Church plants find success in the Panhandle
Aug 25, 2014
By NICOLE KALIL
Florida Baptist Witness

THE PANHANDLE (FBW)—As part of the Bible Belt, the Panhandle of Florida has its fair share of churches.  Many are successful, thriving bodies that are growing and making disciples. 

Eighty churches have been planted in the region in the last 10 years, 49 of which are still active.
 
And, yet, studies from Percept Group Demographics show that almost two-thirds of people who live between Tallahassee and Pensacola are not strongly involved in their faith or only somewhat involved.
 
In Crawfordville, 80 percent of 18-30 year olds are unchurched.
 
That’s the group The Mission is trying to reach.
 
Eric Davis and a core group from his sending church, Wakulla Springs Baptist Church, planted The Mission in Crawfordville. They began reaching their target demographic in September 2013 and they now have a core group of 45 meeting monthly.  They are planning an official launch this September.
 
Davis has had an easier time than some. Wakulla Springs Baptist has been generous to give money, donate items and other resources, including its own members, to help The Mission get off the ground. Fifteen members of Wakulla Springs left to join the new plant.
 
Not every plant has found this level of success for a variety of reasons.
 
“Rural communities often feel that they have plenty of churches,” said Mark Long, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Marianna. The assumption has always been that the Panhandle is “saturated with churches.” 
 
Some existing churches are resistant to plants, Long says. When a new church is planted in their community, an established church can sometimes see it as an indictment on their ability to serve the area. Also, some existing churches that are struggling for survival feel as if there are not enough resources in their areas to support more than one congregation. 
 
Davis agrees that smaller churches can operate from a sense of territorialism and thus be opposed to a plant coming into their community.
 
One factor that worked in Davis’ favor was the fact that his target demographic was different than those of the established churches in Crawfordville. 
 
“We haven’t had a lot of pushback from the other churches because they realize there’s a need to reach 18-30 year olds in this area.”
In Milton, Jim Waters, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, agrees. 
 
“Our members are not coming from other churches—they are unchurched or have been away from church for a while,” he said.
As a result, they have experienced very little resistance.
 
Friendship Baptist Church was a joint effort between First Baptist Church of Milton and Calvary Baptist in Allentown. In the two years since they started to reach their community, they have experienced the blessing of the support of the people in their area.
 
Both planters agree that relationships in the community are a key component to the success of their plants.
 
Even though Davis is from Crawfordville, he spent time building relationships with the churches in the area he planned to plant in. He says relationships with other church leaders in the community have been a fundamental part of their success. 
 
Waters had a similar experience with the support of his community in Milton. Also a native of the city in which he planted, Waters had the prayer support of people all over the community. 
 
“People were excited for me because they knew me,” he said.
 
If plants and existing churches can continue to embrace a spirit of Kingdom-mindedness rather than competitiveness, successful church planting experiences may become the norm in the Panhandle.

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