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Baptists challenged to baptize 1 million, raise $750 million

ATLANTA -- Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson challenged his denomination Tuesday to recruit 1 million new members and collect $750 million for mission causes in 12 months.

Patterson issued the challenge during the opening day of the national convention's annual meeting in the Georgia Dome. The former Texan was also re-elected to a second one-year term as president of the 15.7 million member denomination without opposition.Patterson is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

In his convention sermon, Patterson also challenged the predominantly white, rurally based denomination to reach out to the inner cities and ethnic communities. He also announced plans for a television "superstation" to broadcast nationally and later internationally.

"Can we lead to Christ and baptize 1 million people in 12 months -- 500,000 in America and 500,000 around the world?" Patterson asked in challenging more than 11,000 delegates in the Georgia Dome.

The denomination now registers more than 400,000 baptisms annually.

Evangelism has always been a high priority for Southern Baptists but has taken on a new significance with convention leaders since membership declined last year for the first time since 1926.

Patterson issued an impassioned call for the denomination to nearly double its annual giving to achieve the $750 million goal. Southern Baptists contribute more than $400 million annually to support national agencies and seminaries as well as national and international missions.

"We as Southern Baptists could easily double our giving -- in fact, we must," Patterson said. He said increased giving would make possible a superstation that could broadcast daily worldwide. "On our own superstation, we can teach and preach the full gospel of the New Testament without the compromise we often face even on Christian networks," he said.

In other actions, convention leaders and delegates, known as messengers, continued to criticize President Clinton for proclaiming June as gay and lesbian pride month. Patterson and other convention leaders have chastised Clinton for what they perceive as affirmation of a sinful lifestyle.