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Bowling Green church holds mass baptism at Barren River Lake


New believers follow in the Christian rite of Baptism at Barren River Lake. Some churches are generating excitement around baptisms by holding them outdoors. (Photo by Robin Cornetet)

Glasgow—A crisp turn in the weather wasn't going to stop a group of more than 30 new believers from being baptized at Barren River Lake Sunday.

"The water is not cold," said Bowling Green Pastor Steve Ayers trying to sway any last minute decisions toward salvation. "It's the air that is cold."

About 100 onlookers with jackets zipped to their chins responded with laughter and cheers.

Ayers is one of a growing number of pastors who generate excitement around baptism by taking the religious rite outdoors at least once a year. That's part of the reason Kentucky Baptist churches are reporting increases in baptisms. More than 14,200 believers were baptized in the state in 2014, up from about 13,970 the previous year.

This year marked the 22nd year that Hillvue Heights Church has held outdoor baptisms at Barren River Lake. The event culminates an annual evangelistic event known as "Godstock" in which Ayers stresses the need to be part of a community of believers.

"In a shared community, shared faith comes naturally," Ayers said. "For us, it's the people. We don't have program tricks. We take the Great Commission seriously. It's not super sophisticated. Jesus said, 'Go and tell people who I am.' Period."

Ayers said his church saw 531 people baptized and confess their faith in Jesus Christ last year. Hillvue Heights routinely leads the state in baptisms with about 500 a year for the past several years.

For Sharon Poston, being baptized outside was about feeling closer to God.

"There was a significance to me of being baptized outside like Jesus was," said Poston.

After attending the church for nearly 10 years, Poston said it was time for her to be obedient to the call of believer's baptism. Her 21-year-old son, Cody, and her husband, Tim, followed and all three were baptized Sunday in the lake.

Location wasn't as big a deal to Cody Poston.

"I think no matter where you get baptized, whether it's in a lake, whether it's in a pool, or whether it's in a tub, as long as you are confirming your faith it doesn't matter where you choose to get baptized," he said.

Other churches, like Immanuel Baptist in Corbin, have set up swimming pools in their sanctuaries to mimic the great outdoors. Immanuel baptized 54 people on one Sunday last winter, and followed that with 21 more over the next three weeks.

"While outdoor baptisms are seen by many as a novelty, not so long ago, being baptized outdoors was the only option," said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. "Today, outdoor baptisms harken us back to the 'old time religion' and present the opportunity for a unique and very memorable baptismal experience.

"When performed in a public place, outdoor baptisms also allow the new believer and church to use this tangible symbol to present the gospel to a watching world." (KBC)

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