Florida Baptists come together to celebrate victories, look to future during Challenge 2025 Gathering

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ORLANDO­–Close to 1,000 Florida Baptists came together to celebrate victories and look to the future in reaching Florida’s 22 million residents with the gospel during the Challenge 2025 Gathering held Feb. 28 at First Baptist Church in Orlando.

During the gathering, which focused on evangelism, attendees considered challenges and opportunities of reaching the next generation, were inspired by messages from four Florida Baptist leaders and met in regional breakout groups to discuss evangelistic strategies and practices.

This year marked the third annual Challenge 2025 Gathering. Challenge 2025 was launched in 2019 by Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, 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 third most populous state with the gospel.

Green’s vision 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.

Focused on the Challenge 2025 goal of 30,000 baptisms per year, Green said, “Florida Baptists are pacesetters in the Southern Baptist Convention in evangelism. The leadership of our pastors continues to lead us forward to reach Florida for Christ.”

Reaching the next generation

Leading a panel discussion on reaching the next generation, Nathan Schneider, lead catalyst for Florida Baptists’ next generation ministries, stated that Florida is a state with 22 million people, including four million under the age of 18 and more than one million students at Florida universities and colleges.

Challenge 2025 Gathering“Reaching the next generation is a priority from a biblical perspective and a critical piece to kingdom advancement,” he said. The majority of Christians come to faith before the age of 15 and the vast majority before the age of 18, he explained. This generation, he said, is “lonely and lost.”

The three panelists­–Jonathan Cruz, youth pastor at Elevate Church in Miami Lakes; Chris Bacon, next generation pastor at First Orlando; and Bruce Roberts, next generation pastor at Bell Shoals Church in Brandon–spoke of their own contexts and unique ways of reaching this group.

Bacon encouraged leaders to take a “missional approach” rather than a “program approach” in reaching this generation, giving individuals “opportunities to encounter God” and to “own” the ministry, as this demographic group is entrepreneurial.

“The church has truth to stand on,” he said.

Individuals in the next generation want to “be known, loved and cared for,” said Cruz, who added that ministry leaders need to “be available” for students.

Roberts agreed, stating that the gospel “is first and foremost relational.” Roberts added that many parents are not Christians, and the next generation can be a “link” to reaching parents with the gospel. Also, because parents are often primary disciplers for their children, the church should equip and resource parents in as many ways as possible, he noted.

Biblical messages

Four Florida Baptist leaders preached biblical messages to spur church leaders to a renewed evangelistic fervor in reaching individuals for Christ.

Challenge 2025 Gathering, Alan BrumbackAlan Brumback, lead pastor at First Naples, focused on Matthew 9:35-38 and encouraged those gathered to “see and feel” the lostness around them and to “pray for and chase after the opportunity of a lifetime” to share Christ with lost individuals.

With a biblical text of Luke 17:11-19, Green, stated, “Jesus Christ doesn’t give up or quit” in seeking those who are lost, and believers must follow Jesus’ lead.

Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, read Acts 14: 1-7 and urged attendees to be clear, committed and confident sharing the gospel message.

Reading from 1 Peter 3:15, Jeff Robinson, lead pastor of Grace Fellowship in West Palm Beach, discussed using apologetics to reach the lost. He emphasized the importance of sharing the faith with passion but also with gentleness and respect.

Regional breakouts

This year’s Challenge 2025 Gathering featured regional breakouts where attendees met with their Florida Baptist regional catalyst to listen and learn from panel discussions led by pastors and church leaders within their respective regions.

Challenge 2025 GatheringThe Southeast Region breakout session was led by catalyst Al Fernandez and four panelists­: Josh Dryer, Fifth Street Baptist Church, Key West; Louis Egipciaco, Elevate Church, Miami Lakes; Evens Jules, Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church, Delray Beach; and Theo Johnson, Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, Cutler Bay. The group talked through their experiences leading multicultural, multigenerational churches and shared creative means to engage their communities with the gospel. Churches in the region, Fernandez said, have become bold in sharing their faith.

The East Region breakout session was led by catalyst Craig Culbreth and five panelists­: Michael Edwards, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Jacksonville; Josh Peoples, City Light Church, Port Orange; Garry Taylor, Life Church, Palatka; Wayne Traverse, Walton Road Baptist Church, Port St. Lucie; and Scott Wilson, First Baptist Church, Melbourne. Attendees discussed how each church context is different and how evangelism may look different in each context. Each pastor shared how he engages in, and leads church members to engage in, personal evangelism. “We spent a lot of time discussing how to make evangelism simple and create a culture where it was not seen as an obligation but an opportunity,” Culbreth said.

The Central Region breakout session was led by Jeffery Singletary and featured eight panelists: David Uth, First Orlando; Israel Martín, First Orlando Español; Aaron Brown, Free Rider Fellowship, Plant City; Scott Markley, First Baptist Church, Lake Wales; Anthony De Jesus, First Baptist Church, Lake Wales; Charles Jones, New Covenant Bible Church, Orlando; José Rivera, New Covenant Bible Church, Orlando; and Darrell Reneau, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Inverness.

This group talked about achieving healthy sustainable growth in their churches through evangelism and baptisms, vision for planting and multiplying churches, and trends in their communities, Singletary reported.

The West Region breakout session was led by catalyst Lewis Miller and three panelists: Norman Sullivan, Living Truth Church, Pace; Jeremy Holley, Immanuel Baptist Church, Pace; and Tim Coleman, The Point Church (Perdido Key Campus), Pensacola.

Lewis spoke of the importance of “tilling the soil” for evangelistic opportunities. “Sometimes we might try to harvest untilled land,” he said.

The North Region breakout session was led by catalyst Gary Townsend and featured three panelists: David Chauncey, Westside Baptist Church, Gainesville; Justin Wester, Canopy Roads Baptist Church, Tallahassee; and Eddie Pridgeon, Crosspoint Baptist Fellowship, Perry.

Panelists shared their evangelism strategies and discussed keys to effective evangelism strategies. Topics on evangelism included local church strategies, evangelism resources, connecting church families to home-based evangelism in training up children, and multiple ways churches engage their communities with special events, sports ministries and building intentional relationships among families to share the gospel, Townsend said.

The Southwest Region breakout session was led by catalyst Wayne Briant and featured three panelists­: John Cross; First Sarasota; Chris Butler, North Naples Baptist Church; and Phillip Hamm, First Baptist Church, Palmetto. Panelists spoke of the ways their churches are winning people to Christ.

“It was illuminating to hear of the diverse ways each church is attempting to win people to Christ. Each of these pastors evidenced their heartfelt desire to win the lost to Jesus,” Briant said.

View the Challenge 2025 Gathering sermons here.

By Margaret Colson and Keila Diaz

1 Comment
  1. Larry Goodman says

    Thanks, Margaret and Keila, for your informative report on the Orlando event. We’re thankful for your continued “ministry of journalism.”

    Journalistic blessings,
    Larry (& Kathy) Goodman
    Temple Terrace, Florida

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