“I would say regionalization is a good idea,” said Phil Young, executive pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville. “The greatest benefit is that we no longer have to know which department to go to for partnership needs with the Florida Baptist Convention. We have one representative who handles all of our needs and concerns,” he added.
“Regionalization is extremely important for our Convention simply because of the sheer number of churches that are part of the Florida Baptist State Convention,” contends Matt Crawford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sebring.
“It would be impossible for Executive Director-Treasurer Tommy Green to keep up with all of the needs and opportunities throughout our state. Putting ‘boots on the ground’ in each region and empowering the regional catalysts with authority over resources are wise and essential steps for making the state convention useful and helpful to local churches,” he added.
Personalization and regionalization are key components in the Florida Baptist Convention’s new direction, developed to more efficiently and effectively serve churches in five geographic locations across the state—northeast, west, central, southwest and southeast. A regional catalyst, living in each region, is assigned to serve and respond to the needs of the churches in that area.
Young became involved with the Convention as Westside “a mission minded, sending church, focused on the Great Commission within its local community, region and world,” began planting a new church in Southwest Gainesville.
In his role with the sending church, Young partnered with Glen Owens, regional catalyst in the Northeast Region, to secure funding to support that new plant. “Glen Owens has been very helpful” to that process,” Young added.
As director of missions for the Northeast Florida Baptist Association, David Drake has worked closely with catalyst Glen Owens. He found the new structure “working smoothly on my end. In this new paradigm as a director of missions, I have one man to relate to at the Florida Baptist Convention,” he added. “Dr. Owens and I converse on subjects quite often either by phone or email. So far, things are working out.”
As the churches in that association identify needs, Drake said he is able to share the project with Owens and receive resources and financial support to meet their needs. “It seems to be a great cooperative effort so far between the association and the state convention.”
Pastor Crawford said First Baptist Church in Sebring has benefitted from the ministry of Southwest Florida’s regional catalyst Wayne Briant, “through pulpit supply, the ministry of prayer and pastoral encouragement. Wayne has been a great encouragement and counselor to me personally.”
Crawford said he hopes the state’s regional catalysts can continue to lead churches through ministries of prayer, encouragement and church planting. “Wayne and I have already begun discussions about our church collaborating with other churches in our region to plant new churches in Southwest Florida. The close proximity of church plants within our own region will allow our church members to be personally involved in supporting the ministry and outreach of those plants.”
“In my view, this is one of the most exciting aspects of the ministry of regional catalysts–helping churches collaborate to penetrate lostness in their regions.”
Pastor Juan Ocampo serves two Florida Baptist church plants–Comunidad Cristiana Cristo Fusion in Tallahassee and Comunidad Cristiana de Bonifay. The churches are made up of diverse Hispanic cultures, mostly young families and single adults.
“Regionalization brings a great deal of value to Florida Baptists, primarily, in that it gives the Florida Baptist Convention the ability to have an extensive personal presence with more churches,” Ocampo said. “With regionalization, churches will no longer have to ‘reach too far’ to benefit from the counsel, support and help from the Convention.”
He has worked with the West Florida regional catalyst Lewis Miller, and views him as an encourager, partner in the ministry and most importantly—as a friend.
Miller has helped the Hispanic churches in the West Florida Region connect with each other, Ocampo explained, guiding them to take first steps in establishing the West Florida Network of Hispanic Baptist Churches.
Having watched the church planting movement in recent years, Javier Sotolongo, pastor of Hialeah’s Iglesia Estrella de Belen and a “church planter at heart,” was concerned about the caliber of individuals involved in planting new congregations and lack of coordination in locating new churches.
The new model of regionalization “gives back to the local church their responsibility and offers a more New Testament way of planting churches,” he said.
He credited the South Florida regional team, composed of Fernandez, Emanuel Roque, multicultural/ leadership catalyst, and Deris Coto, Hispanic church catalyst, with helping the church plant three new churches in recent years. “We have always felt their support.” He added that the Southeast Regional Office located in Hialeah “has also been important in keeping a one-to-one contact.”
Ervin McWilson, director of missions for the Suncoast Baptist Association, said he has a “healthy opinion” of the Convention’s regional model and Central Region’s catalyst Jeffery Singletary. “I don’t have to walk through hoops to talk with someone about matters related to the association.”
Dr. Singletary has “worked with several churches in our association and it’s been a healthy relationship. I believe our pastors will agree this will be a good thing for our churches and the association in the way we relate to the state convention,” McWilson explained. “I believe this new model is workable, doable and I like it.”
By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, March 11, 2015