this year's annual meeting in Nashville.
The one-day, door-to-door ministry event will take place Saturday, June 18, and officially will launch the Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge to witness, win and baptize one million people in one year.
Crossover will conclude that Saturday night with a celebration service at the Gaylord Entertainment Center featuring recording artists Clay Crosse, Ricky Skaggs and The Whites. Welch, Draper, and author Bill Fay ("Share Jesus Without Fear") are among the scheduled speakers. The "Everyone Can Mass Choir" - several thousand strong - also will perform.
SBC posts small gains
With a net increase of 441 new churches, the SBC total stood at 43,465 at the end of the year, up from 43,024 in 2003. Total membership increased by 62,444 for a total of 16,267,494.
Other key areas with increased enrollment were Sunday School (8,206,440, up 12,554), men and boys mission education (423,207, up 4,601) and discipleship training (2,237,345, up 235,785).
Draper was most pleased about the discipleship increase.
"One thing we've been hearing from pastors, associations and state conventions is the need for discipleship renewal," he said. "This really reflects what I've been hearing as well from the younger leaders I've been meeting with across the country the past several months.
"They realize the need to get their church members grounded doctrinally, and discipleship studies are the way to do that. I see this as a very positive trend for individuals, churches and our denomination."
Draper also pointed out that total offering receipts were up $522,666,407 to more than $10 billion dollars.
For a complete breakdown and to view a chart on the national figures visit bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=20556.
For further information about the "'Everyone Can' Kingdom Challenge" and Crossover Nashville, go to www.everyonecan.net.
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