ROCK SPRINGS, Ga. – Confetti is no longer limited to sports championships, weddings and New Year's Eve celebrations.
Peavine Baptist Church in Rock Springs recently celebrated the 300th baptism of the year by launching a deluge of confetti in the sanctuary.
Joel Southerland, lead pastor at Peavine, has a history of emphasizing the absolute importance of reaching the lost. He has been a successful pastor and has led evangelistic initiatives for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.
Southerland was serving as interim pastor of Peavine in 2016 when the church, averaging about 800 people in worship at the time, called him to be their permanent pastor.
“God began knitting our hearts together, and while I would have never mentioned it, by December of 2016 the church called me to be their pastor," he said. "My primary goal was to love the people and build a DNA of evangelism that permeated the whole church.”
By 2017 Peavine, tucked away in the Northwest corner of Georgia near the Cloudland Canyon State Park, had begun to experience exponential growth. Outreach Magazine listed Peavine as the 52nd fastest growing church in America. The church now averages more than 2,000 in worship attendance.
The COVID pandemic took a toll on the church like all other churches across the nation, but Southerland and his staff developed a strategy and resolved “To thrive, not survive” during the dark days of the ‘Wuhan Woes’. For three months the church did not meet on campus, but Southerland decided to produce a quality live streaming service. He told his staff, “We no longer have a worship center. We have a studio. Let’s do whatever we can to improve our online experience, and it will become our new front door. The attendance stabilized, then began to grow again and by 2023 it was like the church was shot out of a cannon in terms of growth.”
Southerland commented, “We have put a heavy emphasis on our vision – ‘Reaching every person in Peavine City with the Gospel’”. The Pastor has identified Peavine City as everything within a 20-mile radius of the church. Demographic and census studies show that there are 497,000 people who live within that circle.
“We believe we are uniquely positioned by God to reach our area,” Southerland explained. “We make our people a promise, and I say this all the time – ‘If you’ll get them to Peavine, Peavine will tell them about Jesus!’ So, we put a heavy emphasis on the importance of each of our members inviting people who live in their sphere of influence, and we give them the tools to do it.
“We give them social media tools, invite cards (physical and digital), and (we’ve taken over the community with ‘I love my church’ signs). We use our online service as our front door. Because of the way the church responds, we average 30-50 first time guests each week. And we preach the gospel without exception regardless of the emphasis or special occasion scheduled.”
Southerland continued, “I text every first-time guest every week and thank them for coming and ask them if I can help them on their spiritual journey. The lady who was our 300th baptismal candidate was one of those first-time guests that I led to the Lord over the phone. Our pastors are doing those type things every week.
“When I was at NAMB I discovered that highly evangelistic churches baptize 10 percent of their Sunday morning worship attendance. This year we will baptize over 15 percent of our worship attendance and 38 percent of them are adults. I am not interested in playing the numbers game. We believe that behind every number is a soul; and behind every soul is a story; and behind every story is the Gospel. I just want to reach people for Christ; and we are seeing incredible life change in people who were far away from God.
“We have a great church and a great staff; and we have a God-sized vision. We want to be the best church in our community and the best church for our community.”