By Chris Moon
A baptistery can make a world of difference.
Ocala (Fla.) Christian Church discovered this during 2022 when the small church in central Florida baptized 31 people. That translated into a 27.9 percent baptism ratio (baptisms per 100 in average attendance).
That baptism ratio was among the highest among all small churches (those averaging 100 to 249 people for weekly worship) in Christian Standard’s 2022 Church Report. OCC averaged 111 people on Sundays last year.
It also was the first year the church spent in its new building—one that has a baptistery right in the front of the worship center, said Roger Wright, the church’s senior minister.
“This was the first time they actually watched a baptism happen,” Wright said of his church’s members. “You know, that’s kind of contagious.”
THE NAMETAG CHURCH
Wright planted Ocala Christian Church in 2007 with 12 people in a living room.
The church grew into rented facilities, including a community center, a Masonic Lodge dining room, and a messianic church of God.
Ocala Christian Church always has focused on reaching out to people who have no church home and frequently to those with no church background.
The church is so intentional about bringing in new people that everyone at each service wears a nametag so first-time visitors can quickly get acclimated to the names and faces of the church.
“That’s who we are,” Wright said, joking that “you’d be weird if you don’t have a nametag.”
A NEW BUILDING
The church finally was able to buy its own building in 2021. It was a vacant retail and restaurant space.
The building itself was run-down. The real estate agent declined to walk inside when showing it to the church.
Wright said the church found two dead cats inside—along with holes in the roof and a bad smell. Anything of value had been stolen from the building.
The church borrowed $250,000 from Christian Financial Resources to purchase and renovate the building, which they gutted and restored. Members did a lot of the work themselves.
The building now is insured for $2 million, and the church only has about $200,000 left to repay the loan, Wright said.
“It’s a beautiful facility now,” he said.
BAPTISM AT THE FOREFRONT
And a prominently placed portable baptistry is in the facility. Before it had its own building, Ocala Christian Church conducted baptisms in pools or at other churches.
“It’s amazing how many churches don’t have [their baptistries] ready” each week, Wright said.
But now the people at Ocala Christian Church can see each baptism firsthand. Some people had come to the church from denominational backgrounds and had never seen someone fully immersed during baptism.
“It takes all the mystique out of it,” Wright said. People in the church realize, “Oh, I can do that,” he said.
And simply having its own building, one that is highly visible on a busy street in town, made last year an important one in the life of the church. Wright said average church attendance has grown from 111 last year to about 140 today.
“2022 was pivotal for us,” he said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.
This is the fourth of several “Spotlight” articles we have planned to complement our May/June 2023 Church Report issue.