James, left, was recently saved while attending a Bible study in prison and is now engaged in the Celebrate Recovery program at Liberty Baptist Church. Pictured with Pastor Brian Branam, upon coming out of the water he hugged Branam and said, “I never thought my life would be like this.” Photos by Jane Willett and Daniel Peeples
CHATSWORTH — Every pastor wants to see an increase in baptisms. Typically, that leads him to take steps such as research various programs, read books on the subject, or indulge in podcasts of the better-known experts. The hope is that any of those on its own or a mixture of several can help bring about a response.
While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those, Chatsworth pastor Brian Branam took a different approach earlier this year.
“I built a sermon series called ‘Lost and Found,'” said Branam, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church. “I preached on evangelism and baptism all summer. And really, we just focused on all of our normal events, but we did them more prayerfully and intentionally.”
Those events – Vacation Bible School, Celebrate Recovery, student camp, children’s ministry, etc. – took place as they had each year before. However, this summer each Sunday ended with the church coming together in corporate prayer to see more baptisms. That included Liberty’s main campus on highway 76, just a mile into Murray County from Dalton, as well as its other campuses in Fort Oglethorp and Spring Place, a trailer park of around 110 homes where the worship service is bilingual.
“We prayed for 30 baptisms by the end of the summer,” Branam said. “Then I told the church I hoped for 50.”
On August 18 members of Liberty Baptist gathered together at a lake to see 64 people baptized. All told, Liberty baptized 72 this summer.
Committed to the point of decision
Three had been saved in prison and now wanted to be baptized. Another was a prodigal son who couldn’t outrun the prayers of his mama. Those taking part were white and black, young and old.
“It was incredible,” marveled Branam.
Working up to that day at the lake, Branam led Liberty in doing what they had always done, but do it at a higher level. “We just wanted to do a better job of sharing the gospel clearly and then following up,” he explained. “In whatever we did, it was to point them toward making a decision for the Lord.”
Over the summer the number of decision cards grew of those wanting to be baptized. The list went to 30, then it passed 40.
“The week before the baptisms I began calling people to see if they needed anything,” said Branam. “I learned that they had been telling others about getting baptized. They asked if I would call their friends, so I did. That led to ten or 12 more people getting baptized as well.”
It didn’t stop there. On Aug. 18, the day of the event, approximately 500 people gathered at Red Clay Resort, formerly known as Farmer’s Lake, in North Georgia. They sang with the Liberty worship band. Branam preached an evangelistic message from Luke 15 “to draw the net one more time,” he noted.
Eight more came forward wanting to enter the waters as well.
‘A continual season’
Branam is quick to point out that baptism isn’t the final step for Liberty and those who baptized last month.
“Right now we’re working through those ministries where they connected to ensure follow-up,” he said. “We want to keep that same intentionality for church membership. I told the church that we didn’t want this to just be a great summer. We want it to be a continual season and what we do all the time.”
Others assisted Branam in the baptisms. They were Scott Young, Celebrate Recovery leader; Clint Strickland, associate pastor; Ryan Ralston, Fort Oglethorpe campus pastor; Donny Lewis, student minister; and Corbin Albertson, children’s minister.
One of the baptism candidates, James, had a testimony that included going to prison. While there he joined a Bible study and became a Christian. Since the beginning of the summer he’s been attending Liberty, telling Branam he’d found a real home there and how the people loved him.
That Sunday as he rose out of the water he added something else to go along with the waterlogged hug from Branam.
“Man, I never thought my life would be like this.”