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.
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.”
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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
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!