Former Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch ended his pastoral career at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., this week. Still driven to win people to Jesus Christ nearly a year after launching a major evangelism campaign, Welch baptized eight people on his final day at the pulpit.
After 32 years of pastoring and 11 months of charging hundreds of Southern Baptist congregations across the nation to witness, win and baptize one million people by the end of September 2006 in the "Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge," Welch left the Florida congregation Sunday with persistent words to "keep going for the lost," according to Baptist Press.
"It’s time for you to go where God is leading you in the future. It’s time for me to go do whatever God’s going to do with me," he told the congregation. "But I can promise you this: as we go different ways today, if we keep coming to Jesus and we keep going for the lost ... we will continue to see each other and bump into each other on the journey."
Welch had initiated the "Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge" last summer at the SBC annual convention in Nashville, Tenn., with a plea to all Southern Baptists to join in the once-in-a-lifetime effort and opportunity to witness, win, baptize and steward one million people. In June, the annual convention continued the denomination's focus on reaching the world for Jesus Christ as it brought the SBC leaders together.
Reports have indicated a sharp drop in annual baptisms in the past several decades of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1950, Southern Baptists baptized one person for every 19 church members. In 2003, the ratio dropped to one baptism for every 43 church members, according to research by Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Countering that trend, Welch's evangelism initiative has seen 5,430 baptisms from 304 of 43,465 Southern Baptist churches to date, according to a report on the campaign website. The numbers represent less than one percent of the total churches to report. Welch had said it's too early to evaluate progress in terms of numbers because churches have yet to report but he is optimistic of the year end reports.
In his final Sunday service, the congregation named Welch pastor emeritus and gave a love offering from members across the denomination.
"My deep commitment to the Lord is to give the best of the rest of my life to multiplying soul winners to reach the world through the SBC. My quest is to see the Convention do more then ever before - more going and more giving! I plan to do this by encouraging more going and giving through state conventions, pastor's conferences, evangelism conferences, local churches, and association-wide meetings," Welch said of his plans after ending his pastorate, in the August issue of SBC Life.
"By the work of Christ, you of the Southern Baptist Convention can win this world now!"
Welch ended his two-year tenure at the 2006 annual meeting where Frank Page, pastor at First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., was "surprisingly" elected as the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention.