Pictured above: The large white bus with green lettering is a welcome sight on Sunday mornings as weary homeless men and women are invited onboard to take comfortable seats and enjoy a free breakfast provided through the church’s partnership with a local fast-food chain.
LAKELAND–As David Renfroe celebrates his 20th anniversary as senior pastor of Crestview Baptist Church in Lakeland, the true celebration focuses on the more than 1,500 individuals–representing dramatically diverse walks of life–who have made professions of faith and been baptized over the past two decades at the Central Florida church.
Some baptized individuals have come from a strong legacy of generations born and raised at the local church. Many others have come to Christ as a result of Crestview’s bus ministry to the homeless. Still others have come from the church’s partnership with Lighthouse Ministries, catering to mothers and children needing shelter. Even more individuals have come to faith in Christ from one of several other Crestview outreach initiatives.
“The ground is equal at the foot of the cross,” said Renfroe.
One of Pastor Renfroe’s familiar phrases in the church is, “Everyone is somebody, and no one is more important than anybody else.”
‘Looking for one more’
As the church bus rolls through downtown Lakeland, its mission is visible for all to see, with the words, “Looking for one more,” emblazoned boldly on the front of the bus and “Compelling them to come (Luke 14:23),” displayed on one side of the bus.
The large white bus with green lettering is a welcome sight on Sunday mornings as weary homeless men and women are invited onboard to take comfortable seats and enjoy a free breakfast provided through the church’s partnership with a local fast-food chain. The evangelistic six-wheeler then rolls toward the church, where the homeless, with some carrying their canes and others wearing their misfortune on their faces, are showered with hugs and smiles.
As the men and women enter the sanctuary, Pastor Renfroe’s voice echoes his welcome, “If you come once, you are considered a friend. If you come again, you are considered family.” After the morning service, the homeless are escorted to Crestview’s clothes closet on the church grounds to select any clothes they want. Those who make professions of faith and are baptized receive an outfit for the baptism ceremony and another afterward.
The same Christ-loving approach guides Crestview’s ministry to mothers and their children who are often escaping abuse, abandonment or addiction. Within the six-month program at Lighthouse’s shelter, mothers and their children are required to attend church. Crestview’s four 15-passenger vans go to the shelter each Sunday morning and Wednesday evening to pick up the women and children and take them to church, where they are invited to participate in worship and in a small group specifically designed for them. The senior pastor welcomes them with compassion and gives them the message of salvation.
One young mother who came to the church through Lighthouse Ministries said, “When I first came to Crestview, I told the pastor that I would never be baptized. Less than a year later, I am proud to call myself a child of God.”
Seeing people as God sees them
Pastor Renfroe’s 20-year legacy of preaching the gospel at Crestview has brought many people from different walks of life to know God and salvation in Christ alone. Renfroe established a culture of love over the years to meet the needs of Crestview’s diverse community of believers, and he has led his church to design and implement culturally focused outreach programs, explained Andy Frisbie, student pastor. As a result, the church is vibrant today.
“The outreach model at Crestview is an excellent example of reaching all people with the gospel because we try to see everyone the way God sees them. We do not judge people based on their appearance or financial status. Of all the churches I have been a part of, I have never seen the Holy Spirit at work more than at Crestview,” said Frisbie.