Almost leaping out of the water, the man raised both hands in triumphal joy. Pastor Dan Newburg was elated too to baptize someone who so clearly had come to faith in Christ.
“It was a declaration,” he said, “of what Christ had done in setting him free from the bondage to sin.”
Since September, First Baptist Devine has baptized 20 people – many more than in most recent years. Newburg remains equally amazed and grateful – and overjoyed – at the surge, which has infused and enthused the church and its community.
“Every Sunday – and I’m boasting in God now – it’s every Sunday someone is coming to confess Christ or join the church right now. It’s this huge momentum of the Spirit,” Newburg said.
Newburg believes the Holy Spirit’s work also included the insight and equipping he received during a meeting of the Frio River Baptist Association. As part of a workshop on church revitalization, Jonathan Smith, director of Church Strategy for Texas Baptists, offered a simple, three-week plan to elevate the celebration of baptism.
“We have to shine the spotlight on the most important of things,” said Smith, noting that in many churches, baptisms can be a short, quick section of the Sunday service. Highlighting the significance of baptism, he believes, can increase spiritual awareness within the congregation.
“God is faithful,” Newburg said. “He has chosen to bless us in such a way that we have the privilege of seeing the Spirit move and draw folks to His Son every Sunday. That’s rare. That’s not guaranteed to continue. But it’s gotten folks in the church excited, and the community of Devine is excited, asking ‘What’s going on at First Baptist Church?’ And that’s pouring over in a unique way.”
Smith’s suggestions to celebrate baptisms include:
Don’t baptize multiple people in a service. Unless there are family members (like the couple Newburg baptized back in September), baptize one person per service. Smith noted that at one point in his pastoral ministry, his church baptized people for 29 consecutive weeks. Spreading out the baptisms helps keep the celebration of new life at the forefront of congregational awareness.
Smith also encouraged churches to do baptisms in the middle of their services so that everyone is in their seats and settled. He also recommended that the week before the baptism, the church is informed it is coming up so that they can be excited to attend.
During the service, a testimonial video is shown before the baptism.
Then, at the end of the service, the pastor or worship leader shares a Scripture verse that is special to the new believer – something “that really explains what God has done in his life,” Smith said. Newburg said First Baptist Devine has combined that practice with the tradition of giving the new believer a Bible.
Finally, First Baptist Devine has adopted, per Smith’s suggestion, a “Wall of Celebration,” with photographs of those who are baptized prominently displayed in the church’s main entryway.
“We want [the church members] to be aware of the faces, so they seek these people out and welcome them and encourage them,” Newburg said. “We want to see the pictures and thank God for what he’s doing as we see these individuals come to Christ. And we want it to be a place of conviction to ask, ‘Am I pouring into anyone else? Am I being a disciple of Jesus who is on mission for His Kingdom?’
First Baptist Devine’s story is familiar to Smith, who offers the baptism plan as part of training for revitalization.
“I’m seeing the churches that are being that intentional about baptisms are seeing more baptisms,” Smith said. “Whether they’re announcing a baptism, doing a baptism or in the third week continuing the celebration, it all helps create momentum.”
The plan grew out of his personal experience in pastoral ministry.
“I realized we were taking 60-90 seconds for the most significant life event ever,” he said. “We do better than that celebrating birthdays.”
After implementing the plan, and seeing the results, Newburg is an enthusiastic supporter of Smith’s plan.
“This is a work of God,” he said. “By stretching the baptisms out over three weeks, the body of Christ here in Devine has a greater awareness of the movement of God’s Spirit, and I believe by making the witness of baptism more in the forefront and prominent, it’s tilling that hardened soil. These folks’ hearts and minds are more open to kingdom seeds.”
“And when we do, that witness of baptism only gives more room for the Spirit to do what He does in preparing hearts and minds to receive Him.”
Newburg had one last piece of advice for pastors.
“If God moves,” Newburg said, “what I’d want them to know is their water bill is going to go up – and that’s not a problem.”