CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Because of an altar-ed way of thinking, Elk Horn Baptist Church is enjoying a stretch of 25 consecutive months with a baptism. They celebrate the last Sunday of every month as new believers go through the waters.
It starts at the altar, says Elk Horn Pastor Brian Rafferty, who has watched 92 go through the baptism waters in the past two years and a month.
Instead of being a place of judgment and fear, the altar in Elk Horn Baptist Church has become a place of joy and grace, he said. It is a welcoming place to the brokenhearted, the hurting, those seeking refuge and especially to those seeking Jesus. But it can also be a place where fellow believers gather and friends celebrate.
“Everywhere God went He made the altar a beautiful place,” Rafferty said. “It’s where people were saved, born again, married…”
But that wasn’t the picture of the altar he was seeing in churches, including Elk Horn. It was cold, judgmental and carried its own stigma that didn’t reflect God.
“When I grew up, I didn’t see many people at the altar,” he said. “If you go to the altar, well, that’s gotta be a bad person, there has to be something bad going on in that person’s life. There’s no truth to that. People have used the altar as a whipping post.”
Rafferty’s aim was to change that image of the altar, to make it a place of peace and grace, and he did.
When Rafferty was called to Elk Horn Baptist Church almost a dozen years ago, the church was running about 100 on Sundays and struggling to meet the monthly budget. It was so bad that Rafferty told his wife that “God must have made a mistake bringing us here. They can’t even make budget.”
Rafferty understands now that the Lord was just getting his attention.
“I started doing testimonies and preaching from the Word of God. I did a series of sermons about ‘Are you ready to be altar-ed?’ I got through six weeks of lessons. At the end of the worship service—and I still do this today—I’ll ask the whole congregation to come to the altar. We come to the altar as a family of God.”
The altar is open to anyone before, during or after every service, he said.
When someone comes to the altar for salvation, they aren’t rushed into the baptismal pool. They are instead enrolled in a new members “4G” class that explains what the church believes, provides literature and matches them with a deacon and a place to serve that matches their skill set. The 4Gs stand for gather, grow, gain and go.
However, he said the church’s turning point came in 2010, two years into his pastorate, when the leaders gathered to pray and seek God’s wisdom because it wasn’t going well.
'Put God first'
“If you put God first, He will add the rest. Give Him room to work. I have found out God normally does more after the Word of God is preached because it’s a seed.”
The church began experiencing growth and has grown to nearly 600 in attendance every Sunday with baptisms as a monthly occurrence. They have become more intentional with how they serve—reaching out on Wednesdays to gather less fortunate children in the area, feeding them and telling them about Jesus. It has become a highlight ministry, Rafferty said.
“God had to change me,” Rafferty said. “I found out really, really quick the church will follow the pastor. How he leads, that’s where the sheep will follow. God had to change me first. God will only take the church as far as he can take the pastor. I’m still a student, still learning.”
Kenny Rager, a church evangelism associate of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said Elk Horn Baptist Church is an example of what can happen when a church turns it all over to God.
“If a church in a smaller rural town can see people saved and baptized for 25 months straight and see God move, the Lord can move anywhere he wants to in Kentucky,” he said.
Alan Witham, the central regional consultant for the KBC, is encouraged by Elk Horn and what’s happening in his hometown.
“They’re reaching people,” he said. “The church is effectively reaching people in large part because they have a leader who places a priority on evangelism. A few years ago, when you would drive by the church, a sign out front would have how many baptisms they’ve had. They have a leader who has a high value for sharing the gospel and a passion for seeing people come to Christ. To see a church effectively reach people to Christ in my hometown is a great encouragement to me.”
Rafferty said Witham, Rager and KBC Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Gray have all recently been encouragers to him and he is looking forward to a stronger relationship with the KBC.
Meanwhile, Elk Horn Baptist Church learns together and grows together.
“I’m big on discipleship,” said Rafferty, who is an evangelistic pastor who says all members need to keep growing in the Lord. “Discipleship, to me, is one of the key components of a healthy church. You’ve got to educate your people.”
Rafferty said he has used the month of January to talk about the vision of the church and he stretches them with goals for salvations and baptisms. This past year it was 100.
He’s also excited about an altar that has become the most welcoming place in the church and maybe in all of Campbellsville.