Editor’s Note: Sunday, Sept. 12, is Baptism Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE (BP) – Immediately after becoming executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC), Todd Unzicker established an increase in baptisms as a top priority.
Unzicker made the announcement in late May during his first address to the BSCNC board. North Carolina churches participating in Baptism Sunday Sept. 12, he said, would do so through the Fill the Tank emphasis.
“When North Carolina voted me to be the next executive director-treasurer, I knew soul-winning was going to be one of the first things we were going to do together,” he said.
“We’re asking all of our 2,700 churches to fill their baptistery and believe in faith that God is going to save people between now and then. What if we could have the largest, one-day recording of baptisms in the history of North Carolina?”
At the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, a task force appointed the year prior released its report on recommendations for evangelistic renewal. Among those recommendations was “That the SBC Executive Committee designate a Sunday as ‘Baptism Day’ on the convention’s calendar.
Reports of generating tremendous momentum for evangelism came with the first Baptism Sunday in 2019. The following spring, then-SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., where Unzicker also served as chief of staff, issued a call for Southern Baptists to Fill the Tank that Easter to encourage baptisms.
As of 11:30 a.m. Central today (Sept. 2), 625 BSCNC churches had signed up to participate at fillthetanknc.org. Timmy Blair, senior pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Angier, N.C., said his congregation is excited to be among them.
“Anytime there’s a push or emphasis for baptisms, count us in,” he said. “Obviously, with the decline in baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention, I think this is a great need and something that will not only bless North Carolina, but the SBC as well.”
When Blair became Piney Grove’s pastor 34 years ago, he told the congregation to fire him if there ever came a year at the church without a baptism. COVID-19 made 2020 a challenge, but he’s still in the pulpit.
“We were able to win some people to Christ and baptize them,” he said. “We need to be all about winning people to Jesus.”
Both NAMB and the BSCNC are providing resources for Baptism Sunday. While many churches have baptisms scheduled for that day, Fill the Tank is about expecting God to move among those in attendance and even bring forward those who make their decision for baptism at that point.
“Baptism is a sign of obedience as a profession of faith. It’s not about reaching a level of spiritual maturity,” Johnny Hunt, NAMB’s senior vice president for evangelism and leadership, said. “I didn’t have any spiritual background when I was saved, and there was a lot I didn’t know about Christianity when I was baptized. What I did know was that the Holy Spirit was stirring in my heart and that I was changed.”
When Unzicker served as a missionary in Honduras, he said it was common for pastors to look to those gathered at a baptismal service and quote Acts 8:36: “As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, ‘Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?’”
“I’ve never met a church that didn’t pray for its baptismal waters to be stirred,” Unzicker said. “The problem is, I’ve seen baptisteries that were filled with Easter or Christmas decorations. If people wanted to be baptized, those churches weren’t ready.
“Since promoting Fill the Tank, I’ve had pastors thank me because they found out the stopper wasn’t working or the tank had a leak. Churches that haven’t baptized anyone in years are getting involved. We’ve heard about those who don’t have anyone scheduled for baptism but the pastor is going to bring his waders anyway, expecting God to bring someone forward.”
Piney Grove Baptist will be among those prayerfully expecting unannounced candidates for baptism, as Blair also pointed to Acts 8:36 in signaling his church’s preparedness.
“We have some scheduled to be baptized, and we’re looking forward to a wonderful morning when we’ll celebrate with those folks,” he said. “But we’ll also be ready if someone wants to come forward and get baptized that day. We’ll have the water, so what will prevent them from being baptized? If they’re ready, come on.”