Pastor's evangelistic mindset leads to exponential growth at Peavine Baptist Church


ROCK SPRINGS, Ga. — Since 2016 Peavine Baptist Church has experienced extraordinary growth by almost every metric used by churches. The growth coincides with Joel Southerland’s call to become interim pastor, which evolved into his call as the church’s senior pastor.

Southerland explained, “When I arrived as interim pastor the church was averaging about 800 per week, had plateaued, and was in a slight decline. In 2017 we were the 52nd fastest-growing church in America according to Outreach Magazine.

“In 2023 we are averaging 2,078 in-person attendance. We’ve had 164 baptisms since January, and we have baptized 1072 during my seven years at Peavine. Our in-person attendance for Easter Sunday was 4,397, and that was in the middle of spring break. There were also dozens of people saved on that special day we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord.”

Statistics show that the current attendance at Peavine is up 28 percent over 2022 and 34 percent over 2019. (This marks a significant increase since the onslaught of the COVID pandemic.) The records indicate that unique attenders (the number of people who have been to at least one service since January) are up 34 percent over 2022.

The church’s growth and need for multiple services each Lord’s Day has prompted plans to expand the church’s 700-seat auditorium to slightly more than 1,000 seats.

Southerland stated, “We are currently in the design phase with our architects. Not only will the worship center be expanded, but we are adding parking space, office space, and an enormous welcoming area. We are probably six months away from having the plans completed and we hope to raise half of the costs before the construction begins.”

Four months ago, the church launched a new campus in Dalton that averages approximately 125 in attendance. Southerland recently received a call from Outreach Magazine indicating that Peavine is one of the fastest-growing churches in America again, but they declined to reveal the ranking until the magazine is published later this month.

Southerland's resume shows that he has had successful pastorates during his ministry, but his passion for evangelism opened the door for him to become the leader of the evangelism department of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and then the North American Mission Board.

Southerland explained, “When I was at the GBMB and NAMB I studied highly evangelistic churches and uncovered a ‘blueprint’ that anyone can follow. It’s all about having a central vision and building a culture of evangelism. ‘Boxes’ and ‘kits’ have a very small shelf life, and they don’t build a culture. They produce an activity that eventually loses steam. We have people coming to faith in Christ every week and that builds momentum.”

The church has mapped out an area that basically includes a 20-mile radius from the church and are calling it Peavine City, and their goal is to reach every person in Peavine City with the gospel. Southerland remarked, “We believe that is our calling from God. Every decision we make leads in that direction. No matter what the future holds that is the direction we are going.

“We have a great team of pastors and staff that are all fully in alignment with the mission and vision God gave me back in 2017. They work tirelessly to reach Peavine City with the gospel. Nothing will substitute for prayer and hard work.

“Every year since I have been at Peavine we have started the year off with either 21 or 40 days of prayer. In 2017 I wrote a 40-day devotional through Acts, and we all read through Acts together as a church. It made a great impact on our congregation."

Evangelist Brian Fossett, a member at Peavine, was the one who alerted The Christian Index about the remarkable things that are happening at the church. When informed of Fossett’s call Southerland exclaimed, “Brian is a great asset to our church and God is using him in a significant way.

“The office of the evangelist is still needed in our day. I have Brian preach every year in our church and when he preaches people get saved. He has a unique ability to reach people. It is a gift from God. In this day of declining baptisms, his phone should be ringing off the hook with invitations to preach revivals.”

As you were reading about the growth of Peavine, did you think at all about the growth of Jack’s Beanstalk, an English fairy tale that first appeared as The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean in 1734? It is the story about a boy who sold a cow for five magic beans and a beanstalk that grew so rapidly it reached a kingdom in the sky overnight.

Yes, the comparison may be a reckless jump from the sublime to the ridiculous but be assured that the Peavine story is no fairy tale, but a story of God’s grace and a church that has followed their pastor’s vision for reaching a region of Georgia for Christ by establishing a culture of evangelism. The Peavine story surpasses the Beanstalk story like the miracles of the Apostle Paul surpasses the miracles of the sons of Sceva.