By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS (LBM) – Alfonso and Cynthia Campos were on the brink of divorce when they spontaneously chose to attend the River Parishes campus of Celebration Church for Mother’s Day services last year.
But instead of ending their marriage they surrendered to Christ, committing to follow Him as a couple and as individuals. About a month later, they followed their spiritual rebirth with being baptized — Cynthia first and Alfsono three weeks after her.
“Our life on the weekend was going out, drinking, you name it,” Alfonso said. “I knew about the Lord but wasn’t committed to Him. We went from nearly getting a divorce to now having the family we always wished we had.
“We don’t have ‘big’ problems anymore,” he continued. “We are happy and stronger. For couples who are thinking of divorce, it’s never too late. If you really want to change your life you have to leave it up to God and He will change it.”
FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM
The Campos were among a record number 796 new believers baptized by Celebration in 2018.
The congregation recorded 2,669 acts of repentance last year, and is still working to complete new believer’s training for this group.
Through April 1, the congregation has celebrated 95 baptisms and an annual mass baptism celebration service is scheduled June 8-9 on each of its 11 campuses throughout New Orleans and the Northshore area. Combined, the multi-site ministries average 6,925 worshipers in weekly services.
Changed lives have been the norm since 1989 when Pastor Dennis Watson and a congregation of 86 members committed to impact New Orleans for Christ. Attendance grew to an average of 1,800 until Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005. Afterward, participation dropped by 60 percent.
In response, Watson marshaled the staff and members, reformatted the church’s ministry strategy, and began working more closely with other churches for greater collective impact of communities within the city, and the results have been astounding.
Since Katrina, the church has baptized 4,530 new converts.
“We believe baptism is such an important step of following Christ, especially in the culture of New Orleans where it can take several years for someone to come from faith in Christ to baptism,” he said. “We share with our people that baptism is so important for a relationship with the Lord and we keep that in front of our people in hopes they take that next step after accepting Christ. To see people baptized every week at all of our campuses really encourages our people and reminds them the Lord is transforming us through our ministry.”
The success of their outreach is simple: Celebration Church created a culture that trains and triggers members and regular attenders to invite their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and others they contact each day to come to weekend worship services and other activities.
“We can’t plan for salvations because salvation is a result of God’s Spirit touching hearts and transforming lives, but we can plan to present the Gospel in powerful ways,” he said. “We set goals for baptisms. We really challenge our staff and leaders to develop action plans. We follow up with first time guests right away – and many of the professions of faith and baptisms we witness are by first time guests.”
New believers are encouraged to immediately attend an “I Want to Know” class where they learn about Celebration’s vision, values, beliefs and how to grow in their faith. They also are encouraged to get involved in one of 325 small groups for discipleship training.
“There are no successful ‘Lone Ranger Christians’, Watson said. “We must have mature and growing Christians in our lives constantly encouraging us to love the Lord and live for Him. Without a support network of other Christians around you, you are destined to fail.”
Looking to the future, church leaders are praying and planning to start more small groups that will turn into churches in southeast Louisiana.
“The ultimate goal would be to see the culture of the New Orleans region changed to become one of the godliest, safest and strong regions in our nation,” Watson said. “That’s a big task, but it can be accomplished because we serve a big God.”