JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 23, 2006– A steady stream of baptisms at First Baptist Church in Marion, Ark., makes it, like others throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, vital to the “Everyone Can” challenge to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people throughout the SBC during the coming year.
And, aware that it couldn’t adequately meet the spiritual needs of the community through its main campus alone, First Baptist sponsored a church restart in a nearby trailer park community, and that restart in turn planted a Spanish-speaking congregation.
When the Everyone Can evangelism campaign officially began last fall after several months of SBC President Bobby Welch setting forth the vision across the country, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention launched a correlating emphasis called “Your Life Matters,” which encourages renewed outreach and simultaneous revivals to kick-start church growth.
Clay Hallmark, pastor of First Baptist in Marion and a 1989 Union University graduate, told Baptist Press his church has adopted the theme Your Life Matters because it combines well with the FAITH evangelism strategy the church has used for several years. The three words are on the literature the church hands out, and each week’s sermons are geared toward the idea that every life is valuable to God.
“We’ve put yard signs all over the community, and we’ve had more visitors than we’ve ever had in the past three months,” Hallmark said. “We’ve had record Sunday School attendance. We averaged, I think, 469 in December, record attendances in worship, record offerings, everything in December.”
The church, located 10 miles west of Memphis, Tenn., normally averages 450 in Sunday School and more than 600 in worship, he said.
For years, First Baptist has seen people come forward to accept Christ after being reached by door-to-door evangelism, but last fall they started seeing an unusual move of God, Hallmark said.
“We’re seeing people just get up out of the pew on Sunday morning, walk to the front and say, ‘I’m lost and going to hell and I need to receive Jesus.’ We’re seeing a good number of people doing that now,” he said.
Since September, 61 new additions have been made to the church roll, and 27 of those have been baptized, Hallmark said. Nineteen people were saved at the church’s Christmas production.
Hallmark credits the Everyone Can initiative with causing his church to see the importance of bringing other churches alongside it in the effort to increase God’s Kingdom.
“I think the major thing that it’s done in our church is that it’s helped us become a catalyst of encouraging and equipping other churches to be involved in seeing people baptized,” the pastor said. “We work real hard in our association and our area through our mission churches trying to equip them for evangelism. We host FAITH clinics each year, and both of our mission churches that we just started in the last couple of years are having amazing things happen.”
John Rech is pastor of the nearby New Hope Baptist Church, which consisted of a building and four remaining members in September 2003 when those members approached the leadership at First Baptist for help in finding a pastor. Hallmark organized some deacons to take turns preaching at the small church before Rech got involved.
“New Hope is in a community just outside Marion in the county,” Rech said. “It’s a very poor area. It’s a 30-year-old trailer park with 480 trailers in it. My heart just really got tugged because there are a lot of lost people there living a totally different lifestyle than Marion, which is a suburb of Memphis. So I didn’t just preach over there, I started to minister and started to do things that a pastor would do in a neighborhood or in a small town.”
A few months later, the congregation called Rech as their pastor, and now, as Hallmark put it, “It’s growing like a wildfire.” Average attendance is 50 people on Sunday mornings.
“We’re really growing. We’ve come from a church restart where they had zero baptisms for five years to baptizing 12 two years ago, 12 this last fiscal year and then our year started in October that goes along with the whole Southern Baptist idea [of 1 million baptisms] for the year. We’ve baptized nine already in three months.”
Again, evangelism is the key, Rech said.
But after going door to door in the trailer park community where New Hope is located, Rech realized a great need for a Spanish-speaking church plant. Through various connections with other churches, New Hope was able to help start a congregation named Nueva Esperanza, which meets in the New Hope building and reaches out to Spanish-speaking residents of the trailer park. The congregation has grown to about 40 people, and 28 additions have been made since Christmas Day, Hallmark said.
David Herrera, pastor of Nueva Esperanza, has led his church in holding block parties and soccer tournaments to attract members of the community. The tournaments draw about 150 people, and the church gives out Bibles and takes down contact information. After the tournament, Herrera presents the Gospel during an awards ceremony, Rech said, and then there’s an invitation time.
“They had a soccer tournament Dec. 30 indoors and did it the same way, and there was a fight during the championship game, so they called the game at a tie and went into the banquet,” Rech told BP. “David said [to the crowd], ‘You know, we wanted to do this tournament to be a blessing to you and I had a message prepared tonight to speak to you as a pastor, but I just want to speak to you as a Hispanic man. I’m an immigrant in a new country and you are too, and it’s rough enough coming to a country with all the adversities you face without making enemies with your brothers.’ He called them to reconciliation, and about 40 men got up and came forward and hugged each other, and there were tears. It was really beautiful.”
New Hope organized a similar outreach event earlier in December, which they called Christmas Spree.
“We invited the parents up to our church to pick out toys for the children, and we had door prizes,” Rech said. “We gave away hams and gift certificates and Christmas trees. We had 39 door prizes, so almost everybody got something. We had over 60 adults registered for the door prizes. Everybody got a bunch of toys. We gave away 60 Bibles, and we’ve got the contact information for 60 people. For a little church like us, that’s enough prospects for our spring semester of FAITH.”
Hallmark said the thread that runs through all three congregations -- First Baptist, New Hope and Nueva Esperanza -- is a commitment to telling individuals in the community that God loves them and has a plan for their lives.
“It’s just been an amazing thing that [through] the overall church focus of telling people Your Life Matters, whether it be at the main campus, the English-speaking mission church or the Spanish-speaking church, we’re seeing large numbers of people saved,” he said.
Baptism, Hallmark said, is vital to church growth because it’s the first step of obedience and it sets the tone for a person’s commitment to other areas such as stewardship, evangelism and discipleship.
“It’s that important step that reminds everyone in the congregation that we’re out there doing what we’re supposed to be doing first and foremost, and that’s seeking and saving the lost like Jesus said He came to do,” the pastor said. “When they see people walk into the baptismal waters, it’s just a celebration and a motivation for the church.”
And while the goal of baptizing 1 million people may seem daunting to one, two or three congregations alone, it’s when more than 42,000 Southern Baptist churches join together that the goal is obtainable, Hallmark noted.
“The thought of baptizing a million people, the only way it’s going to be done is if every church does more than they’ve ever done before,” he said. “That’s our goal this year, to double the number of baptisms we had last year and baptize 125 this year. So if we do that and we encourage our mission churches to do that and if other churches in our association do it, if everybody does their part, we’ll easily reach a million people.”
By Erin Curry Roach/Baptist Press