South Carolina church baptizes 141 new believers during Sunday morning worship services


SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. — A South Carolina church that focuses heavily on reaching the unchurched baptized 141 new believers on December 3.

Wayne Bray, lead pastor of the multi-campus First Baptist Simpsonville/Upstate Church, called the mass baptisms "thrilling."

“I’m overwhelmed,” he told his congregation in his Sunday morning sermon. “God is doing something supernatural, not just in this place but on every campus today.”

In an effort to remove all obstacles that might have prevented believers from being baptized, Bray said the church provided shorts, T-shirts, even underwear for those who made spontaneous decisions.

Bray a Georgia native and a former Georgia pastor said 11 of the church’s pastors either grew up in Georgia or have served churches there.

When Wayne Bray and his wife, Amy, arrived in Simpsonville in August of 2015, the church averaged 1,690 in Sunday morning worship, but since August 2023, the church has averaged 3,700 in worship and was named the 47th fastest growing church in America. The church has baptized more than 300 in 2023 and has grown to a membership of more than 7,000.

“From the beginning it was my prayer and intention to lead the church through an intentional process of revisioning and remediation,” Bray said. “We clearly defined our mission to “connect people in the upstate with Jesus to change their world, while identifying our primary target as young families with kids at home. To be clear, we want to reach everyone, but we also realize that a church that isn’t reaching young families is a dying church. Therefore, we have committed to be a multigenerational church, leaning forward into the next generation.”

The approach to evangelism and church growth employed by Bray has been effective.

“We knew that a growth strategy that builds the church around a personality or program in one location, eventually requires a new worship facility and/or increased seating,” he said. “But I felt like God was leading us to grow out, not up. This approach would depend on building a strong team of high capacity, competent leaders in all areas. We have maintained this strategy over the eight years, and God has honored it.”

Bray said the church formulated a new plan, developed a new strategy, and began to implement foundational changes for long-term future expansion.

“These changes included an increased focus on consistency of identity, clearly defined standards, and values, as well as an intentional decentralization of influence and dependency,” he said. “This would require that none of us aspire to be a celebrity pastor. Quite frankly, anyone who desires to build a platform that shines a spotlight on one person would not like our model.”

In 2015, the Simpsonville/Upstate Church had three campuses, but Bray has expanded the church from three to six campuses with a seventh campus in the planning stage.

“We have a teaching team that helps me, including two executive pastors, and five additional campus pastors who serve as the primary preachers on their respective campus. Each campus pastor preaches 35 Sundays a year on his primary campus, but we rotate the team as well, decentralizing dependency. Our worship leaders rotate as well. This has proven to be a valuable strategy to keep the focus on Jesus.”

Bray said another contributor to the church’s growth has been a collaborative approach to ministry and missions.

“Nothing at Upstate Church depends on one person,” he said. “We believe that none of us is smarter or stronger than all of us. Every aspect of our ministry is based on teamwork. No one operates in isolation, and no one is a superstar. This is healthy, and it broadens the base of leadership and maximizes our impact. I agree with D.L. Moody when he said, ‘I’d rather put a thousand men to work than to do the work of a thousand men.’”

Bray described “a culture of divine expectation” that has developed at his church.

“We expect God to move every week, and we encourage every member to be bold and invite people to visit our church,” he said. “Our hope is to create a culture of personal evangelism and to build a missional system for mobilizing the people of the church to be mid-week ambassadors for Christ.”

Bray said he the ministry team “are simply attempting to equip, challenge, and mobilize every believer to be a disciple-maker. Our hope is not to accumulate observers. Upstate church needs participants. We’re not recruiting passengers to get in the boat. Instead, we are inviting fishermen to join us in being fishers of men. We don’t want to just be a church that makes disciples. We desire to be a church full of disciple-makers.”

The goal, Bray said, is to create a culture of evangelism, and that means challenging the congregation o bring others to church.

“We have created a culture of invitation,” he said. “Six or eight times a year, when we specifically tell everyone to build bridges to friends, family, and neighbors, they invite them to church, and we pray God saves them. This is true of every area of our church, every age group. Our student and children ministries often lead the way in this area.”

When it comes to baptism, the Simpsonville/Upstate church allows new believers to choose someone who led them to Christ or who has made a significant spiritual impact on them to perform the baptism. Bray said few things are more moving than seeing a teenager baptize a friend that he had the privilege of leading to faith in Christ.

“Let me acknowledge that God is the only one who can save anyone, and no strategy or system will work outside the power of the Holy Spirit,” Bray said. “But we are responsible to make wise decisions, to be faithful with that which Christ has assigned us. It all boils down to personal sacrifice. Our people are seeing God work because they have been willing to yield their own preferences for his greater purpose.”