By David Evans
TBMB Evangelism Director
A decease in baptisms is symptomatic of a larger and looming issue.
In 2015, Tennessee Baptist churches baptized 22,613. In 2016, Tennessee Baptist churches baptized 20,267. In 2017, our Tennessee churches baptized 21,000.
The baptism number across the United States has been declining, but the baptism number is only symptomatic of a larger and looming issue.
Baptized believers are not reproducing their faith by being evangelistic. Baptism is not the problem in Tennessee. Thousands are being baptized.
The problem is that those being baptized are not in turn sharing their faith to see others baptized. If those in 2015 led one person to Jesus then we would have a similar number in 2016 (which it is close). If those in 2015 and 2016 led one person to Jesus then we would have a doubled number (which we do not).
Tennessee Baptists adopted a goal called Objective One: seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024. We are seeing Tennesseans saved and baptized but the “set on the road to discipleship” may be the main issue. What happens when the baptized believers of 2015, 2016 and 2017 lead one person to Jesus? The goal of seeing 50,000 would not be difficult.
Are we mobilizing/discipling those that come to Jesus? A few thoughts to move forward:
(1) Disciple to evangelize. When a person is baptized are they being discipled to lead someone else to Jesus and then discipling the new Christian? A discipleship strategy that does not begin and end with evangelism is not a New Testament discipleship strategy. Disciple-making includes both discipleship-creation and discipleship-improvement or it is not disciple-making.
What is New Testament discipleship making?
Phase One: Evangelism; Phase 2: Discipleship; Phase 3: Evangelism
In phase one, a person repents and surrenders his or her life to Jesus.
In phase two, a person is discipled to look more like Jesus (improvement) and to tell others about Him (creation).
In phase three, a person leads someone else to Jesus and commits to disciple him or her (back to phase one).
The first person continues in the cycle as they grow in the Lord, while gathering unbelievers to begin the process at phase one and walking with them through the cycle until they can gather unbelievers on their own. A portion of the first person’s growth is maneuvering through the cycle with different people at different seasons. The first person will grow faster through the process with others rather than journeying alone.
(2) Evangelize to disciple. What if your faith was measured by the person that you discipled? Do you disciple anyone. When you lead someone to Jesus you are responsible. The responsibility to make sure that they are discipled toward personal holiness, daily repentance, sharing Jesus, Bible intake, prayer, fasting, etc. belongs to the believer that led the lost person.
Modern Christianity does not seem to be doing this well as reflected in the decline in baptism numbers. If we are not baptizing and discipling others to reproduce the salvation of Jesus and the glory of God then what are we baptizing and discipling them to do?
(3) Repent. We have all missed opportunities. Repent. Confess the sins of not sharing Jesus when you know you should have shared. Confess the sins of leaving a new believer to disciple themselves. Repent and move ahead. B&R