“I have church planting in my blood,” he said. “In every church I pastored, I tried to get them to start a church—with little success. In this ministry I got to do that.”
His love for planting new churches had its genesis in 1970 when “this country boy from Tallahassee” served with First Baptist Church in East Hartford, Conn. His goal was to start new churches in the New England city.
When Harvey took over the reins in the Gainesville-based association in 1999, he tried to promote partnerships with churches, the association, and the Florida Baptist Convention—but received “very little reaction” to his ideas. Harvey said he thought of going to the seminaries to enlist church planters, but had little success with that idea.
It was when Harvey began praying for new churches, that God started working in the hearts of pastors and laymen he said. Two churches near each other saw the need for a Hispanic church, and within a few months four more churches said they wanted to start a new church.
“It is nothing we have done. The Spirit started working in the hearts of pastors,” Harvey recalled. “I marvel now at how church planters arise. I’ve seen God work in wonderful and mysterious ways.”
The number of churches started while Harvey served the association matches the number of years he served—14.
Harvey said a gift from Calvary Baptist Church, one that closed its doors in 1989, has made church planting easier. The church gave $250,000 designated for new churches. In 14 years, the association, led by its Mission Committee that meets monthly, has “invested $120,000 in salary supplements” to church planters.
In addition to new churches, older congregations have chosen to become involved in their communities. With the help of Vicki Lawrence, the association’s church and community missions director, “we have seen phenomenal growth in this area.”
One member church had never become involved in community ministry but was asked to provide a meal for a family at Thanksgiving. The congregation asked to cook a meal for another family at Christmas, and its involvement “snowballed from there,” Harvey said.
The Alachua County Fair has become a popular ministry in October. Churches do not wait to be called to staff the fair booth, but “they call us,” Harvey said. The churches provide a hot meal for the fair staff, and offer creative avenues to evangelism at the booth. Visitors to the booth find volunteers ready for conversations, face painting or balloons.
Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville maintains relationships with a multitude of international residents through its International Learning Center. English as a Second Language is a popular course offered there, Harvey said.
Along the way, the organization of the association changed to reflect a “change in the culture of associations.” In 2000, after associational leadership noticed dwindling attendance at the “program-oriented” meetings, the focus was changed to “customized ministries to churches,” Harvey said.
“This kind of ministry doesn’t get as much attention as the big events, but it’s more effective and in tune with the churches. If we are not relevant to our churches, we have little reason to exist,” he said.
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