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!

How to be a welcoming church.

Does the Bible encourage misogyny?

The Seeker

A computer scientist and a Google engineer created an algorithm to search the internet and rank the most influential people in history. As resistant as our culture seems to Him, Jesus still ranks #1. There are more websites that reference Jesus, more searches made of Jesus, and more information on Wikipedia about Jesus than any other person in history. What does this mean? It means that people are still interested in Jesus.

There are people in your life who are searching for Jesus and would welcome your conversations about Him. People are not interested in religion. People are not interested in debating your beliefs, but they are interested in Jesus. How can you help the seeker in their search?

I Can’t Take “No” For an Answer

I’m not sure anyone enjoys a pushy salesman. Here is a sure fire way to get out of the deal!

We can also be afraid of sounding pushy if we keep asking people to church. But if we believe what the Bible says and obey Jesus’ command, we can’t take NO for an answer! In this message I share four reasons why we can’t take No for an answer.

I Can’t Take “No” For an Answer from Liberty Baptist Church on Vimeo.

 

Will There Ever Be Another Billy Graham? I Hope Not.

On February 21 Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. It is estimated that he preached to more than 210 million people in over 180 countries. The numbers of people he spoke to through television and radio are incalculable. In 1996 the LA Times estimated that the crusade airing then on KTLA would reach a global audience of 2.5 billion people by the end of its 30-day run. No person in Christian history, including Jesus and the apostles, has shared the gospel with more people than Billy Graham. 

On February 23 The Wall Street Journal ran a story with the headline asking the question, “Will There Ever Be Another Billy Graham?” Thomas Kidd has written an excellent article posted on the First Things website that echoes the sentiments of many.

No. There will never be another Billy Graham.

As Kidd points out, Billy Graham came at a unique time in American history in which television became the primary mover of media and the culture had a respect for Christianity. Billy Graham was uniquely gifted both in persona and preaching for such a time as this. 

Things have changed. The media industry has fractured into a diverse collection of social and ideological networks all vying for people’s attention. In the current moral climate, the word evangelical no longer gets good ratings. I do not think Billy Graham could do what Billy Graham did in the current cultural context. 

God used one man, Billy Graham, to reach millions with the gospel. Will it ever happen again? I hope not.

We need more.

One man is not enough if we desire to reach millions in what’s now and especially in what’s next.

If God used one man to reach millions with the gospel, can you imagine the greater impact that millions could make by following the example of that one man? We do not need another Billy Graham. We need millions of them.    

What was it about Billy Graham that God can use in the rest of us to preach the gospel to an even greater audience?  

Humble

The most common word included in the headlines of America’s media outlets as they began to report on Billy Graham’s passing was the word humble. From Presidents to actors, from reporters to singers, from Catholics to Jews, they all describe Billy Graham as humble. 

Grant Wacker of Duke Divinity School shares a story from approximately 2007 when he and his wife were able to visit Mr. Graham in his home.

“We found him sitting in his easy chair in his study. As soon as he saw us, he struggled to his feet and asked whether we would like some iced tea. After he settled back into the chair, his assistant said, ‘Billy, Grant is writing a book about you.’ Graham responded, ‘Why?’

The Bible is filled with verses about the paradox of humility. Humility is not weakness, but controlled strength. It is through the brutality of humility that Jesus is raised to a place where his name is “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, it is the meek that shall inherit the earth. James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. On numerous occasions, the Bible affirms that humbling oneself is a powerful means to a God-given end. 

In a social media-saturated society that is about likes and views, we are misguided to think that we need someone else who can garner Billy Graham’s popularity. What we need are millions of Christians with Billy Graham’s humility. Millions who are able to say something powerful, yet not be condescending. Millions who are able to carry on a conversation without engendering an argument. Millions who can do some really radical things like Mr. Graham did such as apologize, admit that you don’t have all of the answers, and be transparent. 

Billy Graham appeared in the top ten of Gallup’s most admired men in the world 61 times.  President Ronald Reagan is at a distant second appearing 31 times. Billy Graham met and prayed with every President of the United States since Harry S. Truman. Billy Graham was called the Pastor to Presidents. 

The Pastor to Presidents also had an enormous impact on prisoners. In fact, Billy Graham was buried in a pine casket built by inmates in Louisiana’s infamous Angola Prison. The casket was lined with material from mattress pads and comforters bought at Wal-Mart. In total, the casket was worth about $215. 

If God used one humble man to make an impact from Pennsylvania Avenue to one of America’s worst prisons, imagine the difference it would make in our current culture if millions of God’s people exhibited Christ-like humility.

Moral

 In 1948 Billy Graham was 31 years old. He was transitioning from a Youth For Christ evangelist into running his independent evangelistic association. While holding a crusade in Modesto, California Billy Graham met with traveling partners George Beverley Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows. They drafted an agreement that if followed would help protect each of them from looming temptation and preserve the integrity of the ministry they were seeking to build. A written document was never produced, but the four principles of the agreement have been widely circulated.

The pact included things such as integrity in reporting crowd sizes and the numbers of people responding in meetings, measures of financial accountability, honesty in publicity, and sexual behavior. Each man pledged that he would not travel or be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife. 

The breach of such things as were mentioned in the Modesto Manifesto have been the reason countless preachers and evangelists have fallen during the 60 years Billy Graham’s ministry reached masses of people for Christ. What if more had taken morals as seriously as did Mr. Graham?

