South Carolina Baptists zero in on personal evangelism at 2015 annual meeting

Writers: Butch Blume & Scott Vaughan

In a two-day meeting imbued with a sense of urgency for a return to personal evangelism, South Carolina Baptists gathered for their 195th annual meeting Nov. 10-11 at Spartanburg First Baptist Church under the theme, “Tell the Story.”

In addition to hearing from speakers who reiterated the compelling need for every believer to share the Gospel, 965 messengers (up from last year’s 941), representing 440 of the state convention’s 2,138 churches, approved a $28.6 million budget, adopted a new vision statement, elected officers, endorsed resolutions addressing moral and social concerns, and voted to end fellowship with a Greenville church after its pastor performed a same-sex marriage (see stories on following pages).

Tell the Story

Tommy Kelly, pastor of First Baptist Church of Varnville, presided over the meeting as 2015 convention president. He urged messengers to work toward making sure every person in South Carolina hears the Gospel by the 200th annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2020.

Other speakers — including interim state executive director-treasurer Richard Harris; Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg; Frank Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; and LifeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer — all lamented Southern Baptists’ loss of focus in evangelism and the need to return to it.

Speaking at Wednesday morning’s closing session, Stetzer, who is also a church planter and pastor, said, “The church is not dead, but our culture is changing, and it is impacting the church. Across the country, 77 percent of the population claims to be Christian, but most people are tepid in their approach to Christianity. Most people don’t talk about Jesus.

“We must get back to personal evangelism, training people to be soul-winners, and pastors must lead by example. We, as Southern Baptists, are the evangelism folks.”

Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church in Fort Mill, was elected 2016 convention president. At his press conference following the meeting, Tucker said, “I don’t want to see our convention decline anymore. We have to win people for Jesus in South Carolina. We must launch out in prayer and personal evangelism.”

Messengers also approved a motion from the Future Vision Committee of the SCBC Executive Board to adopt a new convention vision statement: “Helping Churches Fulfill the Great Commission.”

Interim executive director-treasurer Richard Harris applauded the work of South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief in the wake of October’s floods, reporting that more than 80,000 meals have been served by volunteers and more than $338,000 has been given for Baptist relief efforts from 32 states.

Harris also affirmed the leadership of North Greenville University and reported an Executive Board decision to restore Cooperative Program funding to the school following former president Jimmy Epting’s abrupt resignation and questions that followed it. Harris said convention leadership had met with the school’s leadership and all questions had been answered satisfactorily.

Next year’s annual meeting will be held Nov. 15-16 at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo.

— Butch Blume is managing editor of The Courier. Scott Vaughan is interim director of communications for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.