How to Baptize a Bunch of People

In a society that seems to be “losing its religion”, is it possible to baptize a bunch of people? It’s no secret that churches are struggling. Our local newspaper recently published an article about the decline of many churches in our area. The Southern Baptist Convention has been experiencing declining baptisms for at least a decade. I serve as the evangelism director for our local Baptist association. In 2017 over 40 of our 60+ churches reported 0 baptisms. Something has to change.

Finding an answer and making a change is what motivates every pastor, including myself. I found that the answer to baptizing a bunch of people is not in doing a new thing, but in doing what we do more intentionally and prayerfully.

This summer at Liberty, we baptized 72 people. Scott Barkley of The Christian Index wrote a great article covering the story. Personally, we learned a lot from this experience and our plan is to build off of it. So, how can you not only ignite evangelistic fervor in your church but turn the traditional summer slump into an amazing ministry opportunity? In the past couple of weeks, several people have been asking how we did it at Liberty. Here is what we did and what I learned from the experience.

Hopeful

After studying some of the issues churches are having in baptizing people, I envisioned an outdoor baptism for our church. I thought of it as a goal we could set for our summer that would help us bring better focus to our ministries.

I pitched the idea to our leadership, but I also painted a picture. I talked about what each of our summer ministry opportunities could bring to the table in accomplishing our goal. We shouldn’t just be trying to accomplish a calendar of events, we should be seeking to accomplish a God-ordained mission. We shouldn’t be just going over the calendar. We should be seeking to obey Christ’s command.

We began to pencil in some plans. Then it was time to share the vision with the congregation. But I didn’t want to simply tell the church what we were doing, I wanted to get people personally invested.

Use the word “imagine.”

Johnny Decker led his 81 year old father to the Lord. Johnny helps him out of the water after his baptism.

The word “imagine” is a powerful word. I asked each person to imagine them standing in the water with someone they loved as they were being baptized. I asked them to pray for that person. Invite that person. Have gospel-centered conversations with that person throughout the summer. A group of people with a hopeful vision and an active imagination is a powerful thing!

There was hardly a week that went by that I didn’t use the word “imagine.” I wanted our people to visualize it. See the possibility of it and bring it to God in prayer. Even on the final Sunday, I asked our people to imagine that person standing with them being baptized “tonight!” I asked them to make one more call. To issue one more invitation. Use the word imagine – a lot!

Intentional

The curious thing about our summer is that we “did” what we “do.” We kept our summer schedule as is – VBS, youth camp, Sunday services, Wednesday activities, Celebrate Recovery . . . We did what we do, but we did it with greater intentionality.

  1. We set a goal and we set a date. Our goal was 30 baptisms on August 18. That gave us roughly 12 weeks to work our plan. We broke our baptism goal down into tangible ministry objectives. If we were going to baptize 30, that means that we would like to see X number of people reached at X ministry opportunity.
  2. We set numeric goals for each ministry and event. If we set a goal of having 60 men at a men’s event, our next question was, “What do we have to do to get 60 men there?” Here’s a way to get 5 here. 15 there, these 20 will come if we . . . We didn’t just set goals, we broke them down and created action plans for each goal. Some people are critical of numeric goals. I usually don’t hang out with those people :). But I say often, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
  3. We worked at getting better at gathering information. We’ve always done a good job of gathering crowds at Liberty. We have not done a good job of getting information. If you don’t get people’s information you can’t continue the conversation, you won’t lead them to salvation, and there will be ZERO follow up. Being transparent here, but over the course of the summer we missed and lost a lot of information. Had we retained that info and carried through with our follow up, we might have baptized 100 people this summer. We’ll never know. But it happens and we made sure we learned from our mistakes.
  4. We evaluated our lists on a weekly basis. As people were responding throughout the summer we made a list and evaluated it regularly. Each week we looked at the list as a staff and made adjustments and assignments in light of our goals and objectives. We tried to communicate with key leaders and help them meet baptism goals in their areas of ministry.
  5. We encouraged those being baptized to invite their family and friends. We not only encouraged those invitations, but we helped them with those invitations. We sent cards and invites. We created social media posts that people could share with their friends.
  6. We made lots of calls. One of the most exciting things about the summer happened in the final two weeks. We had set a goal of 30 baptisms. About 3 weeks before our target date, our list surpassed the 30 mark. A week later it surpassed 40. Then we began making calls to our baptism candidates as a means of answering questions, sharing information, and encouraging people. We were just trying to help recent converts follow through with their commitment, but those calls turned into so much more.

