Two crises lead to three-dimensional ministry

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Panama City – Two back-to-back crises have led New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Panama City to create a three-dimensional approach to reaching its community with the gospel.

First, when Category 5 Hurricane Michael unleashed its fury on the Florida Panhandle in October 2018, the church sanctuary was completely demolished, and 75% of church members were displaced from their homes.

Missing only one Sunday service, the congregation persevered, gathering for worship in the church dining hall for years.

Then, as the rebuilding project was developed and beginning to take shape, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the community, causing church attendance to decrease to about two-thirds of the average.

Through the encouragement and support of the Florida Baptist Convention and local churches in Northwest Coast Baptist Association, New Bethel has been able not only to weather the storm of rebuilding from the hurricane but also to survive the pandemic, emerging with a three-dimensional approach to ministry.

When the new sanctuary opens this month, individuals will have a choice of three ways to attend church services on campus: traditional, millennial and pandemic. Traditional worshippers will meet in the new sanctuary. Millennial worshippers will meet in the dining hall with snacks and a large screen airing the service. Pandemic worshippers will meet on the outside patio with a large screen airing the service.

The three-dimensional approach to ministry will offer multiple ways to worship so that anyone in the community feels comfortable and welcome, Pastor Parnell Smith believes.

“We are planning a month-long celebration for the grand opening of the new sanctuary,” said Smith, who has pastored the church since 2005.

“Our new facility will allow for a greater opportunity to witness and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in our community.”

Through hurricane recovery and pandemic uncertainty, Smith developed a mutually encouraging friendship with fellow Florida Baptist pastor Dwight Woods of nearby Family of God Baptist Church.

“It is amazing how God used the game of golf to bring us together after the hurricane and sustain us during the pandemic. Now we are encouraging one another in our rebuild and have an iron-sharpening-iron friendship,” said Smith, a husband, father of three and grandfather of four.

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