I recently posted a baptism challenge to our Oklahoma Baptists youth ministry network. You may be aware, but in a recent report released by the North American Mission Board, youth baptisms since 1999 have declined in Southern Baptist churches by an average of 38 percent annually. Our Oklahoma numbers over that time tell a similar tale.
Declining rates are not great news, but there exists an opportunity to change the direction of the graph. As Oklahoma Baptists, we have identified, under Hance Dilbeck’s leadership, four strategic goals in the next five years. One of those goals is a 20 percent increase in baptisms in Oklahoma. Roughly, for Oklahoma Baptist youth ministries as a whole, that would translate into an increase of about 500-600 baptisms in the next five years, moving us to 3,000-3,500 total youth baptisms. To break the goal down more specifically, the increase equates to 100-120 more baptisms per year over that span.
After reading the post, Kenyatta Wright, parent and youth volunteer at Vian, reported he, with group of student and parent leaders, began a three-week series with their youth ministry on baptism and faith. Using baptism materials available online through the Oklahoma Baptists youth ministry office, they shared the Gospel and invited students into a saving relationship with Jesus and to follow the Lord in obedience by being baptized.
The church has seen 28 students trust Christ as Savior and baptized 17 since January. More are waiting in the wings. Wright shared that the post “was a specific challenge we needed in our youth group and community.” Remarking on the response, Wright stated, “I’m just thankful what God is doing here.”
Baptism is important in any community and church no matter size. Jeff DeGiacomo, student pastor at Oklahoma City, Quail Springs, said their youth ministry baptized 49 students in 2019. Their student baptism goal for 2020 is 40. They have baptized 10 students since the year began. More are waiting on baptism when the COVID-19 meeting limitations pass.
“It has been exciting to see the Lord transforming lives and students walking in obedience through baptism,” DeGiacomo said. “Our students have been intentional in engaging lost friends, sharing the Gospel… and inviting them to church. We are seeing fruit from the labor as students are being baptized.”
Our goal as Oklahoma Baptists is to reach others with the love of Jesus, to see the lost saved, baptized and growing into disciple-making disciples. Baptism is important. Baptism goals are significant and worthy pursuits. With that being true, what are some things that could help your church reach or exceed baptism goals? Here are a few points of action.
Evaluate. You cannot change what you do not measure. You will not hit goals unless you set them. Set goals and make plans to see them met. Set the stage for the Holy Spirit to work.
Center on the Gospel. In 2020, how and when will you regularly and consistently proclaim the Gospel and invite students to faith in Christ?
Equip. In 2020, how will you train students to share their faith and make disciples?
Follow up. In 2020, how will you plan to follow up on decisions in a way that promotes baptism and disciple-making relationships?
Report. We would love to know how many you baptized in 2019 and how things are going in 2020. We want to celebrate changed lives and pray for and encourage you. Share what God is doing among our Oklahoma Baptists family.
We can knock out the 20 percent baptism increase well within five years. Imagine your church, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirt alive and active in His church, exceeding these goals in youth and total baptism goals this year. God is powerful enough to do it.
Oklahoma Baptist churches serve with excellence and desire to see God change lives. How will you help write a chapter in the story of reversing the trend on baptisms?
For more on the vision and work of Oklahoma Baptists and the four church-centered goals, visit oklahomabaptists.org. If you want to report what God is doing in your congregation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.