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With evangelism part of ‘culture,’ church sees record baptisms

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (BP)–When Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch called for a baptism emphasis in churches across the nation to be held Nov. 27, the event happened to coincide with a milestone at a North Carolina church where evangelism has become second nature to most members.

“This church has been evangelistic for many years in that they were one of the first churches to start using the FAITH evangelism training,” Michael Cloer, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, told Baptist Press.

Cloer explained that the previous pastor died of cancer at age 40, and for eight months the church was without a pastor but still baptized 67 people because they are intentionally evangelistic.

“It has nothing to do with me; it’s what God was doing through them before I got here,” Cloer, who began leading Englewood in August 2000, said.

The church hit its 1,000 mark in total baptisms under the new pastor’s leadership the very day they participated in the baptism emphasis Welch initiated.

“We’ve baptized 22 since then,” Cloer said, adding that the church has about 2,200 members now. “God is doing a work here. The church has doubled in size in the past five years. It’s because of people winning other people to Christ and baptizing them.

During the past year, Englewood helped start a Hispanic church and an African American church in town, and the three churches are planning a joint baptism service in the city park, which has a large lake.

The event will be another component of Welch’s “Everyone Can” Kingdom Challenge for evangelism, which seeks to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people throughout the SBC during the coming year. In addition to the in-church baptism Sundays Nov. 27, next Easter Sunday and next Sept. 30, Welch has called for churches to join with other congregations in their communities to hold joint baptism services outdoors as a witness to their neighbors who may not enter the doors of a church.

Cloer said Welch’s evangelism emphasis is “long overdue.”

“I believe God has called Dr. Welch to challenge us as the Book of Esther says ‘for such a time as this.’ If there was ever a time for Southern Baptists to rally around what really makes us Southern Baptists, it’s now,” he said.

The “Everyone Can” slogan and the meaning behind it have been tremendous motivations for the members of Englewood, Cloer said.

“We’re using that as our theme for all of 2006, and we’ve challenged our church membership to baptize twice as many next year as we ever have in the history of the church. We’ve set a goal of 500 people in one year. You see that ‘Everyone Can’ on posters and all of our publications that we send out.”

Englewood, in fact, is adding the word “disciple” to the challenge because they want their church members also to disciple those they lead to the Lord. The idea is for the person to become a mentor to the new Christian for about six months, helping make a disciple while the church provides the training and resources necessary for the task.

Evangelism has been vital to Cloer at least since his seminary days, he said, and that conviction carries on in his work at Englewood.

“I personally have made a commitment to present the Gospel to at least five people every week. I’ve challenged the staff that they each have to be personal witnesses,” he said. “Many of our staff have come from Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary, where that was just a part of our culture that if you were going to go to school there you were going to witness.

“There was a report hour every Tuesday at that school,” he recalled. “I graduated 30 years ago, and it’s still a practice of mine ever since then. Even among our staff, that’s how we begin our staff time every week. We pray for each of those who have come forward in a service by name and then we report on our witnessing.”

To Cloer, baptism is a natural next step once someone has understood the basic meaning of the Gospel and has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

“One of the distinctives of Baptists is baptisms. We do this as an identifying mark,” he said. “I think baptism is to a Christian what a wedding band is to a married person. It is a public symbol of a personal commitment. It doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than wearing a wedding ring would make you a married person, but I would have questions about a married person who would refuse to publicly be identified when they belong with somebody.”

When someone comes forward to make a public profession of faith at Englewood, a church assistant immediately begins to follow up on that person and schedule him or her for baptism, Cloer said. The assistant also asks the new believer to write out a brief testimony, which is read at the baptism so that others can know the work God is doing in the person’s life. That way, every person has publicly professed faith in Christ not just visually but verbally, he said.

“There have been times when so many testimonies were being read and you could just sense God was doing something in the congregation and we went ahead and gave an invitation right then before the service went any further, and people have come forward to receive Christ,” the pastor said.

Among the testimonies the church shared with Baptist Press was one from Denise Boykin.

“Before I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, my life was one disaster after another,” she said. “I was feeling hopeless, worthless and lonely. My life was total confusion. In all this confusion and chaos, I tried to take my own life. But Jesus had plans for me and He gave me a second chance. A friend invited me to Englewood Baptist Church. She also invited me to a support group called ‘Conquerors’ [at the church].

“Jesus opened my eyes,” Boykin continued. “He got my attention, and that’s when I realized it was time to completely turn my life over to Him. It is an awesome feeling to know Jesus was seeking me so strongly at a time I needed Him so desperately. I can never thank Him enough for saving me and placing such wonderful people in my life.”

Another testimony of God’s grace came from Stew Sherrick.

“Even though I had been raised in a Christian, loving environment, several years ago I went through a period in my life where I was not sure I believed in the existence of God,” he said. “Driving home one afternoon, God spoke to my heart in a way that was so clear and unmistakable that there was suddenly no doubt of His existence. I knew that I desperately needed Him.

“In what could only be explained as a Father’s unconditional and all-knowing love, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and He formed a bond with me that would help me through a series of life changing events,” Sherrick added. “People often asked me how I could manage, but the answer was always clear to me: It was only through God’s loving grace. Though I don’t understand why, He continues to bless me — through my boys, special friends and through unmistakable signs that He is listening and cares for me. While it’s been a long, painful journey, the knowledge that God is in control of my life has brought me to a place of comfort, happiness and peace.”

While anyone might suspect the preaching at the church is a major factor in whether people accept an invitation to choose Christ, Cloer insists he is not the one responsible for so many changed lives.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anyone else. We always make an appeal at every message. [During] everything we do at Englewood, we give an invitation, and we’re intentional about it,” he said. “At every event — if we have a sportsmen’s event or a ladies’ event, sports programs, anything — everything is geared toward intentional evangelism where we give an invitation and ask people to make a commitment. It’s not a written rule, it’s just the culture here that everything we do we give an invitation.”

And as long as Englewood members keep inviting and God keeps working, they’re likely to play a large role in Welch’s attempt to see 1 million baptisms across the convention by next October.

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  • Erin Curry Roach