Florida Baptists celebrate being on mission together during Challenge 2025 Gathering

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Pictured above: First Orlando’s worship team leads worship during Challenge 2025 gathering.

ORLANDO—More than 600 Florida Baptist pastors and church leaders came together for the fourth annual Challenge 2025 Gathering at First Baptist Church in Orlando Tuesday, Feb. 27.

“The Challenge 2025 Gathering is a time of celebration of what God is doing through Florida Baptist churches. The Gathering reminds us that we are together in this incredible mission of reaching Florida and beyond for Christ!” said Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer.

Challenge 2025 was launched in 2019 by Green as a five-year vision for Florida Baptists to spur the family of Baptists to attain a new level of commitment to reach the nation’s fastest growing state with the gospel.

Green’s vision, which was highlighted in a video shared with attendees, established annual benchmarks for the state’s combined churches: 75 new church plants; 100 revitalized churches; 30,000 baptisms; 12,000 mission engagements; $33 million in Cooperative Program gifts; and $1 million in Maguire State Mission Offering gifts for church planting.

“The preliminary report from 2023 reveals an increase in baptisms, church planting, church revitalization and other ministry areas,” Green said. “We are blessed with kingdom-minded churches and pastors in our Florida Baptist family.”

‘Called to be together’

In opening remarks, David Uth, First Orlando senior pastor, affirmed the ethnic and generational diversity of those in attendance, stating, “This is what heaven’s going to look like.” Florida residents, though diverse, share one thing in common. “They need Jesus,” Uth said, drawing attention to Psalm 71 about declaring God’s “power” and “mighty acts” to the “next generation.”

Florida Baptist Convention president Mike Orr briefly shared his intended theme for Florida Baptists’ 2024 annual meeting, slated for Nov. 11-12 in Orlando. Orr, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Chipley, stated that he is seeking to lead Florida Baptists to focus on “being a holy people who separate from the world and seek after God.” In doing so, he said, believers will have “more power to share the gospel when others see the power of the gospel worked out in us.”

Keynote speaker Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, delivered an encouraging and challenging sermon urging Florida Baptists to “be fitly together.”

Keynote speaker Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola for more than 30 years, delivered an encouraging and challenging sermon from Ephesians 2:19-22, urging Florida Baptists to “be fitly together.” Throughout his message, Traylor exhorted those in attendance to unite in being on mission together.

“God has called us to join together; that is what it means to be family,” he said. “If you are a Florida Baptist, you are called to be together.”

Traylor walked through three illustrations Paul used to describe the togetherness of a family of believers on mission—in our citizenship (v. 19), as a household (v. 19), and built on a strong foundation (v. 20).

Referencing “The Baptist Art of Living Together,” an article written by James Marion Frost, the founder of the Sunday School Board for the Southern Baptist Convention, Traylor stated that Baptists are “fighting together” for conversion, doctrine, ordinances and understanding that we are in the army of God—together.

“Listen Florida Baptists, we’re a family together; we’re united together,” Traylor said. “Let’s go together; let’s give together; let’s pray together, and let’s encourage together.”

Challenge 2025 breakouts

After a morning worship service, attendees headed to a selection of more than 20 breakout sessions, with a focus on varied topics, such as reaching the next generation, women’s ministry and pastors’ wives, church worship, church planting, missions, generosity and stewardship and cyber fraud prevention. Florida Baptist church leaders from throughout the state facilitated the breakout sessions.

Panel: Liz Traylor; Olive Baptist Church, Bonnie Stowe; FBC Plant City, Jessica Pigg; Fellowship Church Immokalee and Ave Maria, and Lilliana Lewis; Sarasota Baptist Church

Around 50 Florida Baptist pastors’ wives gathered together during a breakout session hosted by Cindy Bradley, Florida Baptists’ leader for women’s missions and ministry, and Archalena Coats, wife of Patrick Coats, Florida Baptists’ East regional catalyst. As laughter and personal stories filled the room, Liz Traylor, pastor’s wife at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, shared how pastors’ wives “must be willing to let God flip their life around so they can spend intentional time with Him.” Traylor also encouraged women to spend intentional time in the word of God and take time to breathe as they seek to serve others.

“We can’t do it all in our own strength,” she said. “Many of us have a delusional sense of omnipotence…we must let God be God.”

International Mission Board missionary Mark McCray speaks at Asian American breakout during Challenge 2025 gathering.

The pastors’ wives breakout session also included a testimony by Bonnie Stowe, pastor’s wife at First Baptist Church in Plant City, a panel discussion with four pastors’ wives across the state, and a surprise FaceTime call from Karen Green, wife of Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer.

Because of Florida Baptists’ diverse ethnic makeup, several breakout sessions were specifically tailored to address the needs of four distinct ethnic groups.

Pablito Lucas, the Asian American multicultural consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, guided a group of a dozen Asian American pastors and their spouses, hailing from the Philippines, Vietnam and China. The attendees engaged with insights from International Mission Board missionary Mark McCray and Danilo Santiago, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Both McCray and Santiago inspired the group to steadfastly continue their outreach to those yet to be saved.

Charles Jones (front, right), pastor of New Covenant Bible Fellowship in Orlando, and Mesack Dieudonne (front, left), pastor of Emmanuel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray.

In the Haitian breakout session, approximately 20 Haitian pastors and their spouses were enlightened by Charles Jones, pastor of New Covenant Bible Fellowship in Orlando, and Mesack Dieudonne, pastor of Emmanuel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray. Jones and Dieudonne discussed practical strategies for churches to contribute effectively towards achieving the objectives of Challenge 2025.

Lecio Dornas, pastor of Igreja da Familia, facilitated the Brazilian breakout. Gathered in a circle, Brazilian pastors absorbed Dornas’s discussions on the hurdles faced in ministry yet were uplifted by the potential opportunities to connect with the unreached.

Hector Torres, Spanish and discipleship pastor at Elevate Church in Miami Lakes, elaborated on how Elevate Church has emphasized security, ensuring a welcoming and safe environment for attendees.

The Hispanic breakout session attracted around 40 Hispanic pastors and leaders, who received guidance from David Perez, pastor of Casa de Benedicion in St. Cloud, and Hector Torres, Spanish and discipleship pastor at Elevate Church in Miami Lakes. Perez outlined four key areas for church growth, whereas Torres elaborated on how Elevate Church has emphasized security, ensuring a welcoming and safe environment for attendees.

Nathan Schneider, Florida Baptists’ next gen. ministries leader, noted “a great turnout” in all four breakouts focused on reaching the next generation. A morning breakout for all next generation leaders focused on three major issues facing kids, students and college ministries: worldview, 

Nathan Schneider, Florida Baptists’ next gen. ministries leader, noted “a great turnout” in all four breakouts focused on reaching the next generation.

technology and sexuality. Three 

afternoon breakouts focused on each age-specific ministry: preschool and children, students and college. “The content in each breakout was shared by Florida Baptist next generation leaders, the best inthe U.S.” he said.

With reporting by Margaret Colson, Keila Diaz and Jessica Pigg

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