GLEN BURNIE, Md. (BP)–When pastor James Pope leads a baptismal service, it’s hardly a routine affair.
Invitations are sent to friends of the baptismal candidates, people pack the church house and the new believers are immersed in a cattle trough.
North Arundel Church in Glen Burnie, Md., was founded seven years ago with an emphasis on growing a church to reach unchurched people, and baptism is a key part of the outreach.
“Baptism becomes an event in itself,” Pope said. “And that is what it should be, what it was designed to be. In Bible times, new converts were immersed in high-traffic places as a witness to the watching world.
“Over the years, baptisms have evolved into in-house affairs, rarely attended by the uninitiated,” the pastor observed. “The focus has shifted: What should be a witness to the lost is often solely an encouragement to fellow pilgrims.”
At North Arundel Church, new believers are baptized once a quarter in a special Sunday evening service, in part because the cattle trough is heavy and cumbersome. By the time the pre-arranged date rolls around, there are between 15 to 20 candidates waiting to be baptized.
The church also provides invitations that are distributed throughout the community. “Attendance at our baptism service rivals Easter Sunday,” Pope said. “People will come who won’t come to anything else.”
The unique baptismal services allow the church to present the gospel to a large number of people who might otherwise never hear.
Following a brief time of praise and worship, Pope prepares the congregation for the service by explaining baptism. Then, the house lights dim and the trough is illuminated by a spotlight.
With music playing softly in the background, each candidate steps into the water and the pastor whispers words of encouragement.
“People — men and women — weep all over the room as soon as the baptisms start,” Pope said. “We have boxes of tissue everywhere.”
Thinking creatively is a veritable necessity for Christians who are serious about reaching the lost, Pope said, noting that sometimes something old like baptism can become something new.
By tapping into relationships between the unchurched and “someone they trust” and giving them “an experience they couldn’t explain,” as Pope described it, North Arundel Church has grown to a worship attendance of 600 in three Sunday morning services, making it the most successful church plant in state convention history.