Pastor brings churches together to revitalize First Baptist Fort Lauderdale

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FORT LAUDERDALE–Pastor David Hughes helped turn things around for what is now Church by the Glades decades ago, and now he and members of that church are working together to help revitalize First Baptist Fort Lauderdale.

Hughes, who has been lead pastor at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs for almost 25 years, also became lead pastor at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale in June. Through a unique collaboration between both churches, he has already started to see growth and progress at the 115-year-old historic church in just four short months.

“We’ve kind of had the blessing to live through one church resurrection,” Hughes said. “When I became aware of First Baptist and how much they were struggling, it just seemed like this was a good fit. I remember when it was the turf-taking church in all of South Florida. This church has had such great pastors – legends like Bill Hinson, O.S. Hawkins and Larry Thompson. For decades, it was not just the greatest Baptist church, but the most effective Great Commission church. And to see it lose its way and go through some struggles was tough.”

What had once been the largest church in Broward County with a 2,600-seat auditorium had dwindled down to about 250 in weekly attendance due to divisiveness within the church.

I want church to be wonderfully undull. I want church to be exciting, something people look forward to all week long, and something they’re excited to invite their friends to.

David Hughes Pastor, Church by the Glades, Coral Springs; pastor, First Baptist Fort Lauderdale

“They are really good folks who have been through some unfortunate things. They are a delight to work with. They love the Lord, love each other and love their church. They want to see First Baptist prosper,” Hughes said.

But what do you do to help a church hurt by divisiveness? Prioritize unity, Hughes said. “We had to prioritize to protect unity. The enemy likes to work through discord, so we all became guardians of the peace.”

They also agreed not to critique one another based on musical preference or worship style. This was important as they kept a traditional service, attended by mostly senior adults, and added an “extremely contemporary” service. “It’s been a good formula here. It’s worked in the western part of Broward County, and I think what we’ve done is transferrable to downtown,” Hughes said.

Flooding in downtown Fort Lauderdale damaged the church building this past spring so the church has held services in its event center rather than the auditorium. The church now holds one traditional service and two contemporary services due to continued growth, now attracting about 600 to 800 each weekend.

Communicating scriptural truth to secular society

Hughes is known for preaching the gospel in creative and edgy ways, which is a must, he said, for attracting the younger generations. Just as Jesus used parables to preach on popular topics of the day, Hughes does the same in using creative parables about whatever is trending or making noise in our culture to grab people’s attention and take them to the word of God.

“I feel like pastors in South Florida have to think more like missionaries. Missionaries don’t compromise the gospel. You find a way to put the gospel in the vernacular and into recognizable metaphors of the people group. That’s all I do. I try to find ways to communicate the truth of Scripture to a very secular South Florida in ways that they recognize,” he said.

Once when preaching at Church by the Glades about the prophet Elijah and the confrontation on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18, the worship team led off with the song “Only When it Rains,” and the production crew made it rain on the musicians on stage. At Christmas one year, Hughes drove a DeLorean on stage with a “Back to the Future” movie vibe as he went back in time to talk about all the prophecies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled with Christ’s birth in the New Testament.  

“We look for interesting ways to engage and capture their attention and draw them into the sermon,” he said. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, granted, but it works for us. I want church to be wonderfully undull. I want church to be exciting, something people look forward to all week long, and something they’re excited to invite their friends to.”

In creating buzz about upcoming sermon series, Hughes meets with his creative team to figure out what’s making noise and what might help someone invite others to church, particularly those who might not want to come to church. Hughes and the creative team aim to create social media posts and videos that will disarm the guests and draw them into the conversation.

We had to prioritize to protect unity. The enemy likes to work through discord, so we all became guardians of the peace.

David Hughes

“We start with a topic that people–who maybe don’t know the Bible or even have an appetite for God’s word­–might recognize. We start where they are, and then we make a beeline for the Scripture,” Hughes said.

The church’s call is to go hard after people who are far from God, Hughes said, and being purposefully creative is one way to do that.

“We are known for being edgy, and people think I’m provocative. But the funny thing is I am not provocative; I’m kind of a cupcake,” he said with a laugh. “But if we really believe what the Bible says about how desperate people are without Christ, we’ve got to go hard. It’s never random creativity. It’s always something creative to draw them into the topic of the sermon.”

Two autonomous churches working in partnership

Hughes and other Church by the Glades members currently volunteer their time to serve at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. He calls it a partnership rather than a merger. They’re not taking any compensation. In fact, Church by the Glades is using its own funds to help pay for some needed repairs and renovations at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale.

“We feel like this is our job. God’s given us strength and resources to rescue what has been the most important church in Broward County,” he said. “This is two autonomous churches working in a partnership, and they’re growing closer every week. I can see some day we might be unified and maybe we keep two different names, I don’t know. But right now, I am one pastor with two churches.”

Al Fernandez, catalyst for the South Florida region of the Florida Baptist Convention, said this unique partnership shows there are many creative ways to revitalize churches. The key is local churches taking on the challenge.

“This is a beautiful example of a sister church responding to the gospel need of another community within the same county,” Fernandez said. “I believe with Pastor David Hughes’ experience and collaboration of both churches, First Baptist Church will be growing again with new Christ-followers.”

Revitalizing First Baptist Fort Lauderdale is important for Hughes who grew up in Broward County and has spent most of his life here. But it’s not just him. He said all pastors in the area want to see this church thrive again.

“This is my city. I’ve grown up here since I was a little boy,” he said. “I love it. I think I understand it. I think what we’re doing right now is different; it’s unorthodox; but I think it’s our best chance to not just revitalize a once great church but to reach Broward County, Florida, to capture downtown. So, it’s a little crazy but man, the calling of God is a little crazy. If all the math works out and it makes sense, it’s not God.”

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