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Church’s 125 baptisms in one day reflect focus on evangelism

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (BP)–The baptism of 125 people in one service at Valley Baptist Church reflects a commitment to “stay focused on the task of leading people to Christ,” minister of evangelism Matthew Spradlin said.

“Here in Bakersfield, [Calif.,] our goal is to tell everybody who lives here that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and He rose again and that they can have a relationship with God through Christ.

“As churches, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to reach the people who live across the street and the people who live in our communities and neighborhoods,” Spradlin said, voicing appreciation that the Southern Baptist Convention has given focus to “the importance of the Gospel and its ability to change people’s lives.”

Bobby Welch, since his election as SBC president in 2004, has sought to energize churches toward the goal of witnessing to, winning and baptizing 1 million people within a year.

The “Everyone Can” Kingdom Challenge for evangelism has played out in different ways at various congregations throughout the nation, and at Valley Baptist, an emphasis on evangelism was incorporated into the church’s 20th anniversary celebration Dec. 4.

Leading up to the 20-year mark of the church’s founding, members of Valley Baptist knocked on 22,000 doors in the community to invite people to the anniversary service. The church averages more than 2,700 in attendance each Sunday.

Though the door-to-door campaign was a success, Spradlin noted that most of the 125 people who were baptized during the anniversary celebration accepted Christ because of other regular efforts to win people to the Kingdom.

While many churches might feel daunted by the prospect of baptizing more than 100 people during one service, Spradlin said at Valley Baptist they have a large baptistery that can accommodate four people at a time, so all 125 were baptized in just over an hour.

“There are a lot of logistical issues when you’re baptizing that many people … but we have a great group of volunteers who were helping everyone get prepared to be baptized and helping them after they’d been baptized,” he said.

Baptizing a large number is not new to Valley Baptist, Spradlin said. In 2000, on the day they moved into their new auditorium, the church baptized 136 in a special service, and at the close of Vacation Bible School last summer, they baptized 92 in an outdoor baptismal fountain.

Valley Baptist was home to Karen Watson, one of four International Mission Board workers killed in Iraq in March 2004 when they were ambushed in Mosul. Her unusually strong determination to share the Gospel at any cost had a considerable effect on the staff and many members of the church, Spradlin said.

“Karen Watson’s life and death had a tremendous impact upon the pastors of our church. Many of us had a relationship with her and knew her, and seeing her commitment and her dedication has been an inspiration to many of the people in our church,” he said. “We continue to talk about her at times, and we have a special fund set up where people can give to a fund in her name for mission opportunities and for short-term mission trips.

“I think her life and her death and the testimony of her life through her death has been something that has motivated and inspired many of the people in our church,” Spradlin added. “Sometimes it’s hard to show a direct correlation because so much of the impact of her death cannot be seen physically, but it has had an impact on people, and I have talked to people and they have communicated that to me.

“Karen Watson is an example of someone within our church who had a real passion to see people come to Christ, and the only way that we would be able to baptize so many people in one day is that there are many other people in our church who are committed to sharing the Gospel with everyone they come in contact with and do so on a regular basis,” Spradlin said.

A special service with an emphasis on baptism, such as the anniversary celebration, has not diminished the number of baptisms on any other given Sunday, Spradlin said.

“We baptized nine people this last Sunday, so we haven’t seen a dip in our baptisms. If anything, they have increased,” he said. “I think the service was a great way to get baptism before the congregation and to emphasize evangelism and the importance of evangelism within our congregation.”

A unique story from the anniversary outreach stands out in Spradlin’s mind, he said.

“One of the members of our church, a few weeks before the service, was knocking on doors and inviting people to our anniversary service. He knocked on a door and a young man came to the door and talked to him for a little while and said that he would come to the service,” Spradlin recounted, adding that he met the man the next day when the man and his wife came through the pastors’ receiving line at church.

The couple continued to attend services, Spradlin said, and one day when he called a visitor to follow up, the woman said she had attended church with her son and daughter-in-law. It turns out the husband and wife, who were not yet Christians themselves, had invited his mother.

“I thought it was ironic that here’s a lost person who is inviting other people to church when there are some Christians that don’t even invite people to church,” he said.

The couple soon accepted Christ and were baptized during the celebration service.

“One thing that has been helpful in us being able to see so many people baptized is we have a large number of people who have been coming out on Tuesday night visitation, and recently we’ve been averaging close to 150 people coming out each Tuesday night,” Spradlin said. “Leading up to our anniversary Sunday, we took 120 people through evangelism training, and we’ve seen God really use that to bring a lot of people to Christ.”

But the reason the church saw so many baptisms in one day can be attributed to a fairly simple formula, Spradlin said.

“I think what led to us being able to see so many people saved and baptized is that everybody on the staff and all of the members of the church were focused on evangelism for a few months,” he said. “We made it a priority and emphasized it constantly and then created a way in which people could do evangelism.”
For more information about the “Everyone Can” Kingdom Challenge for evangelism, visit www.everyonecan.net.

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  • Erin Curry Roach