FBC McMinnville sees surge in baptisms despite COVID
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
McMINNVILLE — Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tidal wave of cancelations and postponements over the past 10 months, the virus certainly hasn’t canceled the evangelism efforts at First Baptist Church, McMinnville.
It has only reshaped them.
When the virus first took hold last spring, the church staff at FBC began examining some of its outreach strategies — and began moving in a new direction with several of its ministries.
Those efforts, coupled with the church’s ability to adapt and adjust, led to a surge in baptisms in 2020.
By the end of the calendar year, the church had baptized 25 new believers and had welcomed an additional 20 new members — which was more than double the amount of growth the church had seen in 2019.
Pastor Jeff Owens said the growth can be traced back to the church’s decision to continue to put an emphasis on evangelism, and to be intentional about it, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“When we began our initial suspension of on campus activities, we sat down as a staff and simply agreed that we wouldn’t let that stop our ministry,” he said. “The Great Commission doesn’t have a pause button; people are still perishing without salvation in Christ.”
Once that was established, Owens said, the next step was to make some changes and explore some new ideas.
“We decided that, in order to be able to keep moving forward responsibly, it would require prayer, creativity, and simply rethinking how the church accomplishes its mission,” he said.
Owens said the growth in 2020 was a testament to FBC’s commitment to seeing the spiritually lost come to know the Lord.
“I’m so proud of our church,” said Owens, who is starting his fifth year at FBC and his 33rd overall in the ministry. “I’m always thankful for souls added to the Kingdom, but considering the pandemic challenges, I’m ecstatic (about the growth in 2020). … To God be the glory!”
As was the case with almost every church, FBC encountered many obstacles and hardships because of COVID-19. Not only was there a suspension of worship gatherings, but essentially every event had to be reevaluated.
But rather than throwing their hands in the air, the staff and leaders at FBC resolutely decided to keep pushing forward. Yes, many events would look vastly different than before — and some might even have to be moved to an online version — but the church was willing to make those alterations, Owens said.
Owens noted that many of the baptisms can be credited to the church’s efforts to not only maintain, but to enhance, its focus on children and youth during the pandemic.
“I want to give the lion’s share of credit to my children and student ministers,” he said. “It was very tempting to just cancel everything (because of COVID-19). But they worked even harder and pulled off variations of VBS and summer camps — and that’s where we saw many of those salvations and baptisms.”
In addition to that, the church also decided to explore some new areas of ministry. And that decision was rewarded, too.
“As a church, we had a vision going into 2020, and our deacons were so supportive to keeping the momentum going, safely and responsibly,” Owens said.
“For instance, we launched a college/career ministry, and almost immediately began seeing the baptistry waters stirred as a result.”
Because of COVID restrictions and precautions, FBC has had to move away from traditional procedures on some occasions, Owens said.
“During the early days of suspended gatherings, (we had) a young, saved college student who desired to follow through with baptism,” said Owens. “So, with just her family present, we held a live, online baptism service as she publicly declared her faith in Jesus Christ.”
Owens said the growth that FBC experienced in 2020 — in the midst of challenging circumstances — served as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
“The first century church saw tremendous opposition, restriction, and persecution — yet it was in this environment that the church flourished,” he said.
“They showed us that it can be done. (This past year) has given us a renewed sense of living life on mission: ‘the fields are white unto harvest!’ ”
Owens said that, in some ways, the challenges of 2020 were a blessing, especially in terms of underscoring the mindset of “the gospel above all.”
“The success of this year has, no doubt, reminded us that the work of sharing the Gospel and seeing lives changed for Christ isn’t hindered by crisis or conditions, so long as believers are living and sharing their faith,” he said.