UMATILLA (FBW)—A multi-million-dollar new addition to the campus of First Baptist Church in Umatilla stands as a testimony to its commitment to making Jesus known in central Florida, according to Pastor Brooks Braswell.
The debt-free, year-long building project “Making HIStory Known,” gives a nod to the 150 years of church history preceding its present success. The June 22 dedication of the 26,000-square-foot new facility included a presentation of a plaque from the Florida Baptist Convention commemorating the church’s sesquicentennial.
“It was 150 years ago that God’s people decided to make a difference here in Umatilla. We are continuing what they started,” Braswell said.
The church’s new building houses an events center that includes a coffee shop, Hebrews Café, and a welcome center with casual seating areas. A 7,000-square foot foyer may be converted to more formal seating for 650-700. Kidz Landing is the site of children’s ministries and its weekday preschool, Sonshine School. Touch screen technology will include a fingerprint scanner for parent ID and security cameras. And an almost-new 60x130’ playground was donated by a church member.
Braswell said providing for children was a priority in planning the building.
“We had to have new facilities for the children. Now they have moved from four portable classrooms to a state-of-the-art building,” he said.
The new facility adjoins a 650-seat sanctuary built in 2002. The church offices are located two blocks away in a former pastorium on the site of church campus built in the 1920’s. Another church is buying the sanctuary on that site.
Braswell, who grew up in nearby Dona Vista, said First Baptist Church’s new digs are creating a stir among Umatilla’s 2,500 residents.
“We are a small town. We don’t even have any subdivisions, so when people all of a sudden see our new building, it gets their attention,” he said.
The fast-growing congregation has piqued the interest of many residents in Lake County and beyond. When Braswell, a graduate of Baptist College of Florida, was called to the church five years, church attendance numbered about 250 after a few years of hardships. Within four months of his coming, attendance doubled. Today 1,200 worship at the church in three identical Sunday morning services. Some worshippers drive 45 minutes from surrounding counties.
When Florida Baptist Witness interviewed Braswell after four months in Umatilla in 2008, he said he immediately changed the church’s pattern of not offering invitations at the end of services.
“I told the church when I came that as long as I am preaching, there will be invitations in every service,” the then-28-year-old said.
Braswell and his wife, Jaime, moved to Umatilla from Geneva, Ala., where he was student pastor at First Baptist Church. They had two daughters who are now big sisters to two more daughters.
Among the first whom Braswell baptized in Umatilla was his father, Bobby, who “is still there every week, and invites others to church,” Brooks Braswell said. He also baptized his grandfather, Norman, who “never went to church,” in 2010, and his oldest daughter, Abigail, in 2011. Baptizing family members is “a privilege,” he said.
Members of the Braswell Family are among 700 new believers in First Baptist in the last five years. The pastor teaches a class for new church members, and the spiritual growth of “the newbies” is closely monitored, he said.
“Our new members come from different denominations and traditions, and it takes time to understand the doctrinal differences in a Baptist church,” he said. “Some who were new Christians just a few years ago are in leadership now.”
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