Baptists love baptisms. Baptisms are part of our DNA. We know people are coming to Jesus when the baptismal waters are stirred, and that stokes our engines. We love the stories about large numbers of people coming to Christ during revivals, whether overseas or here in the states. Being present on the Day of Pentecost would have been a Baptist’s dream day.
Two years ago we celebrated Long Hollow Baptist Church (Hendersonville) becoming the first church in Tennessee Baptist Convention history to see 1,000 people in one year won to the Lord, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship. What a great example of effective evangelism and intentional discipleship. May Longhollow’s passion to reach the spiritually lost spread like wildfire!
But let me ask you; do you still get as excited about the single baptism as you do the bunches of baptisms? Do you value the one as much as the many?
The adopted goal of our network of Tennessee Baptist churches is to see at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually come to Christ, be baptized and set on the road to discipleship by the year 2024. While that goal looks impractical and impossible, it is imperative that we pursue it. We need to annually reach that many people with the gospel to even keep up with Tennessee’s projected population growth over these next nine years. That figure is currently more than twice the number of baptisms we are currently seeing annually in Tennessee. How will we ever get there? The answer is simple: one precious person at a time.
Unfortunately, I occasionally hear pastors say that “(blank number) of SBC churches baptized only one person last year.” Really? Only one? Is it a failure to baptize “only” one? What if that one was your best friend? Or your son? Or your daddy? Or the most notorious drug dealer in your community? Or the next great missionary?
We know that one person matters. Jesus explains the importance of “one” in the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12-13. There is great rejoicing over the one, and if Jesus laid down His life for the one, then we should pursue the one with vigor.
I do believe we as Baptists have focused at times on the drive for baptisms as a means to an end, and the end being increased membership numbers rather than increased disciples. We can fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against others. I also am certain that our smaller churches, those that may have baptized “only” one or “just a few,” are perceived as second-class churches because their “numbers were so small.”
How about this? Let’s just agree we are going to stop masking our pride and our unspoken competitiveness and truly celebrate that one person who walks the center aisle at that small traditional church out in the country as much as the hundreds who do the same at a more affluent suburban church. Honestly, my concern is not that that small church baptized “only” one person, my concern is the number of churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention that didn’t baptize any.
Here is my burden. I love the church, I love her people, and I love the spiritually lost. I desperately want to see the three of these connect in a deeply meaningful way. Unfortunately, too many of our churches are in atrophy. Let’s not overcomplicate this. It does not take a church growth expert to know that the single, most effective strategy for church revitalization is for churches to engage their communities in meaningful ways that build relationships that lead people to salvation, baptism and discipleship.
Churches that die or are dying are the ones that do not get beyond their walls to go find even one. Every community in our state has a “One.” In fact, with nearly seven out of every 10 Tennesseans spiritually lost, every community has a bunch of “Ones.”
If you are in one of those churches whose baptismal waters haven’t been stirred in a while or not as often as you’d like, contact me. Your Cooperative Program giving supports TBC missionaries whose calling is to help and serve you. It would be our joy to explore with you ideas for how your church can enjoy the sweet fruit of reaching your community for Christ. If everyone won one, what a wonderful world this would be!
It’s a joy to be on the journey with you.