Christianity has entered an interesting era in America. Casting off the restraint of the church’s apparent legalism in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s where there was a lack of grace, Christians seem to have entered a new place of grace in which there is no moral restraint. The guy guzzling beer the pub on Saturday night will be leading worship at Re____________ Church on Sunday afternoon. The pastor who tells us to live simply and radically on mission does so under the cover of fabricated fog beneath a half million dollar light and laser display. Church leaders make impassioned pleas to stop sex trafficking but make plans to meet together on Sunday night to watch a movie filled with gratuitous sex. 

If nothing is too far for us there is no difference in us. The foolish thing about current Christianity is that perhaps we have become too obtuse in our liberty to realize that Jesus has called us to morality. If you and I need to be reminded of Jesus’ moral expectations for our lives, ask a person who is not a Christian. They can articulate perfectly what our problem is. We major on forgiveness and have forgotten that we are also called to obey His commands.  

The call of Christ is to come out of the world and redeem it. Billy Graham was effective at this not because he was relevant, but because he was different. People respected what he said because he demonstrated the power of a life set apart for Christ. 

Grace is important, but so is obedience. One cannot truly enjoy grace unless it leads to obedience. In James 1 we are called to be doers of the word. Those who do not are likened to a man who looks at his appearance first thing in the morning and changes nothing. He goes through the day looking disheveled. Everyone notices it but him.

But the man who looks at his appearance in the mirror, which James here calls ironically “the law of liberty” and changes himself accordingly is blessed. This little epistle teaches us a critical lesson. There is no liberty unless there is law. 

We must have a passion for the gospel, but if we do not take Christ’s commands seriously we have no hope of reaching our culture with the gospel. If one man lived a principled, obedient life and reached millions, imagine what millions could do if we did not just claim grace but kept the commands? 

Prayerful

In 1949 Billy Graham held a crusade in Los Angeles, CA. It was scheduled for three weeks. It was extended to eight. On the first night, there were about 6,000 people huddled under a tent which was referred to as the “canvas cathedral.” On the final day of the meeting, nearly 92,000 people filled a stadium. In the days leading up to the crusade, there were over 1,000 prayer groups meeting throughout the city. It is estimated that 350,000 attended the crusade and that more than 13,000 people came to Christ. It was during this crusade that Louis Zamparini, former Olympic athlete and subject of the recent movie and book Unbroken, was born again. 

In response to the crusade, publisher William Randolph Hearst sent out a two-word telegram to newspaper editors across the country that read, “Puff Graham.” It was a directive to cover the story of this rising star of a preacher in LA. It is commonly believed that it was this welcome publicity that put Billy Graham in the national spotlight.  

In July, preceding the November LA meeting, Billy Graham was in Winona Lake, Indiana with a group of evangelists from Youth For Christ. The night before their week-long crusade in Winona Lake began, about 50 men met in the Rainbow Room of the Westminster Hotel for prayer. The prayer meeting went on for hours. Early the next morning, around 3 a.m., Armin Gesswein, a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor stood in the middle of the room and called attention to the fact that Billy Graham would soon be going to Los Angeles.

Billy Graham stood with Bible in hand and knelt in the front of the room. He read from Joel 3:13 and 14, 

“Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” 

 The men surrounded Billy and began to pray fervently for the coming crusade. The Spirit of the Lord fell mightily upon the men, particularly on Graham. Many attribute Graham’s success to early publicity, but Graham always pointed to prayer. 

On my weekly Facebook Live show Biblical Conversations on Culture, Scott Lenning, who worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for 19 years, said that when Billy Graham would call into his team he would not ask about fundraising, plans, or progress on preparation. He would first ask about how many people in the city were mobilized for prayer. 

Prayer is a basic discipline of the Christian life. Any Christian can pray. Every Christian should pray. The Bible constantly calls us to pray. If God moved so mightily through one praying man, imagine what God might do if millions of us were calling upon the same Almighty God that those men petitioned in the Rainbow Room of the Westminster Hotel in Winona Lake, Indiana. 

Gospel 

The funeral service for Billy Graham was a fitting reflection of his life and ministry. It was a simple, powerful, presentation of the gospel. Scott Lenning shared with me another powerful statement about Billy Graham. He said, “If you ever heard Mr. Graham speak, you had to consider your salvation.”

In every sermon Billy pointed people to the reality of their sin. The penalty of God for sin. Their need for salvation and the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

When it came to preaching the gospel, Billy Graham did what others are fully capable and called of doing. If God used one man to share this powerful, but simple saving message that resulted in scores of people coming to Christ, imagine what may happen if millions of people did the same thing. What if millions helped millions more consider their salvation? 

Conclusion:

So, will there ever be another Billy Graham? Probably not. I hope not.

I am not trying to be crass as I say this. I understand how God can use one man to stir us all. If there were another Billy Graham, I assure you I would welcome him, but I am not waiting for him. My hope is not that there would be another Billy Graham, but that there would be millions of them who come after him.

Why not me? Why not now?

I can seek to be humble, moral, prayerful and share the gospel as often as I can now. Imagine what may happen if millions of us did not wait on that next man, but we seek rather to do what the last man did – humbly, morally, and prayerfully share the gospel with our audience.

Question:  

What was your experience with Billy Graham? Did you ever meet him, attend a crusade, or watch him on television? What did you learn from him? How did his life and ministry inspire you? Please share.

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Other sources used in this post:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/billy-graham/sinners-in-hands-of-loving-god-billy-graham-preaching.html

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/story-behind-billy-grahams-prison-built-casket/

https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/the-modesto-manifesto/

https://graceconnect.us/winona-lake-prayer-meeting-key-to-success-of-billy-graham/