BUNNELL–“I believe that a church should mirror the book of Acts – be strong in doctrine and in the community,” said Cliff Smith, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Bunnell.
“We exist to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, to live and show the love of Christ. That’s why we’re a church.”
Located 30 miles south of St. Augustine in central Flagler County, Community Baptist Church on Old Dixie Highway is positioning itself to seize on the burgeoning population along the I-95 corridor. Bunnell, a once rural town, has blossomed with growth from neighboring communities.
The church began 32 years ago when two dedicated Christian sisters saw the need for a church in their area, gathering first at a local fire station, then in a bus. Ten acres of land were donated where the first sanctuary was built, then an adjoining 10 acres were obtained.
Smith came to the church first as interim pastor in 2016, then became lead pastor in 2018. He brought 45 years of pastoral experience to the church, including 13 years leading international missions at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach.
Upon arrival, he found a congregation of a hundred mostly older members in need of revitalization.
“Sometimes churches lose vision and the vision of God working in their individual lives,” said the Polk County native and Baptist College of Florida graduate.
His vision was to get to know the community, teach a Biblical view of church, and establish a large footprint of Christ by reaching, teaching and baptizing new believers.
On that first October, Smith suggested hosting a trunk or treat event for the rural community. With the help of about 25 members, the congregation rented the old city hall building where they set up floodlights and parked cars distributing plenty of candy and gospel tracts. About 4,000 people attended.
“Lots of spiritual conversations took place and those 25 members were excited – they had not done anything like that before,” said Smith.
The next summer with the support of the church’s VBS director, they made plans to host an off-site, outdoor VBS program at a park inside a community of about 10,000 residents located about five miles from their church.
“We got maps of each street in that community, put together an intro pack about our church that included a video story of Jesus and an invitation to VBS,” said Smith. “Church members walked that entire community and put a pack on everyone’s door.”
“We have to go into the highways and byways for people and envision what it’s like to think more about somebody else than our own creature comforts,” said the pastor.
Churches should be more outreach oriented with ministries tailored to the needs of the community, explained the pastor. Any changes–whether to the sanctuary, worship service, or outreach–must be done with the consideration of how it will reach more people with the gospel.
“Every church has traditions but if you teach a Biblical worldview and base everything you do on the Word of God, there will be no arguments and God will bless it,” shared Smith. “We must adjust everything but the gospel.”
Sharing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to reach their community has been embraced as the primary focus of the church.
Three years ago, the church transformed 10 acres on its grounds into a field where community sports can be played, including soccer, softball, T-ball and flag football.
Only in use for three months before COVID-19 hit, the fields will open once again when the virus subsides. Two homeschool groups that meet in their facility use the field as part of their physical education program.
Another outreach of the church is a Monday night jail ministry. And each Thursday evening Overcoming Addictions in Christ, a ministry to the addicted, meets at the church, led by associate pastor Andrew Ward, who has a degree in counseling.
The church also shares the gospel internationally through mission trips and utilizes social media for preaching and teaching.
Smith will step down as lead pastor In January and Ward is expected to take the leadership reins.
“As I’ve seen our people reach out in the community in ways they’ve never done, the blessing was seeing how God transformed their lives even as they were seeking to transform the lives of others,” said Smith.