MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A church in Tennessee baptized 120 people in one night following an evangelism emphasis called "As You Go," which challenged church members to choose a non-Christian and then pray for that person, develop a relationship and present the gospel.
New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., draws about 2,400 people to four weekend services. A few months ago they held a call to prayer and fasting as part of the As You Go emphasis. Participants were challenged to fast one day and show up that evening in the church sanctuary to pray for the people they had committed to reach.
At the end of the prayer time, church members were encouraged to conclude their fasting by taking communion. People of all age groups, including youth, came and went during the evening, not following any particular schedule, the church's pastor, Brady Cooper, said.
Often people would pray for 15 to 20 minutes for the person they had chosen before placing a card with the person's name on it on the altar and taking communion, he said. Cooper noted the importance of people being willing to sacrifice through fasting and then showing up at church to pray specifically for friends and acquaintances who didn't know Christ.
In the days that followed, the church offered a crash course in evangelism in order to help people become more comfortable with sharing the gospel with the people they had committed to reach. The church also offered what they called summer school classes during worship times, starting with the topic "assurance of salvation" and moving on to "faith" and "fundamentals of baptism."
At the same time adults were moving through the classes, the church's youth and children learned some of the same key information. The church web site provided tips for church members on ways they could initiate relationships with the people they wanted to reach, such as taking the person to a movie with discount tickets provided by the church.
All along, members were encouraged to bring visitors to a baptism service at the end of June. That night Cooper presented the plan of salvation and discussed the purpose of baptism in the Christian life. At the invitation time, many people made public professions of faith.
After waiting for the rain to stop outside, the crowd moved out to a nearby field with three huge crosses. To their delight, God provided a rainbow in the sky. Changing rooms and clothes were provided for people who had made professions of faith in Jesus and wanted to be baptized that night.
An above-ground swimming pool was ready to serve as the baptistery in the field, and the church's ministers worked with several groups of about five baptism candidates at a time. A family, including an older couple, their son and his son, was baptized together, among others.
The pastor said the staff members, some of whom were young and hadn't baptized many people in their short ministries, experienced as much joy as those who were being baptized.
"There was an overwhelming sense of God's presence," said Cooper, who has been pastor of New Vision Baptist for five years.
In addition to the As You Go emphasis, the church's Vacation Bible School and youth camp recently had concluded before the baptism event, and participants who had made professions of faith at those events also were baptized that night.
When it was over, 120 people had been baptized, exceeding the goal of 100 people the church had set three months prior as well as the total number of baptisms the church had recorded the previous year – 86.
"I may never experience anything that powerful in ministry again," Cooper said.
Afterward he called his wife Amy, who was with their 9-year-old son Clay at camp. Then, if he could have, he would have called his father-in-law, the late Glenn Weekley, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.
"He would have loved hearing about it," Cooper said.
Since the outdoor baptism event in June, at least 20 more people have been baptized at New Vision Baptist. That pushes the total for the year well past 200 people, and the results of the As You Go emphasis keep accumulating.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bushey is news editor for the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector.)