Baptisms in Bayou State: Churches Shared Christ During 21 Disaster

By Brian Blackwell, editor of the Baptist Message

NEW ORLEANS, La. (LBM) – Despite an outbreak of weather disasters amid a global pandemic, Baptists in Louisiana have continued to sow and reap in 2021.

According to the church’s annual profile, Celebration Church (New Orleans and Northshore area campuses) had the most baptisms of any Baptist congregation in Louisiana in 2021 (317). Rounding out the top five were: Cypress Baptist Church, Benton (286); First Baptist Church, Covington (105); Bayou Church, Lafayette (95); and Journey Church, Pineville (93).

The database showed that churches of all sizes continued to reap spiritual harvests, and those listed below had the most baptisms, per capita (using average worship attendance), among congregations of similar size.

Louisiana Baptist Evangelism and Church Growth Team director Keith Manuel said he is grateful for the many churches that are baptizing and have the zeal to spread the light of Christ in a world facing uncertainty. “Easter is always one of the busiest days of worship,” Manuel told The Baptist Message. “This year – in light of the crises of health, inflation and war – may be one of the great[1]better opportunities to reach suffering people with the Gospel. This generation is ripe for revival. People need peace in a world in turmoil. They need the peace of Jesus.

PARTY

Changed lives have been the norm since 1989, when Pastor Dennis Watson and an 86-member congregation pledged to impact New Orleans for Christ. Attendance increased to an average of 1,800 until Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005.

Subsequently, participation fell to 60%. In response, Watson brought together staff and members, reformatted the church’s ministry strategy, and began working more closely with other churches for greater collective community impact within the city. The church has since faced other natural disasters, and each time members have responded to see a spiritual harvest.

“When people see and hear how Jesus transformed the lives, circumstances and relationships of our people, they want to know more about whether and how the Lord can perform the same life-changing works in their lives. , their situation and their relationships,” Watson said.

Five of Celebration Church’s eight campuses and hundreds of member homes suffered significant damage from Hurricane Ida on Aug. 29, 2021, yet the congregation recorded 317 baptisms for the year. In 2018, Celebration set a record for the congregation, baptizing 796 new believers (who completed new believer training) out of 2,669 people who made professions of faith.

CYPRESS

Cypress Baptist’s formula for baptizing over 286 new converts in 2021 (and 238 the year before) was simple.

“All we do is the gospel,” said Pastor John Fream. “We don’t aim to baptize a certain number of people each year, but we just want to introduce Jesus to as many people as possible.

“People desperately need the truth and the gospel is what we have,” he continued. “We give them the Gospel.”

When Fream became pastor in 2008, worship averaged 402 attendees each week and the congregation recorded 14 baptisms. Then Fream encouraged his members to share the gospel more. The following year the average attendance rose to 737 and the church saw 76 new believers baptized. Fream said congregants have continued to embrace their call to reach Benton and beyond for Christ, even with the pandemic.

This year, the church has two main goals: the completion of a 60,000 square foot. an indoor recreation facility that will be used to host sporting events and a special three-week outreach (which will feature former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on Palm Sunday, then a particular focus on Easter, leading to a goal of “busy day” at Sunday School the following week).

“If we can get them to come three weeks in a row, we have a better chance of getting them to Cypress on a regular basis,” Fream said. “God has given us so many opportunities to serve and share the gospel and we want the community to know that we are there for them.”

FIRST GILBERT

FBC Gilbert has seen a wave of baptisms in 2022. So far, Pastor Bubba Ezell has baptized 18 new converts, including eight on Feb. 21. If the pace continues, the congregation will eclipse last year’s high mark of 42 (the church baptized 25 in 2020).

Ezell attributes the baptisms to the presence of his congregation in the community which includes his “Amazing Grace” addiction ministry.

Addiction ministry is very personal to Ezell, who, after hitting rock bottom, found Christ in 2014 as a patient at a treatment center in Logansport. Ezell said many in his community struggle with addictions and that Christ is their only hope.

He estimates that 150 of this group have joined FBC Gilbert and been baptized since 2017.

“Wherever Jesus went, he served the downtrodden and the brokenhearted,” Ezell said. “When we see people as ‘an opportunity to share the gospel’—and we have the courage to do it and we don’t count the cost—it shows God’s love.

“The leper fell and Jesus wanted to touch him,” he continued. “The touch of Jesus was then enough to heal him and the touch of Jesus is still enough in people’s lives. It is the heart of our ministry and our church. When we reach out to them and are ready to touch them, we make a difference.

WEST HILLS BAPTIST

Pastor Joey Ketchum and his congregation take the Church to the streets of Shreveport. Through this outreach, hundreds have come to Christ, including 28 converts he baptized in 2021 (an increase from nine in 2020) at Western Hills Multicultural Baptist Church which averages 75 worshipers of Sunday.

“My heart is an individual follower,” Ketchum said. “I don’t want to be the pastor who just speaks from the podium, but I want people in my community to see me living the gospel in the neighborhoods.”

When he became pastor of Western Hills in 2006, the membership of the congregation was predominantly Anglo-Saxon in a largely African-American neighborhood. To bridge the gap, Ketchum said he asked God how he could best reach the community.

Nine years later, he began making inroads into the neighborhood through connections—which are still strong today—established in schools, ballparks, and homes.

“My vision for 2022 is a Kingdom perspective,” said Ketchum, who baptized four new believers in 2022, with four more baptisms planned. “With all the violence happening in our city and our culture, time is not calling for change, but for transformation.”

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