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48 students baptized in one day amid Johnson Ferry’s discipleship culture

Lee Taylor, assistant pastor of family discipleship, baptizes a new believer at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church Dec. 11.

MARIETTA, Ga. (BP) – Discipleship is promoted and modeled as a culture at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Senior Pastor Clay Smith told Baptist Press after the church baptized 48 junior and high school students Dec. 11.

“It’s more caught than taught,” Smith said. “Sunday was the fruit of a larger disciple-making culture that we have been intentional about over the last two years, particularly in our student ministry. It was a wonderful celebration of where we see God doing some really special things.

“We’ve had other big days of baptism with people of all ages before in our history, but as far as we know, that was by far the largest student baptism day that we’ve ever seen here.”

Disciple-making is practiced by all leaders of the church and encouraged among members of all ages, Smith said, pointing out the work of the entire student ministry team led by Logan Grantham, associate pastor of students.

“He’s done a great job with his team, making evangelism a priority and disciple-making a priority,” Smith said. “They teach the meaning of baptism to the group as a whole, but meet with each student to discern their salvation and actually, each student writes out their testimony.”

Perhaps half of those baptized Sunday made professions of faith during Johnson Ferry’s DNOW (Disciple Now) weekend Nov. 11-13, Smith said, with others having professed faith at other events this year. The baptisms were conducted during the 11:30 a.m. worship service

“We vet all of them,” he said. “Anyone we baptize, we first want to discern their understanding of baptism, and also allow us a chance to properly discern the legitimacy of their salvation as best as we can. All 48 were vetted, for lack of a better word.”

Disciple-making is modeled and encouraged through 4:19 groups based on Matthew 4:19, with students leading student discipleship groups.

“We still have big fun events, like most student ministries. but we put a lot more emphasis on students discipling students,” he said. “It’s a strategy we use across the church. It’s not just for students.”

Smith himself discipled five male high school seniors this year, he said, and told Baptist Press of an 88-year-old Johnson Ferry member who discipled 12 people in the past year.

“We’ve seen a lot more ownership of our students taking evangelism seriously, taking disciple-making seriously,” he said, “and I think in large part what we’re seeing with these baptisms is the fruit of people sharing Jesus with their friends.”

Smith sees a door to the Gospel in the contemporary cultural challenges teenagers face.

“We’re seeing a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety, a lot of angst in teenagers in general, and I think they’re hungry for what only the Gospel can provide,” he said. “Our mission statement as a church is that we exist to help people find truth, belonging and purpose in Jesus. And those three pillars are critical to reaching this generation. They want truth.

“In a world where it’s difficult to know who to believe and what to believe,” Smith said, “they are looking for clarity, and we believe that that truth and clarity is found in Jesus.”

Johnson Ferry presents itself to students as a family entailing responsibilities and opportunities, not merely a place to visit.

Disciple-making is encouraged through various church initiatives, interjected into sermons and facilitated through training tools distributed among the membership. Discipleship Download is the church’s new podcast designed to teach its leaders different aspects of disciple-making.

Johnson Ferry baptized 143 people in 2021 and 110 in 2019, according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Church Profile, conducting baptisms at various Sundays throughout the year. Children’s baptism services are held quarterly, with 20 to 30 children being baptized at a typical service.

“I think it’s healthy for the church to see baptisms consistent and throughout the year,” he said. “Usually, if someone wants to get baptized and it wasn’t pre-determined as a baptism Sunday, we’ll try to find a way to make that happen.”