By Meredith Flynn
Pat Pajak gestures to a small piece of paper filled with neat script. Each line is the name of a different IBSA pastor or church that has called him to report baptisms in the month of April. On one car ride alone in the middle of the month, he talked to three leaders who were celebrating people who had come to faith in Christ and followed their decisions with baptism.
One GRAND Month, marked in churches around the state in April, was, in a word, grand. Churches reported more than 700 baptisms during the month, and Pajak is still getting reports. And churches are still baptizing. Several pastors have said the April emphasis on evangelism resulted in professions of faith and people wanting to be baptized.
“How in the world are we going to reach 8.5 million people?” Pajak knows the question is overwhelming, especially when estimates say the state has around a hundred times more people who don’t know Christ than Southern Baptists.
If One GRAND Month did anything, he says, it alerted church members to the fact that people all around them are living without a relationship with Christ. “It’s a daunting task if you allow Satan to convince you that it can’t be done. You just say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s not try.’”
But hundreds of churches took up the challenge in April, baptizing 271 people on Easter Sunday and 443 the rest of the month, for a total of 714. Pajak notes that if IBSA churches baptized 700 people every month for a year, it would more than double the number of baptisms reported last year.
“It has alerted people to the necessity of sharing their faith, and that it’s not just the pastor. He’s one guy in a whole town. Think about what happens if 35 or 40 people decide, ‘You know what, I can do that.’
“It’s the only way we’re going to reach 8.5 million people in Illinois.”
Change of venue, change of hearts
On their first Sunday in a new building, Grace Church in Metropolis baptized two people in a donated cattle trough. A young man sitting in the congregation heard the invitation to respond to the gospel and did so. He was baptized two weeks later, along with four others.
“We had a big ole day,” said Pastor Chris Sielbeck, who started the church two years ago in the front room of his home.
Grace met at the Union Baptist Association office for more than a year, and had been praying about a building when Sielbeck began to focus on a place he passed every Sunday. On a day off from his job with the U.S. Postal Service, the pastor began to research the building he thought would be perfect for a church. A local CPA owned the building, and Sielbeck dropped in to ask whether the owner would consider allowing a church to meet there.
“We’re a small church, we don’t have any money, and I need it for free,” Sielbeck pitched. “And he said, ‘I can do that.’” The church baptized two people their first morning in the building, and one the next week. Plus five more on the first Sunday in May.
When Sielbeck went to a farm supply store to purchase a $300 trough for the baptism, he ran into a sales representative for the manufacturer in the parking lot. The rep followed him inside, where he gave Grace a generous gift. Standing at the register, Sielbeck remembered, the man said, “I’m going to buy that for that church.”
‘Jesus steps in’
At Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Paul Cooper baptized nine people in April. And five more on the first Sunday in May.
“It’s not normal for us,” said Cooper, whose church moved into a former Walmart building two years ago. “I think we had 15 baptisms for the year last year, and last year was higher than most years. Having 14 in basically a one-month period is pretty amazing.”
Marshall is the last stop on Interstate 70 before you cross into Indiana. There aren’t a lot of younger adults in the community, Marshall said, but several of the people baptized at his church the last few weeks are in their 20s. Michael Mattingly and Ranae Clements were baptized Easter Sunday. The engaged couple shared video of their baptisms on social media, celebrating their life transformation with family and friends.
Just weeks prior, Clements was a Christian who had moved away from the church and Mattingly doubted the existence of God. She attended a conference where her faith was reignited, and she also met a member of the Marshall church. Mattingly agreed to attend the church with his fiancé to be supportive. He arrived at church on the Sunday Cooper was set to preach “Jesus steps into your doubts.”
“My whole sermon was about how it’s okay to have doubts,” Cooper said. “God will speak into that, and Jesus will show up.”
When he gave the invitation at the end of the service, the pastor asked people who had prayed to receive Christ to raise their hands. Mattingly’s was one of the hands raised. A few weeks later, on Easter, he and Clements were baptized.
“There’s a sense of anticipation in the church,” Cooper said. “God’s doing things, and God’s reaching people, and people just want to share that. A lot of our new people have gotten really excited, and then they share it, and it keeps kind of multiplying right now.”
After he baptized Mattingly, Cooper asked if he wanted to say anything. The young man responded simply.
“Jesus is Lord.”