KEY WEST – The island of Key West is about four miles long and a mile wide, with a total land mass of 4.2 square miles. Yet despite the island’s small size, Florida Baptists are making a big splash and fruitful impact to locals and tourists seeking a gospel-centered church.
Known as the largest, southernmost English-speaking church in the nation, Key West’s historic Fifth Street Baptist Church has been a lighthouse shining the love of Christ to its island community for more than 55 years.
In 2018, the church called Josh Dryer as senior pastor, who with years of experience in missions strategy and church planting, and a passion for God’s Word, has equipped members of the church to be a gospel-sharing light in the Keys.
“In obedience to the Great Commission, our emphasis is always to disciple believers to go out and make more believers,” Dryer said. “We give members the knowledge and tools they need to go out into the community and be the light of Christ to this island.”
Fifth Street is committed to “evangelize the lost, equip the saved, and serve the community to the glory of God.” This simple, three-tiered mission fuels the church to accomplish the Great Commission in its island community. Within its four walls, the church is dedicated to solid biblical teaching, increasing Sunday School involvement, children and youth programs and discipleship training.
Over the past year, the church has utilized the Three Circles Evangelism technique to train and equip their members in sharing the gospel. The tool, produced by the North American Mission Board, helps people use three simple circles that represent “God’s Design, Brokenness and the Gospel.”
“We encourage our people to share the gospel with everyone they know and to invite them to church,” Dryer said. “They’ve done that very well and we have seen many family, friends and neighbors come to faith in Jesus and visit our church.”
Taking their evangelistic training to the streets, church members have made it their mission to be heavily involved in serving the community with the goal of bringing them to Christ. The church has a vibrant partnership with a local elementary school, providing volunteers and supplies for students and teachers. The church has also been a destination for many tourists and military personnel stationed at the various military bases on the island seeking a Bible believing church.
“Once the disciples are equipped, we serve the community to be able to ultimately bring them to Christ. Being intentional in sharing the Gospel with each person or group that is served,” Dryer said.
As the largest evangelical church in the Keys, Fifth Street has had a thriving vacation Bible school (VBS), serving more than 200 children annually. With such a fruitful ministry, the church was determined this year to find a safe way to minister to children and their families despite the added pressure of COVID-19 restrictions. With the decision made to host a virtual VBS, the church created an interactive video featuring the daily crafts, Bible studies, music and choreography.
“We included everything a child would need to be a part of Vacation Bible School from their homes,” Dryer said. “We also created and supplied bags of supplies for the crafts.”
Despite VBS looking a little different, the creativity of Fifth Street allowed for more than 3,000 people to view the videos on various online platforms. The church has even made those resources available to other churches looking to provide a virtual VBS in their communities.
“Unfortunately, many other churches who decided to delay VBS are not able to conduct one this year, so we have been able to be a blessing to the other churches who can partner with us and utilize our VBS videos for their own ministries.”
Dryer and Fifth Street members have remained encouraged as they learn to adapt and serve in new ways during these times. Before the pandemic occurred, the church experienced a number of professions of faith, baptisms, and an uptick in attendance. God has continued to allow the church to reach new people as they increase their online presence.
“God is working in mighty ways at Fifth Street Baptist Church,” Dryer said. Oftentimes, the events we see as setbacks are preparing us for future glory in His name. God is good even in the midst of uncertainty. It is in the times that we are at our wit’s end that God is given the most opportunity to be glorified in us and through us if we trust in His perfect plan.”
The Key West congregation is looking forward to watching God continue to work among them. This includes a broader, more increased ministry on the Key West military bases, growing Sunday School attendance, and equipping members to become ministry leaders.
“In the next year we hope to grow both numerically and spiritually,” Dryer said. “We hope that the Lord will continue to give us a platform in the Keys for His glory.”