John Jenkins said holding a baptism service just after Easter has made sense for his church family for a long time.
“We kind of always do this after Easter because we really push our people to share the gospel at Easter, and we want them to be able to celebrate after the fact,” said Jenkins, pastor of Northport Baptist Church.
This Sunday (April 24) his church will baptize four of the six people who gave their lives to Christ on Easter Sunday. Northport Baptist’s service coincides with Baptism Sunday, a national emphasis across churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Baptism Sunday is a way of recognizing the first step of obedience new believers take after trusting in Christ for salvation, said Johnny Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board.
“We come together as Southern Baptists to recognize Baptism Sunday to remind ourselves that the main reason for our partnership is the mission of seeing lost people saved,” Hunt said. “My heartbeat and passion these past few years at NAMB has been to equip and encourage churches to engage their communities with the gospel and invite people to give their lives to Christ.”
Jenkins said for his church, baptism services are an encouragement to persevere in evangelism. Without celebrating new believers, “it’s hard to have a fervor or an urgency to share the gospel,” he said. “To see results gives people encouragement to keep going.”
Daniel Wilson, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said baptism “is the fruit that comes from faithfully telling people about Jesus. So to emphasize Baptism Sunday is also to highlight the importance of consistently sharing the gospel so there will be new believers to baptize.”
Baptism Sunday is also a great opportunity to remind Christ’s followers of the significance of baptism, he said. “Because Christ died and rose again, we have been made new in Christ Jesus.”
Robert Mullins, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Elmore, said celebrating baptism is a “Kairos moment” for his church.
He recently baptized a father who then turned around and baptized his two daughters while his wife — already a baptized believer — was in the water with them. The three of them had made decisions as the family went through the church’s membership class.
“We need to celebrate these things,” Mullins said. “We need to give people a marker in their life and say ‘God did this at this point.’ ”
He said it’s also a good reminder of why it’s important for his church to be intentional in evangelism and discipleship, as it is through its membership classes, and for church members to be intentional in the way they live and disciple others.
Southern Baptists long have looked to the number of baptisms that their collection of churches reports as an indicator of evangelistic health and effectiveness. In 2020, pandemic-related restrictions meant many churches were unable to meet in person, and baptism numbers reported that year dropped to 123,160 from 235,748 reported in 2019. National SBC baptism statistics for 2021 have not been released.
Alabama Baptist churches reported a total of 6,302 baptisms in 2021, down a little from 2020 when 6,650 baptisms were reported. Churches self-report baptisms and giving through the Annual Church Profile.
Three churches in the Top 15 for total baptisms last year are in Calhoun Baptist Association: Hill Crest Baptist Church and Greenbrier Road Baptist Church, both in Anniston, and Mount Zion Baptist Church in Alexandria.
Roger Willmore, director of missions for Calhoun Association, pointed to two characteristics of those churches that help them reach their communities.
“All three are intentionally evangelistic, and outreach at all three is pastor led,” Willmore said. “That’s good insight into their success.”
Willmore said all three are also very good at assimilating the people they reach into their congregations and keeping them. And he was quick to note that many churches in Calhoun Association and across the state are evangelistically intentional as well. The numbers, he said, don’t show the entire picture.
And that’s why organizers of Baptism Sunday hope the annual emphasis will serve as a reminder to pastors to maintain a sharp focus on evangelism, which is the very first step of discipleship.
“Baptism Sunday is a fantastic idea that helps us all keep our focus on the mission of reaching people and making disciples for God’s glory,” said Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The evangelism department of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions provides several resources for Baptism Sunday, including downloadable planning guides in English and Spanish. Find those resources here. (Grace Thornton, Carrie Brown McWhorter and the North American Mission Board contributed)
EDITOR’S NOTE — Many churches use the hashtags #FilltheTank and #BaptismSunday to tell about their plans for this Sunday or to share highlights of the day. After observing Baptism Sunday, send video and/or photographs from the service to the SBOM at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your permission, the SBOM would like to use the video and photos on various social media channels to celebrate what God is doing.