Lakeland’s Fuel Church planted two churches simultaneously in the city where 300,000 people reside in its surrounding communities, most of whom lack faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
North East Park Baptist Church in St Petersburg, a primarily senior adult congregation, is committed to reaching young families living in the city’s historic northeast quadrant.
Providence Road in Miami celebrated its fifth anniversary by fulfilling their vision of planting a new church in Homestead, while Bay Community Church in Cutler Ridge has sacrificed members to launch a church in West Kendall.
These four churches, unique in their setting and Kingdom vision, are among the 22 congregations to receive financial gifts from Cooperative Program funds through the Florida Baptist Convention during the first two months of 2016.
Nearly two thirds of the congregations, known as “sending churches,” will use the gifts to plant a church in their communities. Others have earmarked the money for help in revitalizing their own congregations.
Providing money directly to the sending church is a church planting strategy based on the New Testament model that churches plant churches—not a state convention, said Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention. The model enhances the role—and responsibility–of sending churches, he explained.
“The role of the Florida Baptist Convention in this process is being ‘Right Beside’ the sending church.”
Seven churches received funds to help revitalize their church. Needs of these churches are varied, including repairing a roof on a Hispanic church and underwriting ministries to more effectively reach their changing communities.
North East Park Church pastor Sam Letson said their funds will be used to help the primarily senior adult congregation reach young families in the community. “We are attempting to impact one of the most beautiful cities in our state, but one that is very dark spiritually,” he said.
“In the northeast quadrant of our city there is no other Baptist presence but our own, and there is very little, if any, other evangelical work boldly and faithfully sharing the truths of God’s word,” he explained.
The 60-year-old church, which has had its share of ups and downs, had considered “closing the door” several years ago, said Letson. But under his seven years of leadership, the congregation has begun to grow, and now averages between 125 and 150 in worship. “Now we feel we are on the path for health, growth and new ministries.”
The church’s weekday and afterschool programs for neighborhood children draw from unchurched or nominally churched families in the area, said the pastor. The financial gift from Florida Baptists will allow the church to begin a more intentional outreach to these families.
Fuel Church in Lakeland is committed to planting Redemption Church and CityPlace Church, both which officially launched in the past few months. “Our DNA is to be church planters and church supporters,” said Fuel pastor Mike Harrell.
“I believe if we look at other churches as allies and not enemies, the Kingdom work would be much more fruitful. If another church succeeds, then we all succeed. If another church fails, we all fail. With this in mind, supporting and helping two churches is not an impossible task.”
The pastor who planted Fuel Church four years ago contends that Lakeland needs “more than just a few churches. The majority of the churches here are declining in numbers not growing. There are many churches who continue to do ministry the same way they did when they were growing and reaching new people. Unfortunately what worked 30 years ago really doesn’t work any longer.”
“It’s been proven that planting a new church in an area is the most effective way of reaching that area. We plan on planting many more churches in and around Lakeland. We do not desire to build larger and larger buildings, but instead use those resources and people to go out and plant new churches.”
Planting new churches is also a priority of Miami’s Providence Road Church, said pastor Jose Abella and has been since “day one.” Through a two-year internship program, pastoral leaders have equipped church planter Aldo Leon, who recently launched Reconcile Church in Homestead, the largest city in South Miami Dade. The new church meets in the historical Seminole Cultural Arts Theatre.
And even though the church sent 25-30 members to help as a core group to plant the new church, Abella said “God has been faithful to this huge step of faith,” as the sending church added 47 new members in 2015.
The financial gift from Florida Baptists will be used to help the new church reach its community for Christ, said Abella.
“I love the direction of the Florida Baptist Convention that says ‘you are responsible for equipping, training and sending out new churches; and we will celebrate and provide funds to help you; and you must guarantee the money will be used wisely,’” said the sending church pastor.
“Thank you for this partnership. Thank you for being gospel-centered and willing to change to do things in a different way.”
Miami is a growing city of three million persons–96 percent of whom do not attend church–so the need for new churches is overwhelming, said John Churchill, pastor of Bay Community Church in Cutler Bay.
In December, the congregation sent out a third of their members to launch a new church 30 minutes north of their own location in an area where there is not another Southern Baptist church.
Located west of the city in a prime area where homes are cheaper for young families, Revolution Church in West Kendall is being led by Fabian Portunato, a young man who was raised in Bay Church, ordained there and felt God leading him to plant a church.
In addition to providing financial support for the “organic start,” Churchill said, “We will meet with him face-to-face on a monthly basis for coaching and to set up accountability, especially on any funds provided by Florida Baptists.”
The Miami pastor said since sacrificing their own members to the new church plant, Bay Community must get back to the basics of outreach and meeting folks in their community to increase their own church attendance.
“We believe the money from Florida Baptist churches is a trust and we want to hold ourselves accountable to make sure our church plant succeeds,” he said.
Lakeland pastor Mike Harrell added, “Without the funding from our Florida Baptist churches, reaching the 19 million in Florida would be greatly hindered. I believe Southern Baptists are the most mission minded and selfless people in the world. Working together to reach the lost is the only way we will be able to effectively reach them.
“Thank you, Florida Baptists for sacrificing for the Kingdom of God.”
By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, March 2, 2016