By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
PINEVILLE – Cheers, high-fives and even a human wave were plentiful earlier in the month for a crowd of 100 gathered to witness the baptism of several members of HIS Church in the Red River. Some were husbands and wives; others were individuals, all wading through the water on this comfortable October evening.
Those being baptized were ecstatic to show family, friends and onlookers their declaration of a new life in Christ through baptism.
The six baptisms were the second to be performed in the river this year by the church, with two other baptisms occurring in nearby Buhlow Lake. In all, around 85 people have been baptized, with the most (43) occurring during an earlier lake baptism before a large crowd of more than 300.
HIS Church Pastor Steve Speer said baptizing in the river and lake brings about a sense of nostalgia from when baptisms in churches and even during biblical times were held almost exclusively in that setting, instead of the more traditional baptisms inside a worship center.
“We like to baptize outdoors because it’s a retro thing, an old-fashioned way of doing things,” Speer said. “In our quest to redefine how we do church, we embrace some ways of the past.”
For Brad Hamilton, the river baptism was extra meaningful.
Not only did he witness the baptism of his son, Connor, but he was able to help baptize him.
Why? Because Speers encourages all fathers to play a part in the baptism of their children, Hamilton took part.
“It was a fantastic moment, a proud moment,” Hamilton said. “It makes you feel like you are more involved in your child’s spiritual life. Rather than being an observer you feel like you are there.”
Gilbert Flores, along with three of his children, was baptized in the lake baptismal service in June.
“It is everlasting and priceless knowing I was able to do that with them to enjoy that moment,” he said. “Not only did our church show up at the baptism but others who were friends got to witness our baptism and the other ones baptized that day too, which was a pretty cool thing.”
Not only do they celebrate baptisms in a river or lake at HIS Church, but each person’s name is place on a red ornament ball that is placed on the Christmas tree of life. At least 400 ornaments have been placed on the tree since HIS Church started in July of 2006.
“Because we are having so many people baptized, we are buying a 12-foot tree to hold all of the ornaments,” he said. “People get saved and have eternal life, hence the name the tree of life.”
Since Speer became a church planter in 2002, he has held river and lake baptisms. Between his four years at Grace Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and the last nine at HIS Church in Pineville, Speer has baptized nearly 500 people. He said in 75 percent of those baptism services, at least one person will accept Christ as Savior and Lord.
Additionally, since 2014, 50 percent of the membership at HIS Church has joined through making a personal decision to follow Christ. That’s a significant increase from their previous average of 38 percent.
Membership has increased from 22 when it first started on July 2, 2006 to 750 on Sept. 14, 2014 to 1,007 in early October of this year. The recent growth surge has left the church bursting at the seams. Speer and volunteers from the church addressed it by expanding the worship center from 300 to 500 seats.
Matthew Mallette came on board as ministry assistant when HIS Church was starting. He loves how the church isn’t afraid to move forward but at the same time embrace some things of the past.
“God is the reason for what is happening here,” he said. “He is blessing us.”
Speer also gives all the credit to Christ for the number of baptisms and significant increase in membership.
“What we’ve seen has been very humbling,” Speer said. “These baptisms are a witness to the world.
“The Lord is just doing it,” he continued. “We didn’t experience growth until recently. God just showed up. It’s not because we are special or having the right kind of programs. The Lord is here and He truly is adding to the church daily.
“How did this happen, I ask myself a lot,” he added. “Everything just came together because He brought it together in His time.”