More than the good life

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Beckoned by sunshine, beaches, fishing and more, thousands of people relocate to Ft. Myers annually, seeking to live the good life.

Church planter Phillip Jones and his wife Tandra want more for these newcomers—as well as for current residents—in one of America’s fastest growing cities.

They want to introduce them to Jesus Christ and His abundant life.

Commissioned by First Baptist Church in Kissimmee this past January, the couple quickly began the transition to their new home and place of service.

When they arrived in Ft. Myers, they connected with Pastor Martin Vargas of Iglesia Real in Hollywood. That one connection helped shape their church planting strategy in a unique way.

After much discussion and prayer, the two pastors decided to partner together to plant a Spanish-speaking congregation, Iglesia Real, as well as an English-speaking congregation, Real Church.

In an April 10 social media post, Jones wrote, “On Resurrection Sunday, we will be launching services in both English and Spanish. Pray God would be glorified in all we do. Pray we will be obedient to the will of God. Soli Deo Gloria!”

Reflecting on Acts 14:21-23, Jones said that he wants Real Church to “preach the gospel, make and teach disciples, serve one another and their community, and persevere to the end.

“Our desire for Real Church is founded on Scripture.

“The vision of Real Church is to engage the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to reflect the kingdom of God.”

Not alone

Jones and his wife are not alone in their church planting task.

In March 2019 the Florida Baptist Convention, in partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), unanimously voted to expand the SEND South Florida emphasis across the entire state. With SEND Network Florida in full swing, new church plants are being established throughout the Sunshine State with the desire to take the gospel to every person who calls Florida home.

“We have seen tremendous support coming from the North American Mission Board, the Florida Baptist Convention, local churches and individuals,” Jones said. “We are grateful to God for all the unity and partnership!”

Through First Baptist Church in Kissimmee, Jones will receive training and resources. The church plant will also receive funding from both NAMB and the state convention.

‘Game-changer’

On the day of the vote to expand the church planting emphasis from South Florida to the entire state, Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, described the partnership as a “game-changer” for church planting efforts in the state of Florida.

For a burgeoning southwest Florida region, a “game-changer” is desperately needed.

“Those of us living in southwest Florida reside in one of the largest unchurched areas in America,” said Wayne Briant, southwest regional catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention.

“The impact of church planting cannot be over-expressed.”

Southwest Florida statistically is the fastest growing area in the state of Florida, Jones said.

“With many people coming to the area, the need for the gospel is immense.”

Life-changing impact

Jones has established his church plant on a four-tiered mission: equip believers who are faithful in evangelism, discipleship, training and missions. Such a foundation ensures that the church will reflect the kingdom of God, Jones believes.

With a core group of 15 people, Real Church has a noonday Bible study every Tuesday and serves more than 600 individuals in a monthly food pantry. Slowing down is not on the church calendar.

The young church plant already has planned a family and friends Sunday, Vacation Bible School this summer, small groups launching in the fall, and a community grand opening service scheduled for Sept. 11.

Jones believes a focus on faithfully preaching God’s word will have a life-changing impact throughout the community.

“We are privileged to have strong expository preaching, which is deepening the saints’ understanding of the word of God and preparing them for the work of ministry,” Jones said.

“We are confident that this will yield tremendous spiritual and numerical impact as the word of God begins to produce results in the lives of the saints.”

Praying that the commission and mission of the church will be fulfilled “without compromise,” Jones said, “We make a commitment to our fellow Florida Baptists that to the best of our abilities, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will be faithful to the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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