Florida Baptists dialogue about church revitalization
God’s transformation of struggling congregations featured in testimonies
Feb 6, 2013
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.

SHARING Walter West (r), pastor of Anastasia Baptist Church in St. Augustine, listens as Asa Greear, director of missions of St. Johns River Baptist Association, and facilitator Mark Sutton, discuss church revitalization ideas Jan. 28 at First Baptist Brandon. Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
BRANDON (FBW)—About 120 Florida Baptists gathered Jan. 28 at First Baptist Church in Brandon for a networking dinner and conversation about church health and revitalization and to hear testimonies of God’s transformation of struggling congregations.

“We recognize God is at work in many ways in your hearts—pastors, church leaders—and we want to understand that from a Kingdom perspective,” Emanuel Roque, team strategist for Leadership Ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention, told the gathering. 

He read Isaiah 43:18 to set the tone for the meeting: “Forget the former things, don’t just dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?”

The first of its kind, the meeting of pastors, church planters, church staff and lay leaders, associational directors of missions, and Florida Baptist Convention staff sought to create a dialogue about what God is doing to revive churches in the Sunshine State.

The meeting preceded a conference the following day sponsored by the North American Mission Board and led by Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The NAMB conference—with about 350 in attendance at FBC Brandon—also has been held in three other states. Florida was the first state convention to feature a state-led dialogue session in conjunction with the NAMB conference.

During the three-and-a-half-hour Florida Baptist event, leaders shared conversations around a meal, worked through discussion questions, prayed together, and heard testimonies of God’s work in revitalizing churches.

ROUNDTABLE Florida Baptist pastors and others dialogue Jan. 28 at First Baptist Church in Brandon about church health and revitalization. Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
“You’re kind of standing in the midst of a revitalization project,” host pastor Tommy Green told the gathering, noting First Baptist Brandon had lost 400 members the year before he became pastor in 1996.

“I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the first three years or not,” Green said. “But God was good. God was so gracious and we have seen some wonderful things take place.”

Green said congregations that commit to evangelism and missions will be blessed by God.

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, shared briefly from his experiences as a pastor of five churches, each of which required some form of revitalization, and his nearly 25 years helping Florida Baptists with their church problems.

“I’m an expert in revitalization,” he said. “That’s all I’ve done all of my ministry, is revitalize churches.”

Sullivan said starting a new church is “probably easier” than reviving an existing church.

“Because when you plant a church, you’re the only one going to make the mistakes,” he said. “But when you revitalize a church, you’re going to be the recipient of every mistake that’s been made before you.”

Pastors should not be surprised by problems in churches, Sullivan said. “That’s what the Gospel does to people. … Sometimes it causes problems in their life,” he said.

Louis Egipciaco, pastor of Miami Lakes Baptist Church, told about the transformation of his congregation, which had dwindled to 20 members until there was a “move the Lord” three years ago.

The once-thriving, nearly 75-year-old congregation near Broward County, had considered an offer to become a satellite campus of a large nearby church before deciding it would make one, last effort to continue. 

Egipciaco, 33, nearly a lifelong resident of the community who had previously served as youth pastor to the congregation, was called as pastor, working bivocationally at first.

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