    So I would make a call and that person would tell me about a person they had invited to their baptism. They would then tell me about how they shared Christ with their friend, and their friend was saved. They would then ask me, “Would you call ____?” YES I WILL! That happened about 10 times as I was making calls. The list then went over 50, then on to 60 just because people were inviting people. It became a very “Book of Acts” kind of experience.

Prayerful

At Liberty, we end our Sundays and we begin our week together in the altar. Yes, we do have a Sunday night service. Yes, it is a smaller crowd, but it is a critical crowd. For the most part, these are our leaders. On Sunday nights we practice corporate prayer. Each Sunday night we layout 2-3 things before the Lord and we agree together about in prayer. As we approached VBS, we would pray for VBS and for our goals for VBS. We did that all summer for each ministry opportunity. Each Sunday night of the summer, we prayed for the lost. We prayed for our goal of 30 baptisms. We agreed together and WOW did the Lord answer!

Gospel

It should go without saying that as a church everything we do should be evangelistic, but it isn’t! Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to draw crowds that we forget that we should also be drawing the net. We should be fishing for men! We should be telling people about Jesus and inviting them to repent of sin and turn to Him in faith.

We made sure, this summer, that we were sharing the gospel clearly in every ministry opportunity and that we were inviting people to make a decision of turning to Christ in repentance and faith.

The Lost and Found Sermon Series

I also preached a sermon series that emphasized the importance of evangelism and the urgency of the gospel. The series was called Lost and Found. You can watch each message here on my YouTube Channel. You can also access the sermon series in audio and video via the Liberty sermon archive.

Here is a rundown of message titles and texts.

  • Lost and Found – Luke 15
  • Totally Lost – Romans 1:18-32
  • Religiously Lost – Romans 2
  • Eternally Lost – Revelation 20:11-15
  • The Seeker, Zaccheus – Luke 19:1-10
  • The Hater, Saul – Acts 9:1-22
  • The Outsider, Cornelius – Acts 10
  • The Thinker, Paul at Mars Hill – Acts 17:10-34
  • Baptism, Importance – 1 Peter 3:18-22
  • Baptism, Picture – Romans 6:1-14
  • Baptism, Obedience – Acts 8:26-40

Powerful

The end result of being hopeful, intentional, prayerful, and centered on the gospel was POWERFUL. I’ve seen some amazing things in 22 years of serving Christ as a pastor, but seeing 72 people come to Christ – baptizing 64 of them in one day – it was truly amazing!

For me, the highlight of the day was in baptizing a young guy, probably late 20’s, who was recently saved in a prison Bible study. He began attending Liberty mid-summer and has been truly loved by our people. After he came up out of the water he gave me a hug and said, “I never thought my life would be like this!” Me neither bro! Me neither!

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My Personal Experience with Baptism

There are some passages in the Bible that are strange. Near the top of the list is 1 Peter 3. Our mistake is that most often we only want to speak to the strange while ignoring the plain. My advice in reading Scripture is pay attention to the plain and your understanding of the strange may indeed come in time.

In the midst of the strange 3rd chapter of 1 Peter is a plain teaching about baptism. Verse 21 reads,

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

This verse is meaningful to me simply because its truth is an integral part of my story. Around the age of eight I heard a stirring sermon about hell in an overheated church, in the midst of a mid-summer VBS in North Georgia. Young boys have vivid imaginations. Hell is an image certain to ignite young male minds. It was hot. I was scared. Apparently this plague of fear also gripped every other young boy sitting with me on the pew. When the invitation was given they scorched the aisle. I followed close behind.

There are certain things contagious to me. When a person yawns, I will join in. Even in typing the word “yawn”, I do so. If someone gets sick to their stomach and shares the joy, I have to work hard not to be next. When people are laughing, I will laugh, even when I am not privy to the conversation. It is the same with tears. Tears are contagious. When “me” and the boys arrived at the altar everyone was crying. I started crying. A woman immediately grabbed me, knelt down beside me and began praying for me. When she finished praying for me she asked, “Do you feel better?” I did, so I affirmed. She then told me that I had been saved.

A few weeks later I was baptized. I still have the commemorative Bible here in my office. Yet as I grew older, especially into my teenage years I got a stirring sense that my issues with eternity were not settled. The woman in the altar was wrong. I was not saved. Yet, I participated in church, and later became a leader in our youth group. I even stated that I felt called into the ministry. Everything I affirmed in my life was in hopes that I could erase the sense of guilt that condemned my conscience. Publically I was a Christian. Privately I was something else.

