The head of the Southern Baptist Convention has stated his intention to appoint a task force to study the decline in baptisms and membership for the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
SBC President Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee, gave the president's address on Tuesday at the SBC's annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
During his remarks to more than 4,300 messengers at the annual meeting, Gaines explained his plans to create "a soul-winning task force that will look into ways that as Southern Baptists we can be more effective in personal evangelism and soul-winning and also in evangelistic preaching."
Gaines also said there were "many wonderful things" happening within the SBC, including the planting of about 100 new churches a month.
"I'm grateful to God that now we are starting to send more and more missionaries back on the field, not pulling them off the field, but our [International Mission Board] is putting more and more missionaries back on the field," said Gaines.
"God has given us wonderful state conventions. I've gone to most all of our seminaries, I've been able to preach there. God is raising up many godly people to preach and to share the Gospel of Jesus."
While stressing that "we've got so many good things going on," Gaines acknowledged that "we have our challenges."
"We know that we're down in baptisms again. We understand that. But I rise before you today to remind us that there is hope," continued Gaines.
"There's hope for the Southern Baptist Convention. There's hope for the United States of America, there's hope for our lost world, because there's a bloody cross and there's an empty tomb, and praise God there is an occupied throne."
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To help reverse the trend of decline, Gaines said "every Christian is a minister" and called upon the thousands present to "be a soul-winner."
"After we have ministered to the Lord, and He has reciprocated and ministered to us then ... we are to minister to others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said Gaines.
"This last year, I have emphasized prayer everywhere I went. This next year, I'm going to emphasize soul-winning everywhere I go."
According to the SBC's Annual Church Profile report, the convention experienced a loss in membership and a decline in baptisms during 2016.
"Although the number of cooperating Southern Baptist congregations grew, reported membership of those churches declined by 77,786, down 0.51 percent to 15.2 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined 6.75 percent to 5.2 million worshipers," reported LifeWay last week.
"Southern Baptist churches baptized 280,773 people in 2016, a 4.89 percent decline from the 295,212 reported in 2015. The ratio of baptisms to total members was one baptism for every 54 members."
Gaines is not the only Southern Baptist leader to say that all Christians are ministers. In a Daily Hope devotional entry published in 2016, Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren drew a similar conclusion.
Warren wrote that while not every Christian is a pastor, every believer is a priest, according to the two obligations Old Testament priests had.
"They had the right, privilege, and responsibility to go directly to God. They could pray and talk to God, worship, and fellowship with God. Everybody else had to go through a priest," explained Warren.
"The priest had the privilege and responsibility of representing God to the people and ministering to the needs of other people (serving)."
Warren wrote that these "are the very two things that are true of you when you become a believer."
"You now have direct access to God. You don't have to pray through anybody else. You don't have to confess through anybody else. You don't have to fellowship with God through anybody else. You can read your Bible, talk with the Lord, and fellowship directly with Him," continued Warren.
"You have also been gifted for ministry to serve other people. Every Christian is a minister — not a pastor, but a minister. Any time you use your talents and gifts to help others, you are ministering."