I like Bobby Welch. I have only met him on one occasion, around ten years ago when I was serving as an Associate Pastor of FBC Poinciana, near Kissimmee, FL. The Senior Pastor and I took a group of folks from our church to a F.A.I.T.H. Evangelism Training event at First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach. Pastor Bobby’s enthusiasm for reaching the lost — whether in your own hometown or half-way around the world — was contagious! At the conclusion of the training, I asked Pastor Bobby to sign a copy of my F.A.I.T.H. New Testament, which he graciously did.
Maybe I’m biased, but as a native Floridian who was reared in a Southern Baptist church in the middle of the state, I always looked to pastors like Bobby Welch and Orlando’s Jim Henry as heroes in the faith. Leaders of “mega churches,” these men never came across as a celebrity pastor or a rising star. Whether watching Jim Henry’s video series on Deacons or seeing Bobby Welch’s “Everyone Can” bus tour, it seemed that “what you saw was what you got.” At least from my vantage point as a grassroots pastor of a Southern Baptist church, men like Bobby Welch and Jim Henry had (and still have) a down-to-earth servant attitude that appears to be sorely lacking in many within the SBC establishment.
It was with a servant’s heart and a compassion for seeing the lost won to Christ that Bobby Welch served Southern Baptists as President of our Convention from 2004-2006. As a large church pastor, he led FBC Daytona Beach to give 15% of their undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program each year. When only “a handful of mega churches” give at least 10% or more to CP each year, why would Daytona Beach send so much money to the Florida Baptist Convention (pre-Imagine If) and the SBC? Perhaps Bobby Welch answered this question best when he told Baptist Press in 2006,
“The Baptists’ best bounce for their Baptist buck is through C.P. [the Cooperative Program],” Welch said during his president’s address. “With the Cooperative Program, everyone can. Your dollar works seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all around the world, non-stop — even when you’re snoring, asleep, it’s still working.”
Was this hyperbole or did Bobby Welch really mean what he said? Considering that he led his church to consistently and sacrificially give 15% of undesignated receipts to partner with other churches — large and small — to fulfill the Great Commission, I would say that he was speaking and living out the truth. If he says that the Cooperative Program is the best way to fund missions, then I believe that he means it. I can’t envision Bobby Welch saying that “he thinks CP is important and worthy of honor and affirmation as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach,” and then take actions which even appeared to undermine his word. I can envision quite a few current pastors in Florida and elsewhere who would say and do exactly that.
Four years after he spoke these words, Welch made what appear to be his only public comments on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and its recommendations. In an interview with Will Hall of Baptist Press, Bobby Welch, former pastor of mega church FBC Daytona Beach, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and current (although probably soon-to-be former) head of Global Evangelical Relations (that doesn’t plant churches, does it?), he spoke words of wisdom for anyone willing to listen. Maybe you missed reading what he had to say back in June. It’s never too late to learn from one of the SBC’s finest servants. Welch said:
The two-year effort (speaking of his SBC Presidency and “Everyone Can” bus tour) proved that it is absolutely POSSIBLE to rally the entire SBC to a “unity of purpose” that begins with the local churches of all sizes, shapes and forms. I have read that greater than 90% of CP giving comes from churches with under 2,000 in attendance, with 63% of that number from churches with attendance less than 500. Additionally, churches with attendance under 200 give more than 1/3 of that 93% total (and more than 50% of all SBC churches have 100 or less in attendance). Without a doubt, when churches have that wide, deep and sacrificial level of support overall — they will, of course, respond more favorably and quickly to things that process by way of their base and commitments.
Understanding this fact is exactly why I, for two years, practically lived out in that huge SBC environment via bus, car, plane, foot, etc. That, in turn, created an extraordinary grassroots groundswell for something near and dear to their hearts. It was also directly helpful immediately to their personal calling and task at their local church for reaching and discipling lost souls. To most on the field, this grassroots path is viewed and appreciated as a very sharp contrast to what they consider to be the so-called “top down – our idea” approach. The grassroots road is a road less traveled but it is the only path to our only hope — which is “unity of purpose” for the sake of lost souls! (emphasis added)
Does Bobby Welch actually believe what he told Will Hall of Baptist Press just days before the Orlando Convention? Surely those numbers about churches and their Cooperative Program giving must be wrong? All this talk about the so-called “grassroots” and roads less traveled is just mushy, wrong-headed thinking, right? I mean, didn’t Bobby get the memo about how “unity of purpose” can be dreamed up behind closed doors and imposed by the big boys from the top down on all those unsuspecting small and medium-sized churches that keep sending in 63% of all CP contributions? Oh, I forgot. Memos like that won’t see the light of day for 15 years.
Was Bobby Welch wrong about the Cooperative Program in 2006? Did he misspeak in his pre-Convention interview in 2010? As one of those grassroots pastors — a lifelong Southern Baptist — I think that Welch was right then and he is right now. If the less traveled grassroots road is closed to traffic, then what road will the “Everyone Can” bus of cooperating Southern Baptists end up on? If Bobby Welch is right, it will end up on the road to less cooperation, less hope, less unity of purpose, and ultimately, less souls won for Christ. I suppose that Pastor Bobby could be wrong. But, don’t be surprised when grassroots Southern Baptists — the ones he actually took the time to get to know — prove him right!