My faith was very public, yet privately it was non-existent. To some who knew me “when” this post may be surprising. To a select few it may not. There were skeletons and vices in my closet that even to this day bring me dire shame. I could play the part. Even still that left me only an actor on a stage, but very far from being born again. I had no desire to read Scripture or to pray outside of being told to do so. The only desire I had to pray was to constantly ask God to give me some assurance of salvation. Though I attended church I grew to despise the sermons due to the looming sense of guilt that seemed to come with them.

I wanted release. If I had logged the entries I would say that I prayed to be saved thousands of times yet with no answer. I remember working summer jobs, fearing eternity, praying for assurance. I prayed nightly, daily, incessantly the same prayer, “Lord please save me and give me assurance of eternal life.” When I prayed that prayer, especially in my later teen years, I would always receive a sense of calling along with it, a call to surrender.

The call to surrender was general, but also very specific. I knew that an important expression of salvation was baptism. Every time I prayed for salvation I also faced the fear of baptism. I wanted the Lord to save me, but I did not want to follow Him and be baptized again. My hypocritical life had become a curse to me. If I publically demonstrated repentance and faith in baptism I feared that my church would wonder what the rest of my life had really been all about. I wanted the Lord to privately save me, an under the table deal, just between the two of us. He refused. My spirit constantly confirmed it.

It was not until March of 1992 that I finally surrendered. I wanted release from the guilt of my sin. I wanted the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. I wanted also to follow the Lord’s call to surrender my life, act number one being baptism. Why was baptism such a provocation of my conscience those many years? My suspicion is that it was much like the rich young ruler’s money. It was the one thing I would not surrender. For me it was too much a memorial of public repentance. It was the burial of a great actor with a guilty conscience. But it finally came to the point that I so desperately wanted to bury him. I cannot perfectly state my prayer in that moment, but I can perfectly state the result. Salvation.

When Peter says that baptism is not the removal of the filth of the flesh, I know what he means. Without repentance and faith little boys who are baptized are merely wet little boys who will soon dry. When Peter says that baptism “now saves you”, I know what he means. He means that surrender is surrender in any context, especially in the early steps, even in baptism. If a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, baptism was one of those initial steps for me, following closely behind repentance and faith. My later baptism was an answer of a good conscience toward God, “and that has made all the difference.”[1]

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[1] Robert Frost, Road Less Travelled

Baptized Again?

I have had many inquiries this week from people who are pondering whether they should be baptized again. The most common formula is someone who was baptized after a conversion type experience as a child, who did not fully comprehend the ramifications of the decision at the time, now as an adult and growing in Christ, has a desire to be baptized now that they are fully understanding of its significance. I would be someone, in some sense, to be included in this formula. I have been baptized twice, once as a child following a conversion experience and then again at the age of 19 after experiencing many doubts about the sincerity of my earlier decision. I will share that story this weekend in the sermon and will post it in writing Monday, Lord willing.

For now I would say that baptism is a matter of conversion and conscience.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21).

As odd as this passage is overall there are some aspects of it that are very clear. One is that baptism is not able to remove the filth of the flesh. At the same time, clearly taught in this passage, there is something salvific in baptism. Baptism is a natural part of one’s salvation experience. I know this is very un-Baptist of me, but in our race to distinguish ourselves from those who overemphasize the role of baptism in salvation I think Baptists are guilty of under emphasizing the importance of baptism (as odd as this may be for a people who borrow the term baptism for their identity). We are guilty of making a crass statement, “You do not need to be baptized in order to be saved.” I think we should be careful in making this statement. Baptism is an integral part of the expression of salvation. Does this mean if a person claims salvation but does not follow through with baptism that they are not truly saved? My response to this would be, given that the person has had the opportunity to be baptized, but has not, one has to wonder if they are indeed born again. I understand that there are multitudes of people who fear baptism whether it is a concern of being before people or a fear of water. But in a faith that demands my all, and in a faith in which multitudes have died for Christ, I am not sure fear is ever a valid excuse.

