As I wrote last week, I’m too young to remember the good old days wistfully, but I’m also old enough to remember how some things used to be done effectively. Church practices have changed quite a bit in my 35 years as a ministry leader. Some of those have been good changes, necessary improvements to better connect people with the gospel. Others, perhaps not so much.
One of the biggest changes has been the loss of evangelistic focus in many SBC churches. The most visible evidence of this is the decline of baptisms over the past decade to record low numbers. Another change has contributed to this number – the neglect of personal witness training and the abandonment of the conviction every Christian must be equipped to fulfill their responsibility to share their faith.
In years past, the discussion among SBC pastors related to evangelism training was about which program or approach to use. There was little debate about the need, importance, or priority for this training. Southern Baptists had, at one time, four major evangelism training methods (I was a certified trainer in all four) that various churches used to equip their members for witnessing.
These days, it’s hard to find churches with any type of continuing, consistent training program for personal evangelism. Admonishing members to “live their faith” or “invite a friend to church” are about the extent of the challenge – without any accompanying training in actually leading another person to faith in Jesus.
In preparing for our personal move with the seminary, I found an old file with information from my first pastorate. It contained a certificate recognizing our church for baptizing 59 people in one year (a healthy number since our church attendance was only about 250). That was a great year in our church. My fondest memory of baptizing those 59 people was how many of them were led to faith in Jesus by their friends (our witness-trained members).
Why have we stopped training witnesses? Multiple reasons, really; but one may be hard to face. We no longer train witnesses because it is such hard work. It requires classroom training, on the job modeling, serious study, emotional vulnerability, and spiritual warfare. Not a job for the faint-hearted!
Consider establishing consistent, continuing, habitual witness training in your church. Make a multi-year commitment to the process and enjoy the results as more and more people are equipped and motivated to share the gospel.