God is at work in North Carolina — in 2023, N.C. Baptists celebrated over 16,000 baptisms, a 41 percent increase from 2022. As we celebrate God’s work over the past year, read a testimony below to see how one church in Jacksonville experienced its second highest number of baptisms ever recorded.

At Centerview Baptist Church in Jacksonville, N.C., there are baptisms nearly every Sunday.

Located just outside of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Centerview has a large influx of young military families. 

“Most of the (baptisms) are Marines and sailors from the base, who are being inculcated into the church,” explained Michael Schwalm, pastor of Centerview. 

Known to his congregation as “Pastor Mike,” Schwalm himself was in his final months of active duty in the Navy Marine Corps when he started pastoring Centerview in 1997. 

 At the time, Centerview was a small country church in a red brick building. 

“The first year I was there, in a church of 41 people, we baptized 17,” Schwalm said. 

Since then, the baptisms haven’t stopped. Schwalm has baptized more than 1,000 people at Centerview, which he says has been in a “continuous state” of revival and has consequently moved to a larger building. 

In his 26-year tenure, there’s been an average of 41 people baptized every year. But 2023 marked the second highest number of baptisms: Centerview, along with its first church plant, Eastview Baptist Church, baptized a total of 66 people. 

What’s in the water?

Most of these decisions for Christ didn’t happen spontaneously during a Sunday sermon. 

Rather, Schwalm said decisions are often “made in living rooms or inside bars rather than at the altar.” Still, Schwalm continues to offer an invitation every Sunday. 

“Most of the decisions come when we make an appointment with folks, whether they come to the church or whether we make it to their home,” Schwalm said, noting the importance of one-on-one gospel conversations. 

“The Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said he could do more in an hour of close interaction with a family than in a year’s worth of Sabbaths,” Schwalm said. “So, what he was saying is one hour in person trumps 50 sermons, and he’s right.” 

Even so, Schwalm stands on the importance of Centerview’s focus on evangelism and discipleship through Biblical preaching. 

“Our journey has been from day one to focus on biblical preaching, expository preaching,” Schwalm said. “There’s a huge emphasis at Centerview Baptist Church to read the Bible through, from cover to cover. We try to whet their appetite with good teaching and preaching. But the main thing is they’ve got to get into the Word themselves.”

Centered around this biblical view, Schwalm is a firm believer in what baptism is — and isn’t. He remembers one of his daughters telling him she wanted to be baptized to have eternal life. 

“Oh sweetie, getting baptized doesn’t help you get into heaven,” he responded. Rather, he says baptism is a public profession of faith. 

“It’s a celebration that someone has been saved,” Schwalm said. “And it’s one of the first things of obedience that we do to follow Him shamelessly.”

In addition to expository preaching, Centerview constantly goes over the basics with its congregants to ensure they have a clear understanding of the gospel. 

“With baptism, we teach the Lord Jesus is inside us in the person, the Holy Spirit. He’s never going to leave us nor forsake us,” Schwalm explained. “Like a wedding ring doesn’t marry me, but it says, ‘Hey, I am married,’ baptism is the opportunity for the candidate to publicly confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord. And we celebrate that confession.”

Fill the Tank

When someone is baptized at Centerview, it’s typically at the end of a Sunday service. It causes an eruption of applause and excitement. 

“The people go crazy,” Schwalm said.

That’s exactly what happened last year when Centerview participated in Fill the Tank, a designated day when N.C. Baptist churches baptize those who have recently made decisions for Christ. 

During last year’s “Fill the Tank” Sunday, Centerview baptized eight people who committed their life to God.

“We baptized a lady that was 90 years of age, coming out of Catholicism, and that was just a real inspiration,” Schwalm said. Schwalm recalled that after being baptized, she had a radiant, joyous smile that couldn’t be wiped off her face. 

“Again, it’s not salvific, but it is pretty special,” Schwalm said. “People always applaud. They always make much of it, but they made real much of it that day.”

N.C. Baptist churches are invited to “Fill the Tank” on Sunday, April 7. Learn more at fillthetanknc.org.