The other clear teaching in this passage is that baptism is a matter of conscience. Even before I share with you my story, I would venture to say that you know what you need to do. If you are a believer who needs to be baptized I would say that there is a matter of conscience you are seeking to answer. If you are an unbeliever who needs salvation and baptism there is a matter of a convicted conscience you are seeking to answer. An element of my baptism story is that I very much knew what I needed to do. At the same time if you are a growing Christian who now appreciates the meaning of baptism more than you did when you were a child, but at the same time you are fully convinced you were saved as a child, I would recommend against you being baptized again. If it is a matter of conscience, fine, but if it is only because you know more now than you did then, that is not sufficient reason to be baptized again. As an adult who has gained a greater appreciation, use that knowledge to more fully appreciate the baptism you have experienced.

I should also say that I do not think being baptized “again” crucifies the Son of God all over again as some have expressed in their inquiries this week. I think the Bible makes clear that apostasy and sin have the capability of making this a metaphorical reality, but the Bible never mentions that baptism or re-baptism has this power. On that note, I would say that if I ever have the opportunity to travel to Israel and be baptized in the Jordan River; that will in effect be baptism number 3 for me. This is indeed, for me, a matter of conscience.

Should you be baptized again? You know the answer.

Sprinkle or Dunk?

Baptism is commonly administered in one of three ways; immersion (totally submerging a person in water), pouring water over a person (Catholics refer to this as infusion), or by simply sprinkling water over a person. Which of the three are valid, or should we say more valid? Does it really matter? Is the mode of baptism irrelevant if a person is doing it for the right reasons?

As a Baptist pastor I know more of the reasons for immersion than I do reasons for infusion or sprinkling. Sprinkling and pouring are not foreign concepts to Scripture or early Christian practice. It is true that in the early church pouring was used as a valid mode of baptism. However it seems that this mode was used only when “living water (running water such as in a river or stream) was not available.”[1] When running water was not available baptism would be administered by pouring water over a person three times, once in the name of the Father, the second time in the name of the Son, and the third time in the name of the Holy Spirit. What is interesting about this is that for most of us that immerse, our current method of the indoor baptistry would not be considered a valid mode of baptism because it is not “living water.” Even in the modern context there are many groups who practice immersion who would not consider baptizing anyone in any body of water other than a running stream. We should also acknowledge that while immersion was a common practice of the Jews, sprinkling was also a common mode of administering blood or water in purification rituals (Num. 19:18, Hebrews 9:19).

Why immersion? It is clear in the New Testament that immersion was the mode of baptism practiced by John and the first century church. In examining the language used in passages about baptism one will find words that communicate an image of people being fully in water, coming up out of water, or needing a sufficient body of water in order to be baptized (Mk. 1:5, Mk. 1:10, John 3:23, Acts 8:36). We also find in the New Testament that baptism by immersion communicates more clearly the idea of participating with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, as well as the idea of salvation as a means of washing away the stain of sin (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:12, Acts 22:16, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21). Furthermore the Greek word we translate “baptize” in the New Testament is a word used to describe the process of dyeing fabric or yarn in which the material is immersed fully into ink.

As a pastor I have never experienced difficulty in arguing these points from Scripture. Most people would acknowledge that immersion better typifies participation with Christ in salvation and that it is a better symbol of washing away sin. The difficulty with baptism is most often on a personal level. Baptism is a matter of conscience. For those who have been sprinkled as a believer, baptism is as personal to them as it is to someone who has been immersed as a believer. As a pastor I must always be careful not to belittle a person’s conversion or baptism experience. Yet in holding to my beliefs and the policy of the church, this is all but impossible to do. As Baptists, at least in the policy of our church and most Baptists churches, we only consider people who have been immersed as believers for membership with the church[2]. Many people who have been sprinkled feel this policy belittles their baptism. I understand their point, yet I still hold to my own convictions on the matter. Furthermore, some would say that if baptism does not save a person, why do we make such a big deal about the mode of baptism?

The reason, as Baptists, we hold so strongly to Baptism by immersion is more about the positive than the negative. We believe immersion is clearly the proper mode of baptism as taught and practiced by Scripture and the apostolic church. As such, I would also have to logically conclude and say that other forms of baptism such as sprinkling and pouring are the wrong modes of baptism because they are not modes of immersion. In making this statement, I would at the same time, not want to damage the conscience of a brother or sister in Christ. This is a fine line, and I am not sure at this point I can adequately walk it. There are many incredible people of God of whom I am firmly convinced know Christ intimately, who are clearly born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who have not been baptized by immersion. There are many people who have not been immersed that I wish were members of RBC. We are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, but at the same time I would encourage them to be baptized by immersion so that they may not only follow the example of Jesus in baptism, but also properly typify what God has done in their salvation in burying and raising them in Christ Jesus.

