LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., celebrated the 20,000th baptism in its 25-year history in a quiet ceremony March 19.
In an outdoor baptismal pool built of native stone, Pastor Rick Warren immersed Mario Soto, a 24-year-old resident of Aliso Viejo, Calif., after the congregation’s 11:15 a.m. service. Soto was among about a dozen other adults being baptized.
It had been quite a weekend for Soto. On Saturday evening, he had proposed to his girlfriend. His new fiancée, Amanda, was part of the crowd cheering him on.
For Soto, his decision to declare publicly his faith in Jesus Christ was an important step on the road toward marriage and starting a family. While he had grown up with a knowledge about Christ, it was only after he graduated from college that he made a faith commitment in his heart.
Then he met Amanda.
“I had prayed all my life for her,” he said. After she accepted his marriage proposal, he didn’t want to wait any longer to take the step of baptism. “I realized I needed that foundation to start our family.”
Warren said he was honored to mark the historic milestone for one of the largest evangelical congregations in the United States.
“It’s a terrific, wonderful experience,” he said. “I had the privilege of being baptized by my own father who was a pastor, so it was a meaningful time for me. You don’t forget your baptism. It’s an eternal memory.”
Saddleback’s first baptism service took place in May 1980, just weeks after the Easter Sunday launch of the church.
“Ever since then we’ve used all kinds of facilities,” Warren said. “We’ve used lakes and rivers, ponds in the mountains, the ocean. And for a number of years when we didn’t have a building, we used Jacuzzis for Jesus -– anywhere we could find water.”
Until 2004, Saddleback had averaged almost 1,300 baptisms a year since 1996. The past two years, however, the congregation has averaged more than 2,000 baptisms. In 2005, a total of 2,501 believers were baptized.
Even after more than 25 years, Warren said he still experiences a thrill when immersing a new believer.
“I am addicted to changed lives,” he said. “It’s not about the size of the church. The size means nothing. It’s the individual stories –- the family that gets back together, the kid that gets off drugs, the life that’s turned to Christ. The cool thing is the stories behind the 20,000 lives.”