Located just 11 miles outside the pearl-crested gates and iconic Cinderella castle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is a church that is making an eternal kingdom-impact.
When Tim Wilder arrived at First Baptist Church Kissimmee to serve as student pastor, he was 24 years old and right out of seminary. Now, 38 years later and serving as senior pastor, Wilder recalls the dramatic changes the community has experienced over the years and the ministry that is required to serve well.
“Over the years, Kissimmee has gone from 90% white, English-speaking to 70% Hispanic, Spanish-speaking within a five-mile radius of the church,” he said. “Through intentional ministry we are a diverse congregation that now reflects our community.”
With 1.2 million visitors traveling to central Florida weekly, the church sits in a prominent location to reach not only its neighbors for Christ, but also the nations, he said. By adopting a mission-minded approach, the church has become fully integrated in various aspects of community service and involvement.
The church is passionate about reaching far beyond its four-walls and “getting out of the pew.” First Baptist, Kissimmee recently planted a church in southwest Florida, and it also focuses on its local community, serving local law enforcement, addressing homelessness, reaching the Hispanic population, supporting pregnancy resource centers and One More Child, and adopting seven public schools.
Public schools and recreation
The church actively partners with seven local schools in its community to reach students, families, teachers and administrators with the gospel. Members provide one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, after-school Bible clubs, and teacher and administrative aid.
In encouraging members to use one week of vacation time as a local mission trip, the church offers service and beautification projects, prayer walks, car washes for teachers, and free lunches for more than 1,000 teachers in seven elementary, middle and high schools each summer.
With its prime location as a draw, the church hosts open gym night, weekly taekwondo classes, adult sports leagues, and a number of summer sports camps and leagues for children and youth.
“We desire to look like our community and be in our community as much as possible, ultimately to point them to Christ,” Wilder said.
Pregnancy center and human trafficking
Thirty-three years ago, First Baptist, Kissimmee launched a pregnancy center on its campus that continues to provide free resources, sonograms and biblical counseling for mothers. Wilder hopes that serving families in the community will move far beyond the early years of life, ultimately reaching the whole family in becoming plugged into the life of the church.
With human trafficking on the rise in Florida, the church recently has partnered with One More Child to establish an anti-human trafficking task force to serve women and young children in central Florida.
More than 23 years ago the church partnered with area churches to meet the needs of homeless individuals in the greater Orlando area. The ministry offered hot meals, showers, and medical and dental care to hundreds of homeless individuals each week. Since the pandemic, the church has partnered with the Salvation Army in order to serve an even greater number of people.
“We’re not here to reinvent the ministry wheel and see how many things we can do,” Wilder said. “We can partner with others in order to meet great needs.”
What was once a predominantly English-speaking community, Kissimmee has quickly become Spanish-speaking, following an influx of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria in September 2017. To reach such a large population in its community, the church began offering English as a Second Language classes and various outreaches. Additionally, the church provides Spanish translations via headset for its Sunday morning worship services, offers Spanish-speaking Sunday School classes, and incorporates the Spanish language in worship and special choir songs.
On the horizon
This December the church will celebrate its 140th anniversary, and it has no plans to slow down.
“We are committed to teaching the Word, developing leaders and discipling people,” Wilder said. “We believe that is what makes a strong and healthy church.
“The ministry of our church is the overflow of our members having a servant heart.
“We are to love, connect and serve our community to be able to point them to Jesus and help them follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.”