FRUITLAND PARK (FBW)—First Baptist Church in Fruitland Park ceased to exist after its final service Dec. 30, 2012, but its last pastor says God’s Kingdom will advance as the church passes the “baton of ministry” and gives its assets to a sister congregation.
“I think the most important aspect of this story is not that a church closed its doors, but that a church decided to do what would impact the Kingdom of God the most—and then did it,” Chad Driggers, pastor of the now-defunct Fruitland Park church, told Florida Baptist Witness.
Sidney Brock, pastor of five-year-old Heritage Community Church, which took ownership of Fruitland Park’s property this month, told the Witness the gift is a “tremendous encouragement to us as a body of believers.
“This is a story that will be told for generations to come of God’s provision,” he said. “We had prayed and God heard our prayers.”
Driggers, pastor since May 2009, said the decision to close Fruitland Park came after efforts faltered in revitalizing the congregation, which was founded in 1962. At its peak, the congregation numbered about 350. Averaging about 60 in attendance, the church has not able to overcome a split in 2003 that fractured the congregation and families with in the body, he said.
After considering the facts—declining membership and giving and projections of the same in the future—he said church leaders did not want to become “another statistic,” continue to struggle, and then just close.
“The really neat thing is that even though revitalization did not work in the traditional sense, the Kingdom of God is expanding and our community is going to be reached with the Gospel through this transition,” Driggers said.
“The decision to give our property and buildings to Heritage Community Church ensured that God’s purposes would be carried out,” he said.
The property includes several buildings, including a sanctuary, fellowship hall and parsonage, on 11 acres in Fruitland Park with an estimated value of $1.6 million. The sanctuary’s seating capacity is about 400. Heritage currently meets about eight miles away, and will hold its first service on the new property Feb. 10.
Rather than his own uncertain future, Driggers said his greatest concern about the possible closure was that “Satan would try to destroy what we believed and still believe was a movement of God. Once the vote was taken and the results were unanimous, I knew that God provided in a way that I never even imagined.”
Driggers, 34, said he is unsure what’s next, although he is looking for opportunities to continue to preach. Having previously served as youth pastor in Georgia and Alabama churches, he will assist Heritage in various capacities for the coming months while seeking God’s direction.
“So many people cannot understand why I would lead our church to do this without knowing where we will be serving,” he said. “I know it sounds strange to a lot of people, but God never promised to reveal all of His plans to us. He simply requires us to obey Him in all things.”
He added, “I’m not sure what is next, but I know God does and I trust Him.”
Similar to Driggers’ step of faith, Brock, 48, planted Heritage in 2007, leaving a successful staff ministry of 11 years at First Baptist Church in Leesburg with the clear direction that God wanted him to plant the new congregation, even with many unanswered questions, he said.
“We resigned with no salaries [and] benefits, and stepped out in faith,” he said, noting that he loves the Leesburg congregation.
Heritage now numbers about 400 in attendance, according to Brock. The church was “maxed out” of its current meeting facilities and leadership had begun to pray about what to do when Driggers initially contacted him in October with the possibility of closing and giving the assets to his church. The two pastors had previously had limited contact, both noted.
The next contact between the churches came Dec. 3, with a joint meeting of the churches’ leadership Dec. 6. On Dec. 9, the Fruitland Park congregation voted to dissolve and give all its assets to Heritage.
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