BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (KT) – The water in the baptistry at Hillvue Heights Church is never still.
That’s entirely by design.
During the past 12 months, covering the church’s fiscal year, more than 600 been baptized in these waters, every one of them proclaiming Jesus as their savior.
Baptism is a focus at Hillvue and believers move in and out of the water regularly every Sunday of the year. It is chlorinated, circulates through a pump, is heated and never empty.
“We don’t have a goal on salvations because we can’t save anybody,” said co-lead pastor Jamie Ward. “We believe once people are saved, that’s our work to follow up. Baptism is part of the discipleship process, not salvation. Our goal is to walk alongside people.”
Only one Sunday in the past year did Hillvue Heights not have a baptism on the way to the record No. 600. The church still has three more Sundays until the end of the fiscal year.
It’s the most in a year for a church that celebrates baptism in a special way. Since Steve Ayers became pastor in 1991, the number of baptisms now stands at 10,749 and counting.
Ayers and Ward don’t always do the baptizing. They leave that up to the one who led the person to Christ – a parent, friend or even a Sunday School teacher. The pastors will do the baptizing, but it’s open to others. The 600th baptism was a young boy whose Sunday School teacher, Daniel McBride, did the honors. Kathy Turlock, the children’s director, and Pastor Ayers were in the water with them.
“We (as pastors) don’t baptize the majority of these people,” Ward said. “That’s controversial to some people. Our thought is if you led somebody to Christ, you can baptize them. Let’s remove every barrier we can. That’s been real exciting.”
On the Sunday when the 600th baptism was completed, three more came forward for baptism and wanted to get baptized immediately after the service, Ward said. They accommodated them and more than half of the 4,000 in attendance that day waited around to watch. That made 16 baptisms on the day.
“That’s just the blessing of the Lord on us,” Crabtree said.
Ayers is 'cheerleader' for association and state
Dr. Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, marveled at the accomplishment of Hillvue.
“I prayed for the last two months with them to pass that 600 number,” he said. “I knew they wanted to do it and it was a goal for the church. My contribution was to pray. They’ve been giving me regular reports saying, ‘We think we might get there this year.’ I’m encouraged for them.”
Gray said he has heard Ayers say that if you’re not willing to do the first thing Jesus said to do, which is baptism, you may not be willing to do the next thing. “That’s a good word,” he said.
Hillvue Heights’ focus on baptism stretches beyond its own church walls, Gray said.
“The unique thing about Steve, Jeff (Crabtree), Jamie – and all the leadership at Hillvue Heights – is they want to see the whole state have success in baptism,” he said. “Steve is a cheerleader for the local association. He will ask pastors ‘How are your baptisms going for the year?’ It’s not just about Hillvue Heights. Steve desires to encourage churches all over the state to be evangelistic.”
Crabtree said Ayers keeps up with specific churches in the association. “He’s always focused on who’s baptizing. Steve’s influence is big.”
Hillvue Heights is the perennial state leader in baptisms and it’s not even close, typically doubling the next total. Crabtree said the 2018 Annual Church Performance (ACP) reveals the nearly 2,400 Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky average 4.5 baptisms a year. Many churches reported zero baptisms, he said.
“If we could just help the zeroes get one or two, it would increase the total number dramatically,” Crabtree said.
'There's nothing else like it'
Hillvue Heights gets behind the baptism in a big way, including a 16-member ministry team that provides everything from extra clothes (for those who choose same-day baptism), photographs and certificates from the experience, a t-shirt with Risen printed on it to a DVD of the service. They also make sure everybody understands what baptism means and offer a class on the subject.
“We go through everything step by step with them,” said Sandy Carter, who has been a team ministry member for many years. She said it’s the favorite ministry in the church and the best as far as she’s concerned. “I love it. There’s nothing else like it. No ministry better if you ask me.”
Carter has many favorite stories including one where a father, who wasn’t a believer, wanted to be in the baptistry when his son was being baptized. They accommodated him and he watched up close as his son went under the water (representing being dead and buried) and then rose out of the water (representing the resurrection). He was immediately touched by the act of obedience his son was displaying and said he wanted to learn more about baptism and Jesus. Church staff led him to the Lord and baptized him at the end of the service - a father and son moment they will never forget.
“We preach the cross every week here,” said Ward, who does the middle of the three services and preaches during the midweek service. Ayers preaches the 8 and 11 a.m. servings each Sunday.
The church set a goal of 600 baptisms about this time last year. They handed out cards with two numbers on them, an idea that came from Jeff Crabtree, who he said he probably heard from somewhere else in his ministry life. There was a number from one to 600, a slash and then the number 600. A person represented that first number and the 600 was the goal. The person holding the card was asked to pray for who will eventually be connected to that number. They passed out three 600-card sets throughout the year – meaning at least three people were praying specifically for that “number” – most of the year.
“We kept the church updated on baptisms,” Ward said. “(No.) 590 came after the 8 a.m. service. In the front of the church, a lady on the front row, said ‘So the next baptism will be 591?’ We told her yes and she starts crying. The next baptism is her grandson. She prayed all year for her number, 591, and it was him. It was so powerful.”
Gettomg behind 'Who's Your One?' project
Ward said the Southern Baptist “Who’s Your One?” initiative, which asks individuals to laser-focus their prayers on one person in their life that needs to be a believer, was put into play Sunday at Hillvue with 700 cards already turned in.
“We love ‘Who’s Your One?’ We were all somebody’s one. Now it’s time for us. Our goal for next year is 700,” Ward said.
The church set up cameras in various locations so people could tell and record who led them to Christ and they took those statements and made an inspiring video from the testimonies.
Ward said he recommends churches set a baptism goal. It doesn’t have to be 600, it can be 10, he said. “If you have 10, have a baptism team. Anything important to the church, you have a ministry (team) for it.”
Ward said setting goals is something done in our personal lives every day so why not the things of God?
“Things that are important to us, we measure – our bank account, our weight, our kids’ achievements – we have goals for those things, the things that are important. The last eight years we didn’t reach 600 but it’s not a downer on the church because we keep it positive. We have to walk alongside people better.”
Ward said one pastor asked him ‘Are all those baptisms real?’ I said ‘Are all yours real? I would bet no, they’re not all genuine and not all of yours are either.’ That call is above our paygrade.”
Classes for children and adults are offered to explain simply what baptism means, he said. “Classes are optional, but we have them. We teach a real simple truth: We get baptized because Jesus did.”
Crabtree knows this much: “I’ve never seen anybody get baptized and come out of that water saying, ‘Boy, I sure wish I hadn’t done that!’’’