HUMBLE—Nobody was baptized at United City Church during the early weeks of 2021, said Pastor Chris Kouba, who came to the church in 2019.
With just a few days left in the year, 203 have now been baptized, with three more scheduled this weekend. “We feel like we’re seeing God move,” Kouba said.
When Kouba arrived in April 2019, the church was called The Hub, its third name change in 15 years. Attendance and giving had declined. The church, flooded during Hurricane Harvey, needed to rebuild.
“The church was pretty beat up—emotionally, physically, all those things—coming out of the flood. The church did an amazing job helping the community, but its facility was in disrepair,” Kouba said.
Construction started in August 2019, and staff was reorganized. Yet in Easter 2020, when the new name and building debuted, COVID “zapped” all momentum.
“COVID hits, and all the sudden we can’t even meet,” Kouba recalled, adding, “It wasn’t exactly a recipe for greatness.”
The pause did allow the 106-year-old church time to develop name recognition. By July 2020, United City experienced “little stretches” of baptisms, ultimately baptizing 67 by year’s end.
Kouba said the largest number of baptisms occurred historically from 2006-2008, when the church moved into a new facility and averaged weekly attendance of 1,800-1,900. Now a typical Sunday welcomes 1,400-1,500 worshipers—a significant increase from pandemic lows.
Baptisms in 2021 spanned age groups: kids, youth and adults—including two septuagenarians and some people who had been watching online.
Kouba said he prayed for the church to experience unity and direction, focusing on a core value: “Lost people matter.”
An emphasis on diversity has also produced results. “We are so much more diverse and younger than we were two years ago. Even out of the 40 men we have baptized, 18 are non-white,” Kouba said.
The pastor reinstated a weekly public gospel invitation and the church has made baptism a central part of worship.
Cameras positioned near the baptistry improve viewing for the congregation, and a designated area allows friends and family to approach as their loved one is baptized. Baptisms beget more baptisms, as friends are saved after watching their friend’s act of obedience.
“It’s become this cascading thing, come watch a friend get baptized, six weeks later they’re in the baptism waters themselves,” Kouba said, noting that the church actively encourages invitations to friends.
“We actually say, don’t ever invite more people to a birthday party than you would to a baptism.”
Kouba said the staff had prayed and fasted for a week at the beginning of 2021, asking God to act abundantly. They have continued in weekly prayer.
“Ever since that prayer week, we’ve baptized someone every week … I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but I know I’ve never seen anything like that before,” he said.
Rock Hill: Recovered lives lead to living water
Michael Criner assumed the pulpit of Brownsboro’s Rock Hill Baptist Church—the oldest Southern Baptist church in Henderson County—less than three years ago.
“Five months before the pandemic hit, we had just landed,” he said.
The established church had relocated to State Highway 31 eight years previously, a “massive move” to a new facility that proved to be a gift, Criner said.
Before Criner was called as pastor, Rock Hill had begun a partnership with a drug treatment group, Call 2 Recovery, led by Dan Hosch, who is part of the church staff.
The church is committed to ministering to individuals who have critical needs and helping them see their spiritual needs. This, Criner said, leads to transformation.
Baptisms have grown steadily in recent years—from 60 in 2019, to 90 in 2020 during the pandemic, to 116 by November 2021 with more scheduled to come by year’s end. Many of the adults baptized are those “walking out of addiction, many helped by Call 2 Recovery,” Criner said.
Rock Hill also subsidizes Iron House, a residential rehab home housing up to 19 men a month who are recovering from addictions. “We help them get jobs and [achieve] sustainable living,” Criner said. The men attend Rock Hill on Sundays and participate in Bible studies at the home. Many are baptized as a result.
Children and youth also are being baptized, Criner said.
The church offers a class to help children trying to understand what it means to believe in Jesus, the pastor explained. The six-week new believers’ class, structured by children’s minister Arom Adalian, supplements what parents are teaching at home and occurs during the regular Sunday school hour.
Adalian is doing a “marvelous job in a tangible and accessible way helping kids understand what it means to believe in the gospel,” Criner said.
“Kids aren’t necessarily coming to faith in the class but going home and having conversations with Mom and Dad who are leading them to Christ,” he added.
For teens, the primary sources of salvations and baptisms are church-sponsored youth camps and retreats. Six youth were called to vocational ministry during camp this summer, Criner said.
The pastor urged that “every church can be evangelistic. They have to be consistent. It just takes discipline. You just have to do the work.” This can be hard, he admitted, as other things can easily fall victim to the “tyranny of the urgent.”
Yet the formula is simple. “Every day sharing the gospel, meeting people’s needs, caring for them … this leads to an evangelistic culture,” Criner said.
Salvations and baptisms result.