EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
PUEBLO, Colo. (BP)–At Fellowship of the Rockies, baptism has taken on a new level of importance in the lives of people who have committed to following Jesus, and it began with a simple sermon on the meaning of the church ordinance. Click thumbnail at left to watch baptism video.
The staff at the contemporary Southern Baptist congregation in Pueblo, Colo., had noticed that a significant number of people were coming to them with questions about baptism, many of them unsure whether their infant baptisms or other such observances were biblically valid.
“We planted the church in 1995. The majority of our church came from an unchurched background, so we didn’t have a lot of transfer growth,” Charlie Jones, the church’s pastor, told Baptist Press. “In that process, we’ve reached a lot of people, and a lot of people have prayed to receive Christ. But they were unchurched, and they came from all different types of spiritual backgrounds.”
A large portion of the population in Pueblo has a Catholic background, and some are Methodists or from other denominations that don’t practice baptism by immersion, Jones said.
“There are many different reasons, but for whatever reason, we could get them to accept Christ and we could get them into the church, but they did not want to be baptized by immersion, whether because they had been sprinkled or baptized as a child and the emotion that was tied to that with their parents,” Jones said. “We just could not get them to move to baptism.”
So Jones planned to preach a sermon on baptism, and then he went a step further and decided to ask people to be baptized on the spot if they had accepted Christ as Savior and Lord.
“That’s the model that’s in Scripture. Many times, when people met Christ they were immediately baptized,” Jones said.
“As Baptists, we’re real good about wanting people to make an immediate decision about accepting Christ, but then we’re a little bit distant on ‘Whenever you want to get baptized, it’s up to you. You make that decision,'” he said. “So I decided to go ahead and call them to get baptized the same way we would call them to accept Christ.”
As the staff prepared for the baptisms, they anticipated about 30 people would accept the challenge. They bought T-shirts, shorts, towels and hair dryers to help with logistics.
“Then I gave a simple sermon on the meaning and the method of baptism and why they should be baptized,” Jones said. “We followed it up with a really strong call to get baptized. We took away all of their excuses by telling them, ‘We want you to get baptized right after the service. Really and truly the only thing that’s keeping you from being baptized today is you’re just not ready to be completely obedient to what Christ has called you to do.'”
The church was ready to offer DVDs and pictures of the baptisms so that people could distribute them to family and friends who wouldn’t be in attendance.
“We even told them, ‘If you’re busy for lunch and you’ve got plans after the service, then just come down front and give us a time when you’ll be back. Our staff will be here until 7 o’clock this evening. Just show up. We’ll baptize you.'”
Fellowship of the Rockies has a Saturday night service and two Sunday morning services. It turned out that on that February weekend, 110 people took the pastor up on his offer to baptize them immediately following a service.
“It was unbelievable chaos because we were expecting 30 and we had 110,” Jones said. “We had volunteers going back and forth to the laundromat. We bought more T-shirts. We bought Kmart out and then started working on Wal-Mart.”
But in the chaos, Jones said there was a marked sense of brokenness among the people.
“There were tears. People were confessing things…,” he said.
Jones said they would baptize a family at one service and “they’d go home and witness to their other family members and they’d show up that afternoon with family members to get them baptized.
“It was just an unbelievable movement of God. For sure I’ve never witnessed that many baptisms at once.”
Three different pastors took turns baptizing, and Jones was amazed that most of the people were adults.
“I think we had 20 or 30 youth and children, and then the rest were adults. I think our oldest person was 87 years old,” he said.
“We baptized 10 percent of our church on that weekend. It’s a huge percentage of people that got baptized,” Jones said, adding that Fellowship of the Rockies averages about 850 people in the worship services and another 200 children in a separate area.
Since then, the people have followed up on their commitments by diving deeper into their faith. On May 3, the church launched a class on doctrines, giving people the foundations they need for a solid Christian walk.
“Hebrews 6:1-2 talks about leaving the foundations of your faith, the elementary teachings — baptisms, accepting Christ and those things — and you need to move on to maturity because until you get a solid foundation you’ll never become mature,” Jones told BP.
Previously, people who accepted Christ were ushered into an hour-long membership class where they would sign a membership covenant and hear a brief overview of basic doctrines.
“The foundations class is 23 weeks. It’s really systematic theology, but it goes through the foundations of the faith,” Jones said.
More than 145 people signed up for the foundations class, and Jones characterizes the progress as “a huge movement of God.”
“The baptisms haven’t stopped. We’re up to 155 baptisms. It’s kind of moved through the church,” he said. “There’s also been a deepening in the church. Not only do they want to learn more, but we’re doing more and more community efforts as well.”
Last year the church baptized about 50 people in the entire year.
“The story that has stuck out is the unbelievable brokenness. This isn’t just something they did because everybody was doing it,” Jones said. “What got me the most was the tears, the confession of some stuff in their lives and then them following through. To put 147 people in a foundations class is pretty huge.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. To watch a video of the baptisms at Fellowship of the Rockies, go to http://mediamagicfilms.com/amazing.wmv.