Baptism Sunday: Southern Baptists ‘Fill the Tank’ nationwide, celebrating new life in Christ

LEXINGTON, Ga.—The last two years have been a whirlwind for Pastor Matt Bartlett and Lexington Baptist Church. At its recent low point, the 176-year-old church had 39 people in attendance, with half being from the pastor’s own family and friends.

But God has been on the move in the 200-person small town.

Just a week earlier, on Easter Sunday, 300 people attended Lexington Baptist. The church has seen nearly 50 baptisms in the past three years and added one more on April 7, the SBC’s Baptism Sunday.

“Baptism is special, not only for the individual being baptized but for our entire church family,” Bartlett said. “Many being baptized have grown through our children’s or youth ministries, influenced by numerous members of our community, including their parents and families. It’s a church-wide celebration of God’s work in their lives. It motivates us further. We often say we welcome a large water bill because it signifies continuous baptisms.”

Southern Baptist churches across the U.S. marked Baptism Sunday by celebrating new life in Christ through the ordinance of baptism. Also known as “Fill the Tank Sunday,” messengers voted to add the special day to the SBC calendar at the annual meeting in 2018 upon the recommendation of a task force appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines the previous year. Gaines appointed the task force to study the evangelistic effectiveness of churches after decades of decline in church membership and baptisms.

According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), 2022 marked the second consecutive year of growth in the number of reported baptisms as Southern Baptists continue recovering from the pandemic 2020 drop-off.

“Of course, we want to see churches celebrating baptisms every Sunday , but having a specific day called Baptism Sunday is a unique opportunity for every pastor and church family to invite those who have come to know Jesus to take the next step and be baptized,” said Tim Dowdy, vice president of evangelism at the North American Mission Board. “So many churches have people who need to be baptized after coming to know Jesus Christ that having a specific day set aside to celebrate baptism provides us with another way to teach and encourage faithfully following Jesus through baptism.”

Some churches, like Lexington Baptist, baptized one person; others baptized more than 50.

Dean Inserra described Baptism Sunday at City Church of Tallahassee, Fla., as incredible. The church baptized 53 people after worship services on Sunday. The group included an elementary-aged friend of Inserra’s daughter, a former Mormon, college students, and a person for whom church members have been praying for seven years.

“It’s really a portrayal of the gospel story at work,” said Inserra, the senior pastor of City Church. “Our entire church actually sees what we’ve been praying for go into action. It’s a public celebration, a big party of God answering our prayers, to see the vision of this church, the Great Commission, becoming a reality.”

Inserra noted that as SBC churches nationwide celebrated baptisms on April 7, Baptism Sunday should help to push back against a narrative that the local church is struggling.

“Seeing this happening across the country should encourage us all, reminding us that God’s hand is on our churches,” Inserra said. “We’re going to keep moving full speed ahead. This should encourage everyone, renew hope and instill a fresh desire to continue witnessing God’s work.”

Wrightsboro Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., baptized five people, including children and a man in his 70s. The church’s senior pastor, Eddie Eaton, said the elderly man showed the excitement of a child as he was baptized.

The church has also seen an up-tick in baptisms in recent months, causing the congregation to schedule them monthly. Eaton regularly teaches about baptism during expositional preaching through specific books of the Bible. He also consistently brings it up in conversations with people as he has gospel conversations and disciples people who are new to the faith.

“As a church, we have only one thing to do: the Great Commission, to make disciples who will then make disciples,” Eaton said. “While we often complicate this with other activities—I call it ‘busy stuff’—our true purpose is to make disciples who make disciples.”

Eaton pointed to the encouragement of his state convention as a key reason North Carolina Baptists have had more baptisms in recent years. When Todd Unzicker became the executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in May 2021, one of his first acts was to encourage participation in Baptism Sunday.

In 2023, North Carolina Baptists celebrated more than 16,000 baptisms, a 41% increase from 2022. According to Unzicker, not all of that can be linked to Fill the Tank Sunday, but he thinks it’s had a big impact.

“It’s become a routine—Palm Sunday, then Easter, followed by Fill the Tank Sunday. Churches are now deeply embedding intentional evangelism and soul-winning into their activities,” said Todd Unzicker. “Fill the Tank has reinvigorated this focus, encouraging churches to strategically pray, give and go forth to reach people. They celebrate the resurrection one week, and the next, they demonstrate new life in Christ through public professions of faith in baptism.”

Jared Cornutt, lead pastor of North Shelby Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., calls Baptism Sunday a reminder for Southern Baptists that God is still moving among his people. Cornutt celebrated his one-year anniversary at North Shelby Baptist on Baptism Sunday with six baptisms, bringing the one-year total to 23.

Cornutt attributed those baptisms to the kindness of God and shared his gratitude for how God is at work in his church and around the world through Southern Baptists.

“Our task is really quite simple—be obedient to the Word, be obedient to his calling, proclaim his Word, and trust him to do the work,” Cornutt said. “[Baptism Sunday] gives me hope. It gives me hope that in a convention of 46 to 47,000 churches—where it always seems like there’s fighting and, at times, things look bleak—that even as we wander through the proverbial desert, God is saving and redeeming people. That’s what we need to really be focusing on.”

TEXAN Correspondent
Tobin Perry
Most Read

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.