Baptism increases show a desire for the gospel, says California pastor

CLOVIS HILLS, Calif. (BP) – It was a group at the church, outside. With football on TV and a grill fired up, the next person in line took his spot for tattoo removal.

It’s not a ministry you see often in the bulletin. At this particular campus of Clovis Hills Church, though, tattoo removal is important both practically and spiritually. Regarding the former, it helps in getting employment. In terms of the latter, it signals a new start and redemption.

For a long time, Pastor Shawn Beaty observed people wanting the kingdom without the King, benefits without God’s blessings. Things are changing, though.

“When you try to attain that without Him, it creates chaos,” he told Baptist Press. “When there is enough chaos in people’s lives, they look for a remedy.”

The desire for that remedy can be seen in the astounding 248 percent increase in baptisms reported by California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) churches in 2023 over the previous year.

A beachside service last July hosted by Harvest Christian Fellowship saw approximately 4,500 baptisms. In 2024, Beaty and Clovis Hills Church have registered 222 baptisms across five campuses. Also serving as the chairman of the CSBC executive board, Beaty travels throughout the state helping lead evangelism training sessions.

His observations point to Californians – long saddled with stereotypes of New Age mysticism and Jesus-is-my-homeboy vibes – looking for a foundation built in Christ.  

“God is doing something,” said Beaty, a San Diego native who has been at Clovis Hills for 12 years. “You can’t just credit a rise in the return of [Annual Church Profile] reports. We’re baptizing more people and seeing them come to Christ.

“People look to God during times of trial and transition. There has been a lot of that the last four or five years. People are looking for a different direction.”

Stronger levels of reporting

While an increase in baptisms is certainly attributable to emphasis on evangelism and God’s activity, a higher rate of return among churches of their Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports cannot be ignored. Colorado Baptists, for example, saw a 96 percent increase in baptisms in 2023, when 39.2 percent of that convention’s churches returned an ACP report compared to 35.7 percent in 2022.

The Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention observed an 89.46 percent increase in baptisms last year.

“One word – God,” said Executive Director Rob Lee, adding that 77 percent of the convention’s churches returned an ACP report, the highest in 15 years.

“God is doing a great movement in both states. The number of folks coming to the Lord and following through with baptism is a movement. A large number of our churches are having multiple baptism services, which is something we haven’t seen in quite awhile,” he said.

Southern Baptists recorded nearly 227,000 baptisms last year, an increase of almost 26 percent. Among those statistics, though, are stories.

At Clovis Hills, a man was in the process of getting his tattoo removed when a young woman approached. She had prayed that morning to accept Christ. But there was a name inked on her neck. It was of the pimp who had trafficked her for five years.

Normally, you have to wait your turn for the removal. But the guy in the chair got up so she could have a seat.

“At some point she had become free from being trafficked,” Beaty said. “That day, she was set free in Christ.

“That’s what Jesus does. We see a lot of people coming forward. I give an old-school altar call and ask people to step forward. This is their time to say it out loud. A lot of young people are responding to that.”

It’s a type of courage that pushes on young men who spend 14 hours a day playing video games, where losing one’s life really isn’t that at all.

“When you call someone to do something courageous like pray to receive Christ and declare it with their mouth publicly, it’s a big moment and a big celebration,” said Beaty. “The church erupts and cheers.”

Traveling to other churches alongside the CSBC’s evangelism director, Beaty encourages church leaders to set high goals in reaching others with the gospel. Find a way, he urges.

A couple at Clovis Hills found a way by adding tattoos of the Three Circles evangelism strategy.

“They came to Christ in the last year and share about Jesus multiple times a week because of it,” Beaty said.

For churches looking to energize or restart an evangelism program, he compares the effort with a big flywheel.

“To turn one, it takes a lot of energy. But then it moves,” Beaty said. “It’s not very exciting, but the longer you crank it and the more energy you put toward it, inertia is created and it begins to spin on its own.

“Put your hand to the wheel and start cranking.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

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