Many at the conference were upbeat, feeling they are entering a more genuine era of evangelizing. Both evangelizer and nonbeliever, people said, are able to be more frank.
"In the '50s, '60s, '70s, if you wanted to sell insurance in the South you had to join the local Southern Baptist church," Mohler told a huge audience of younger pastors Tuesday. That is gone, "but on the other hand, we're left with the Gospel, which is a good place to be. For us to think honestly about how evangelistic we are. Every believer is hard-won."
Mohler went further, telling the crowd he thinks the reputation of Southern Baptists is overrated. "The vast majority of people we ever baptized were our own children," he said.
Some research has shown that Christians in the millennial generation may be more open to speaking about their faith. A 2013 Barna Group study of self-described young born-agains showed that millennials share their faith more than any other age group and were the only ones among whom evangelism is on the rise. Southern Baptists weren't addressed separately in that research.
The entire playing field has changed, Stetzer said.
"For 30 years, there was a standard evangelistic pickup line: 'If you die today, do you know for sure you'll go to heaven?' We kind of had the home-field advantage. If you wanted to get right with God, we could tell you how. Now we've lost our home-field advantage, and I think there is now a hunger for more evangelistic engagement."