By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
WOODWORTH – Much like Nehemiah did with careful planning to build the wall in Jerusalem, Louisiana Baptists must continue plotting a course to shore up its various ministries at the half-way point of a seven-year initiative to reach the state with the Gospel by 2020.
Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins gave an update during the Sept. 26 Executive Board meeting on the progress toward the goals of the President’s 2020 Commission Report, sharing good news about what had been achieved so far and offering observations about what is still needed to complete the work.
Hankins said he is confident Louisiana Baptists can have great victory in the end, as long as they do not violate their convictions, compromise the truth or strive to please man over God.
“We recognize that our tasks are spiritual, and we will not be successful unless God blesses us with His power,” Hankins said during the meeting. “We are not attempting to outwit the world. Strategies and studies are useful tools but they are no substitute for God’s Spirit bringing grace, mercy and revival. We must continue to give ourselves to prayer for spiritual renewal in our state.”
Adopted by messengers at the 2013 Louisiana Baptist Convention annual meeting, the 2020 initiative seeks to reach every generation and every people group in Louisiana with the Gospel by the year 2020 through the avenues of congregational revitalization, church planting, communications and collaboration. Ten statements in the report outline “key actions in reaching our state” – known as KAIROS – to provide overall guidance.
The 2020 recommendations were crafted collaboratively by a commission of 400 Louisiana Baptist leaders, pastors, staff members, lay men and lay women, working in 20 subcommittees of 20 members each.
Hankins said Louisiana Baptists are making exceptional headway in church planting and the goal of establishing 300 new, biblically-sound and multiplying congregations by the start of the next decade.
Through development and implementation of effective recruitment networks and training sessions, 201 new churches have been planted already since 2010, helping to raise the number of Louisiana Baptist churches from 1,478 in 2010 to 1,644 this year (the loss of 35 established churches accounts for the difference), he said. Fifty-one percent of the new church plants are non-Anglo, in line with a goal of reaching every people group. Additionally, 66 percent of the churches have been planted in south Louisiana, where 75 percent of the population resides.
“Our church plants are evangelistic,” Hankins noted. “They have recorded an average of more than 56 salvation decisions per church plant since 2010,” and account for 2,942 baptized new believers.
Hankins said Harvest is making progress to “pray for every household and share Christ with every person” in Louisiana, in keeping with the 2020 goal to revitalize congregations. Already, 600 churches have signed up for the two-year campaign of crusades, revivals and special events.
If the goal of at least 700 churches is reached, it would be the most churches who have participated together at one time in a combined evangelism effort across the state.
“We pray God will not only bring a harvest of souls but it will reshape us in our roots of being an evangelistic people,” Hankins said.
Combined with efforts like “Bless Every Home,” prayer walking and list praying, as well as a focus on personal evangelism and positioning Sunday school/ small groups for evangelism, Harvest will enable Louisiana Baptists to move toward the goal of 10 percent growth in attendance by 2020, he said.
To address the decline in children and youth baptisms, Louisiana Baptist leaders have developed a strategy group of baptism leaders in every size, location and ethnic group to create strategies and resources to assist local church leaders in reaching and baptizing more.
Over the next six years a different tool will be used at each Youth Evangelism Celebration to train the more than 6,000 youth who attend to share their faith.
The collegiate team has implemented the Engage 24 program, which engages all 27 active BCMs in the state with encouraging, training and mobilizing students to share the Gospel.
During the most recent Engage 24, 1,088 students presented the Gospel and saw 532 saved.
Communications is another area of strength, he said, with the Louisiana Baptists Communications Team providing training in the use of social media and the Internet to support the work of churches in their communities.
Hankins noted in particular, the initial success of the “Here for You” campaign, a multi-year, multi-platform media strategy, including television spots, to aid congregations in reaching their communities.
He said the “continuous evangelism strategy using mass media” was in the third year of a pilot program launched in Southeast Louisiana.
“Year one focused on young mothers, while year two shifted the focus to men ages 50-65,” he said. “’Here for You’ entered the third year of the three-year pilot in 2017 with the goal of creating a reproducible template which will enable this initiative to go statewide I the years ahead.”
Only the lack of funding will hinder the progress of the initiative to expand statewide, he said, and he encouraged churches to visit HereforYou.org to take advantage of the resources that have been developed, including the spots which can be shared on church and personal Facebook pages, websites and other media outlets.
“Not the Norm” is the newest strategy to encourage congregations to regularly and intentionally promote biblical financial stewardship, Hankins shared.
After his team took stock of stewardship strategy in 2015 and 2016, Hankins said a vision emerged that placed greater emphasis on teaching stewardship as part of a healthy, obedient relationship with Jesus.
In the coming months, the Louisiana Baptists communication team will launch a “Not the Norm” website with videos about tithing, including at least one animation, he said.
Likewise, a “Not the Norm” bulletin insert will be ready in time for the 2017 LBC Annual Meeting.
“We know the most important question for our mission giving is stewardship,” Hankins said. “If we will solve the stewardship problem, we will solve the missions giving program.”
Hankins also highlighted compassion ministries in his update, saying an associational level compassion ministry strategy has been employed to enhance local networks and start new ministries in local churches. “Here for You” events across the state have resulted in more than 6,000 people participating this year in one-day ministry days. Moreover, 19 directors of missions have indicated they are leading churches to engage in compassion ministry.
Other Louisiana Baptist leaders have: assisted churches in providing a Children’s Mission Day of service in February; developed a CenLa Pregnancy Center in Alexandria; and, developed an online training portal for disaster relief volunteers to get credentials needed for service.
“I suggested a rather audacious goal to the committee that every congregation be involved in compassion ministry,” Hankins said. “We are going to continue not only to encourage compassion ministries but just tabulate those. Maybe a lot of our congregations are doing something but haven’t told us about it. There’s a whole wide range of things you can do to help people – feeding, clothing, disaster relief and changing light bulbs for widows. The needs are there and churches ought to be engaged where they are.”