Where the St. Johns River narrows and heads upstream to Lakes George and Monroe, sits the city of Palatka, seat of Putnam County, and home of Life Church. Established in 1964 as Tabernacle Baptist Church, it was re-planted as Life Church in November 2018.
Pastor Garry Taylor Jr. has a history with this church; he previously served at Tabernacle as youth pastor for 10 years, left for six years, and was called back as lead pastor in October 2017. And when he returned, there were 12 people in worship on Sunday mornings. A once successful church now needed to make changes.
“We traded our children for our traditions for far too long, and it was time to do something drastic,” said Pastor Taylor.
After getting out and talking with people in the area, they discovered that their church was either not known at all, or not known positively in their community.
“Like many churches today, Tabernacle had become inwardly focused,” said Pastor Taylor. “We started over, re-focused, narrowed in on what God’s mission was for us.”
And God provided help as they began the process of re-planting a new church in Palatka.
Dr. Craig Culbreth, East Catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, “walked us through this process [of re-planting] masterfully,” said Taylor. Culbreth encouraged them as they re-cast vision and purpose, and assisted in identifying people in their congregation who had skills to help lead them forward.
Churches in the St. Johns River Baptist Association also came alongside to help, including First Baptist Palatka, the church that had originally planted Tabernacle. First Palatka, along with Woodlawn Baptist Church, sent people and materials to help remodel space in their building for a children’s and youth ministry, and Dunns Creek Baptist Church has provided leadership and assistance with their website.
Transformation is happening! With the addition of young families and new believers, the average Sunday worship attendance has increased to 60-70. Sunday School classes are now Life Groups that meet on Sunday evenings around a shared meal before studying God’s Word.
Life Church now views their building as belonging to God, and they share it with others: a soccer team uses their field for practices; their facility was the hub for Putnam County Emergency Management services during Hurricane Michael, October 2018; Florida Baptist Children’s Home meets there to train new foster families; and Celebrate Recovery will begin meeting on April 15, 2019.
Life Church will celebrate their re-plant with a Grand Opening on June 2, 2019, with Dr. Craig Culbreth speaking and a community barbeque in their courtyard.
“The most amazing thing is the wonderful Spirit that is now in the church,” Culbreath said. “They are even planting a new church that will meet in their building on Sunday nights. What a breath of fresh air as Pastor Garry leads with the attitude of ‘God really wants us to reach this community!’ ”