In researching this topic I came across an interesting set of documents published online by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota under the direction of Pastor John Piper. It seems in 2005 they wrestled with the issue of welcoming for membership those who have not been baptized by immersion. From what I understand in their documentation, the conclusion was that they would accept for membership those who have not been immersed only after they have submitted themselves to the teachings of the church on baptism by immersion. If a person has humbly heard these teaching and considered them; and they still hold in their conscience that their baptism is valid, Bethlehem will accept them as members as not to violate their conscience. Here is a link to the document. There are many others posted in the same context, including dissenting opinions, that speaks to the issue as well http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/baptism_and_membership/QuestionsAndAnswers.pdf.

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[1] Didache (Teachings of the Apostles), chapter 7. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html
[2] The Baptist Faith and Message, Articles VI and VII.

Who Should be Baptized?

The short answer to the question of “who should be baptized” is “believers.” The common expression in most protestant circles concerning baptism has always been “believer’s baptism.” However, like all commonly used terms, the more a term is used the more its meaning erodes. This is certainly the case with the term “believers.” Although it is hard to find a singular word to capture the truth on this matter we should say that those who should be baptized are people who have demonstrated repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Savior.

If it is true then that those who have demonstrated repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as Christ should be baptized we could also say at least two things in this regard:

  1. Babies and small children should not be baptized.

Some Christian faiths practice infant baptism as a means to remove original sin from children. Those who practice infant baptism would hold that while a child cannot comprehend repentance and faith, baptism in infancy serves as a means to somehow assure that salvation has, and in a another sense, will take place (if this is not the case I would invite someone from that circle to share with me the proper position on this; BAPTISTS NEED NOT APPLY). If my statement is indeed the proper position on infant baptism, there is nothing in the Bible that demonstrates this is true. In Scripture, namely the book of Acts, everyone who was called on for baptism had also demonstrated repentance of sin and faith in Jesus as Savior. Some would hold that the “household” salvations in Acts, such as that of Lydia (16:15) or the Philippian Jailer (16:36), support the idea of infant baptism. To say that the household idea supports baptism is quite an inference upon the text. The primary meaning of the text does not point to this issue, nor does it imply anywhere the age of the children, that they even had children, or the idea that if there were children that they needed to be baptized in order to remove original sin.

On this issue we should seek the plain teaching of Scripture. The plain teaching of Scripture is that baptism is for those who have demonstrated repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as Savior; this is hard to dispute in any context. This being said, I would like at this point to deter what is becoming a common practice in households who do not hold to infant baptism. More and more as a pastor I am hearing language that goes something like, “It is time for (insert child’s name here) to be baptized, he is getting to that age.” PARENTS SHOULD NOT PUSH BAPTISM UPON THEIR CHILDREN. PARENTS SHOULD TEACH THE GOSPEL TO THEIR CHILDREN. If a child cannot demonstrate repentance and faith at 7, 10, 12, or 18 he or she should not be baptized. If a parent pushes baptism upon a child who is not born again he has done a dangerous thing to his child. Most often the child will point to his or her baptism AS their salvation experience and may not ever truly contemplate the demands of the gospel upon their soul. As a parent I would rather my children be saved than wet! Wouldn’t you?

  1. It is extremely odd and conflicting for a person to say they have repented of their sin and have faith in Christ but yet NOT participate in baptism.

In this post I do not wish to discuss the idea of baptism as a salvific act. Yet as a pastor of a church that does not believe baptism is necessary to save, I have noticed another anomaly that develops in such churches. The anomaly is that there is a remnant of people who claim Jesus as Savior but yet do not participate in baptism.

In reading the New Testament one will find that it is a foreign concept that someone would be saved but not baptized. The thief on the cross in Luke 23 is the only example I find that this was the case. Obviously, his was a most unusual circumstance. Unless a person comes to Christ in a state of health in which it makes it impossible for them to be baptized, those who claim Jesus as Savior should be baptized. For those who have demonstrated repentance and faith, baptism is the right thing to do. I would go so far as to say it is the natural thing to do. 1 Peter 3:21 confirms this is true. Baptism without faith does not save because it is unable to remove the filth of the flesh, but at the same time baptism in faith is salvific as an answer of a good conscience toward God. If you demonstrate repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ you should be baptized.