LUTZ–In a thought-provoking panel discussion led by Paul Purvis, pastor of Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, three Florida Baptist pastors highlighted the need for and shared their experiences in church revitalization.
While acknowledging the need for church planting, Purvis, who was wrapping up his second and final term as Florida Baptist State Convention president, said, “Church planting is not always going to be the answer. We need also to focus on church revitalization.”
The three panelists–Kevin Smith, pastor, Family Church Village, Ft. Lauderdale; Cliff Lea, pastor, First Baptist Church, Leesburg; and Louis Egipciaco, pastor, Elevate Church, Miami Lakes–spoke during Florida Baptists’ 2023 annual meeting at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.
Smith, who gained experience in church revitalization in Kentucky and Maryland/Delaware prior to his pastorate in Ft. Lauderdale, encouraged congregations who are helping revitalize churches to do so “in partnership” with others and also to “send your best. If we will commit to revitalization with our best … God has plenty and will restock the shelves. Don’t be stingy.”
The pastor, who serves a community in South Florida that is home to 30 nationalities, also advised those who are involved in church revitalization to “leave the results and the fruit to God.”
Pastor Smith advised that church revitalization is also a “stewardship issue. Southern Baptists have good real estate. Missiologically, if we lose these properties, we will not get them back.”
As revitalization began to take hold in the once-struggling church, Smith said that he saw numerous individuals repenting of their sins. Also, some of the people who remained with the church during the revitalization process were encouraged as they began to “see the fruit of gospel ministry.”
When the challenges and ups and downs of church revitalization seem overwhelming, Smith reminded attendees, “It’s worth it to be obedient to the call of God.”
Lea acknowledged that it’s a “hard admission” for a church to recognize that it needs to be revitalized. The decision, he said, “takes a lot of humility.”
When Lea’s church was helping revitalize another local church that had experienced numerous splits, he said that one measurement that the revitalization was making progress was unity–“real Christian unity.” The church being revitalized became one of three campuses at First Baptist Leesburg, and when unity among all three campuses was evident, Lea said, “God is growing this place.”
One surprise along the way for Lea was the fact that the church revitalization was located in a community of primarily senior adults. Many people told him that the church would never be multigenerational. The church now has a growing children’s and youth group and a next gen pastor, with senior adults welcoming the young people enthusiastically.
As a pastor begins the journey of revitalization, Lea cautioned, “Don’t assume things will fall into place.”
Even as church revitalization comes with its share of challenges, Lea said, “Challenges are so fruitful for your soul.”
When Egipciaco accepted the bivocational pastor role at Elevate Church, he recalled that the building was in such disrepair that the sky was visible through the sanctuary’s roof; birds had begun to make nests on the second floor of the church.
“Still,” he said, “God put in me a heart for my community and also for that church. I felt called.”
Committed to “give everything to build God’s kingdom,” Egipciaco began to see God’s hand on the revitalization, particularly as the church, after breaking ground on a new building in 2019 and then enduring a pandemic year, entered their new facility debt-free, without one fundraising initiative.
“Look at the things that only God can do,” he said, when determining if a church revitalization is making positive steps forward.
“God wants to reach our communities more than we do. He showed up, and He had His own agenda, and it was better than ours.”
Church revitalization comes with its share of risks, but Egipciaco said, “Believe more. Believe in the God who is backing you up and has called you to do the work. The only One who can revitalize a church is God.”