The cure for whatever ails a Baptist church is more baptisms. Since we only practice believer’s baptism (meaning an individual must personally profess faith in Jesus prior to their baptism), baptisms are a sign that conversions are happening in the context of a church’s outreach ministry. Since baptisms symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, they are a church’s opportunity to dramatize the gospel on a regular basis. Baptism is an excellent way to celebrate and commemorate new life in Jesus.
Some Baptist churches have moved away from consistently practicing baptism—minimizing its importance as an act of obedience required of every disciple or perhaps observing it infrequently (like as an annual church event). These decisions are sometimes made to alleviate the challenges of public immersion—particularly of adults. Managing the elements of a public baptism can be a considerable amount of work—filling and heating a baptistry or arranging for a public gathering (like at a beach), providing baptismal clothing and changing areas, and helping officiants fulfill other aspects of worship in the same service or time frame. But decisions to minimize baptism are short-sighted and result in a lost opportunity for gospel witness.
Whatever the hassle, frequent baptisms are worth it. Baptism is a powerful declaration of public witness, not just for the baptismal candidate but for the church gathered as people remember their own baptismal moment. Baptisms by immersion are also a novelty for many unbelievers who have never seen one in person. When new believers invite their friends to their baptism, they will often come. The event then becomes more than a religious ritual. It becomes a gospel-declaring event.
When I was a pastor, it was my goal to have baptisms as frequently as possible. We never “saved them up” to make the experience more efficient. We wanted baptism to be part of as many worship services as possible to dramatize the gospel and challenge many people to consider their need for a similar experience—first with Jesus and then with the baptismal waters. Recently, it has been my privilege to share the excitement of baptisms with several growing churches. One church had an annual end-of-summer baptismal service with 30 participants this year. Another has been baptizing new converts almost every Sunday this year, sometimes dozens at a time. A third church, in a town with a population of only 10,000, has baptized more than thirty people, mostly adults. In each case, these churches consistently reach out to their communities with the gospel. They are all in places many would describe as “hard to reach”—San Francisco Bay Area, suburban Los Angeles, and a Mormon-intensive small town in the West. But they are reaching people and baptizing them—celebrating new life in Jesus and new believers identifying with the Christian movement.
Baptisms are the best! Nothing shouts “new life”—both for individuals and for a church family—like baptism. If your church is minimizing this important discipleship moment, rethink your practice and rediscover the excitement baptisms will bring to your community.
Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Gateway Seminary. Prior to his service at the Seminary, Dr. Iorg was the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention for almost ten years. He was also the founding pastor of Greater Gresham Baptist Church in Gresham, Oregon, and has served as a pastor in Missouri and a staff pastor in Texas.