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More than 6,000 baptized in multidenominational Baptize California weekend

Thousands gathered at Huntington Beach and other sites in California to be baptized May 18-19 in the multidenominational Baptize California. Photo provided by Matt Brown

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (BP) – A cross-denominational belief in believer’s baptism allowed Southern Baptist pastor Matt Brown and Pentecostal pastor Mark Francey to collaborate in sponsoring Baptize California, a statewide event that baptized more than 6,000 believers May 18-19.

The Pentecost Sunday weekend event chiefly sponsored by Francey’s multisite Oceans Church in Orange County and supported by Brown’s 14-campus Sandals Church in Southern California drew support and participation from 300 churches across the state, according to BaptizeCalifornia.com.

A newly baptized believer expresses her excitement at Baptize California’s Huntington Beach baptism. Photo provided by Matt Brown

Baptize California was the largest baptism in the state’s history, Brown said, exceeding the May 2023 BaptizeSoCal sponsored by Oceans Church, and the July 2023 Pirates Cove baptism sponsored by Harvest Church, where Greg Laurie is pastor.

“It’s the largest gathering for baptisms in the state history. That’s why I wanted to be a part of it,” Brown told Baptist Press, describing an interdenominational event including Baptists, Lutherans, Independents, Pentecostals and others.

“I think it’s a big win for the big C Church and for me as a Baptist,” Brown said. “Oftentimes, we are known and defined by what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. And that’s why I thought it was important, as one of the largest Baptist churches in the state, that I tip my hat.”

Brown gave $10,000 to the event that required $1 million to sponsor, he said, and provided public relations support by announcing the event at the church’s 14 campuses among 11 cities where 10,000 worship on Sundays. Additionally, Brown cites a weekly digital reach of 100,000.

“I feel like God is using Mark to do great things and just to bring so many different groups together,” Brown said, “and while I was probably the only Baptist leader amongst them, I hope there will be more in the future.”

Brown did not baptize any at Huntington Beach, the main event site, but baptized 19 at Sandals Church, an alternative baptism site, after counseling to discern the candidates’ repentance and profession of faith. The beach baptisms were exciting to Brown, who first became a Southern Baptist pastor in Huntington Beach.

“It was just awesome to see thousands upon thousands of people come to the ocean to be baptized and profess their faith in Christ,” Brown said. “It was just an incredible, incredible event, to partner with hundreds and hundreds of churches across the state.”

Brown sees the event as an opportunity to build the Kingdom in California, which led the Southern Baptist Convention in baptism growth in 2023. California’s 5,181 baptisms in 2023 marked a 243 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Annual Church Profile.

He describes the event as a win for the entire state, not just the SBC.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate one another and to come together as the big C Church, to really cheer each other on,” Brown said. “And that’s Mark’s passion, that’s my passion. I don’t just care about Sandals Church, I care about God’s church, His Kingdom.

“Mark and I may have some differences in our theology, but he loves the Lord, he is called of God, and I want to encourage him and come alongside him as a Christian brother. It’s an easy win for the Kingdom.”

Brown did not participate in 2023’s BaptizeSoCal, but intends to participate in the 2025 event, which Oceans Church is planning as Baptize America.

Brown encourages Southern Baptists to join to other Christians as much as possible when theological differences leave room for collaboration.

“I’m 50 years old now and in the last half of my ministry, I want to be a bridgebuilder,” Brown said, “not a barnburner.”

Thirty percent of Sandals’ membership has moved out of state in the past three years, Brown said, encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for California.

Sandals Church has 15,000 members, Brown said, with campuses in Anaheim, Azusa, Banning, Mentone, Fresno, Riverside, Lake Arrowhead, Menifee, Marino Valley, San Bernardino and Santa Rosa, according to SandalsChurch.com.

Southern Baptist participation statewide could not be assessed, but the California Southern Baptist Convention was not a sponsor, a CSBC spokesperson told Baptist Press.