on Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Counting gospel conversations was never the end goal for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College’s Caskey Center scholarship program that requires students to share the gospel weekly. The point was to lead others to faith.  

But seven years into the program, Caskey scholarship recipients recently crossed the mark of 50,000 gospel conversations.

Jeff Farmer, Caskey Center associate director and statistician, said each gospel conversation is the result of students becoming intentional in sharing.

“We’re now over 50,000 times that students have left their comfort zones and have contended for the faith,” Farmer said. “[The students] don’t count conversations with believers. These are all unbelievers. We celebrate that.” 

The Caskey Center provides resources, including a designated number of scholarships, for bivocational and smaller membership church ministers in Southern Baptist churches in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

While 50,000 might seem impressive, Farmer pointed to a “more gratifying” statistic -- the number who have come to faith in Christ.

“Each semester … we’ve seen approximately 12 percent of those conversations ending up with people coming to faith in Christ,” Farmer said. “That means there are over 6,000 new believers because of this evangelism requirement.”

Steve Kelley, a Leavell College student and Caskey scholarship recipient, logged the 50,000th conversation on September 20. Though Kelley’s conversation did not result in a profession of faith that day, he continues faithfully to share.

“The Lord does the saving. We do the sharing and He takes care of the rest,” Kelley explained.

Kelley, a Leavell College student and minister of evangelism at Highland Baptist Church, Gordo, Alabama, said sharing weekly did not feel natural at first. Prayer was the key, he added.

With gratitude, Kelley pointed to Caskey Center director Mark Tolbert’s encouragement to pray each Monday morning for opportunities that week to share and to ask for an alertness to the spiritual conditions of others.

“The most powerful thing we can do is pray,” Kelley said. “Everything we do spiritually starts there.”

While the Caskey scholarship made a seminary education financially possible for Kelley, it was the program’s emphasis on weekly evangelism that “made all the difference” to his ministry, Kelley said.

“It’s easy to get into the thought of, ‘You’re just wasting your time’ or ‘These people don’t care about the gospel.’ That’s the continual pounding in your ears from the enemy,” Kelley explained. “But when you can actually see that seed planted and come to fruition, it gives you an inner spark, an energy to continue going forward and make it a priority.”

Caskey students often lead their church members to commit also to sharing the gospel each week, Farmer said. While only Caskey students’ conversations are recorded in the tally, leading others to share regularly shows what happens when believers live out the Great Commission, he added.

A gospel conversation is defined as a one-on-one conversation with an unbeliever that transitions to the gospel, Farmer explained.

“We try to emphasize that the only time you fail at evangelism is when you don’t speak up,” Farmer said. “Let the Holy Spirit do His job. My job is to share my story and how my life has been impacted by the gospel. God will do the rest.”

Farmer pointed to the book “Sharing Jesus Without Fear,” by William Fay. Fay’s simple approach keeps scripture central in evangelism which helps relieve the fear of sharing. Farmer pointed out that everyone has a comfort zone, but being intentional about sharing the gospel means simply going “one step further.”

Farmer noted that all Caskey scholarship recipients serve at smaller membership churches, a focus that reflects the Southern Baptist Convention’s history.

“It’s our past but it can be our future,” Farmer said. “We are a small church denomination and small churches can make a big impact on the world for the cause of Christ. I anticipate that the next 50,000 [conversations] won’t take as long. I think we are gathering some steam here.”