Overcoming the Goofy Factor

First things first, I’m a member of a Southern Baptist church and have been in Southern Baptist life for many years. So it’s from an insider’s point of view that I ask this question: why is the SBC president traveling around the country on a big goofy-looking bus on a mission to baptize 1,000,000 people? Here’s the official answer:

Dr. Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will launch a nationwide bus tour Aug. 29 from First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he is pastor. He will visit churches in all 50 states to encourage Southern Baptists to evangelize more passionately and reach a goal of 1 million baptisms.

I’d say that most Christians would agree that if you need a silly bus tour to come to your church in order to be passionate about reaching the fallen world, there are deeper problems than Dr. Welch’s tour can solve. Such stunts usually end up creating a lot of attention, but few results. Why is the “goal” set at one million baptisms? Why not 5, or 10 million? And what happens if that goal is reached? Do we all get to ride on the bus?

I hope that one million and more do come to faith, but stunts like these seem to place the onus on the evangelists for the conversion rather than God. Phrases like “Everyone Can Witness, Win and Baptize … One Million!” seem to contradict the Baptist Faith and Message statement on regeneration:

Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Everyone can witness—and should, but only God can change the hearts of people. The sinner responds to the grace of God, which is dealt by God himself, not always necessarily in the quantities, one million or otherwise, that we would like him to deal.

Perhaps I’m gauging Dr. Welch’s efforts too harshly, but I’ve seen many, many gimmicks such as this in the past fail miserably. I can only hope that churches aren’t looking solely to this type of thing as a replacement for the transformed heart proclaiming the good news.

5 thoughts on “Overcoming the Goofy Factor”

  1. The Jews for Jesus are in the midst of a huge campaign in the DC area, but I have yet to see a goofy bus. I did get a brochure from them with Bart Simpson on the cover!

  2. I too am uncomfortable with this, though a bit torn.

    On the one hand, I’m grateful that the SBC (of which I too am a member) emphasizes evangelism. Too many other “Evangelical” denominations simply don’t do it. They talk about it, they analyze it, they theologize it, but they don’t DO it. They point out all the flaws in other evangelism programs without actually doing any evangelism of their own. And, as (Presbyterian) D. James Kennedy said to the PCA general assembly a few years ago, acknowledging flaws in his Evangelism Explosion program: “Still, I prefer the way I evangelize to the way you don’t evangelize.”

    On the other hand, hokey, revivalistic stunts like Welch’s bus trip seem at best a carnival trick, and at worst an attempt to try to force the Holy Spirit to work according to some silly gimmick.

  3. Welch’s strategy is emblematic of the revivalistic decisionism that plagues the SBC mainstream. Say we baptize one million this year – how many will be under the age of 6? Probably half. How many will be plugged into active church membership? Probably half of that.

    If God should so choose to pour out his Spirit is a particularly generous manner, that more men and women be granted faith and repentance – that would be exciting! But if we are just talking about praying a prayer or filling out a card, then that truly is another gospel.

  4. John makes a good point—evangelism is severly lacking among other denominations, and better hokey evangelism than none at all. I just lament the fact that we have to be so hokey at times.

    The problem here seems more like it stems from good motives but poor execution, as if someone was just sitting in a room saying, “wouldn’t a bus tour be neat?” Some pragmatic goal-setting techniques were applied, and voila, the bus tour was born.

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