How many baptisms has your church had this year? Pastors hear this question all the time. It is a figure that gets prominent attention when the annual church profiles are released each year. Pastors get bigger churches when this figure is up, they are more respected by peers and can even win denominational awards. Yet, this is likely not the most important statistic. It is important, don’t get me wrong. Baptismal numbers are more than numbers, they represent someone whose life has been changed. However, it could be that the greatest sign of a healthy church isn’t baptisms. Go back to Matthew 28: 18-20 and reread the Great Commission. This statement from Jesus has become the utmost purpose for the Christian church for good reason. It was his final edict to his followers before ascension. Yet a closer look at the statement redefines traditionally held beliefs about the focus of this commission. We have used this as a rallying cry for evangelism and boosting baptismal numbers in our churches, but the intent of his statement wasn’t for the church to simply go and baptize new believers. The commission isn’t for converts, but for disciples. He clearly says, “Go and make disciples…” Yes it begins with belief and baptism but Jesus is calling for a clear well defined process and not only an event. The church is called to make disciples, not simply converts. He even explains the disciple making process as “teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you.”
A church may have 50 baptisms in a year, but more importantly than the baptisms is the process of disciple making that should be intentional in every New Testament church. It has been my experience that many churches don’t have a well planned process for disciple making. Baptisms are seen as the goal, the end rather than the beginning of the journey for this new believer. A church may have 50 baptisms, but without a disciple making plan many of these new believers will simply become a baptismal statistic and never reach their full potential. It is the highest privilege of a church to walk alongside the new believer, encouraging them, teaching them, training them and equipping them to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Every church should be a factory that produces world changing followers of Christ, valiant disciples that will in turn “give away” their new found faith to someone else. Great churches don’t just produce lofty statistics, they are building great disciples. I will often see church profiles that have large numbers of baptisms yet little change in attendance figures. This is a sure sign of a church without a well defined plan for disciple making.
I want to suggest to church leaders that they train their church members to be disciple makers and mentors for new believers. Each person who is brought into our baptistry ought to be matched with a mature believer who will walk alongside them until they are ready to do the same for someone else. This creates accountability and assimilation into the body of Christ. Church leaders must be intentional in the process and stick with it. It is my belief that God will not judge our effectiveness not only by our baptisms, but more importantly by the quality of disciples that we are producing.
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