‘Plunge Parties’: Baptisms Today Break the Mold

An article by Wheaton College grad Ruth Graham (no relation to the famous evangelical family of Grahams) titled “Horse Troughs, Hot Tubs and Hashtags: Baptism Is Getting Wild” highlighted churches that have replaced their traditional baptistry with new and easier methods to perform baptisms within their buildings.

Graham featured the comparison of Russell Moore’s baptism and Moore’s 14-year-old son who recently got baptized. Moore is Christianity Today’s public theologian and director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project

Moore also currently serves alongside lead pastor TJ Tims, Ray Ortlund, Sam Allberry, Scott Thomas, John Farmer, and Barnabas Piper at Immanuel Nashville as minister in residence. On October 31, 2021, Moore baptized his son, Jonah, and posted a caption on his Instagram page, saying, “What a joy this morning at @immanuelnash to baptize my son Jonah as my brother in Christ.”

By contrast, Moore’s baptism in 1983 involved organ music playing in the background and a picture of the Jordan River hanging behind the baptistry. The elder Moore donned a long white robe during his baptism, while his son wore a t-shirt and professed his faith in a farmer’s watering trough. Jonah’s baptism didn’t have soft organ music playing in the background; it had a full worship band rejoicing in song when he came up out of the water as the congregation joined in with applause.

Immanuel Nashville featured two troughs, one on each side of the stage, to minimize the time between each person’s baptism.

Traditional baptistries are usually built-in tanks positioned behind the pastor’s pulpit and choir loft with see-through glass, similar to a fish tank, so those in the congregation can witness the baptism. Most have built-in steps leading down into the water where the one performing the baptism joins the faithful in the water — and hopefully a working water-heater.

“I would have probably thought a decade ago that not having a traditional baptistery would feel disconnected from my tradition. But I’ve found it to be the opposite,” Graham’s article reported Moore saying.

Graham’s article also described a church in South Florida which baptizes people in the ocean, a Las Vegas church that uses a folding tub, a Texas church that rents out an entire waterpark, and a Kansas church that uses an inflatable hot tub.

Southern Baptist Church Linwood Baptist’s pastor Mark Clifton in Kansas, Missouri, spoke about using a hot tub for baptisms. “We live in an age where people like experiences. It’s not that it looks better, but it feels better. It feels more authentic, it feels more real. It’s not the container that matters. It’s what is going on in the person’s heart.”

Clifton shared how much easier it was to fill the hot tub and how it allows congregants to gather closer to view the baptisms. Other pastors said that maintaining built-in baptisteries can be expensive because they leak and heat pumps go out, sometimes costing upwards of $3,000 to fix.

Instead of traditional baptismal robes, most churches today provide customized T-shirts with baptism sayings on them like “Made New,” “I Have Decided,” “New Life,” “Hope,” “Raised To Walk In New Life,” and “Dead Buried Raised.”

Some churches use “hip” phrases like Pathway of Life Church in Dallas, Texas, does who call their baptisms a “Plunge Party,” which take place during their Sunday morning worship gatherings.

Spontaneous Baptisms

Amazing stories from pastors and churches celebrating spontaneous baptisms are happening all over the world. Earlier this year, ChurchLeaders talked to Hendersonville, Tennessee’s Long Hollow Baptist Church’s senior pastor Robby Gallaty regarding how the Lord told him to start holding spontaneous baptisms during the pandemic. In the past 10 months, Long Hollow Baptist church have seen over 1,500 people baptized, some of whom listened to the Holy Spirit’s calling and drove from out of state.

On August 8, 2021, Elevation Church in Matthews, North Carolina, celebrated 589 baptisms. The baptisms were spread out over their multiple campuses, during its “Raised To Life” weekend. “What a day. 589 people stepped forward in faith to be baptized across all of our campuses this morning, proclaiming Jesus as their Savior,” Elevation Church wrote on its Instagram page. “We are so grateful for what God is doing through you, church! We will not take this for granted.”

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