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Baptists in Miami sharpen their church-planting thrust

MIAMI (BP)–They were dispatched into the city like the spies sent into Canaan by Moses; and they returned like Joshua and Caleb, convinced that, with God’s favor, the land could be conquered.
Taking a map divided into grids, more than 40 Florida Baptists combed Miami’s blighted urban areas and posh neighborhoods, industrial parks and downtown high rises, strip malls and apartment complexes. They talked to restaurant owners, shopkeepers, street vendors, apartment managers, policemen and butchers to learn the ethnicity and economic makeup of the population in their assigned geographical pockets.
As the individual teams of scouts made their report to the larger group, they identified more than 100 locations where new churches are needed if Florida Baptists are going to keep up with the Miami area’s expansive growth.
The group represented leaders from local churches, Miami Baptist Association and the Florida Baptist Convention, and included persons from the Anglo, African American, Hispanic and Haitian communities. They were participating in a comprehensive probe of Miami, designed to scour communities and identify locations where evangelical witnesses are needed.
According to FBC officials, the probe represented the first time an effort was made to combine the convention’s programs in African American, Anglo and language church planting in the development of a comprehensive strategy for starting new churches in a metropolitan area. In the past, explained George Thomasson, director of the convention’s church-planting department, Anglo leaders concentrated on conducting probes while ethnic leaders conducted “lasers,” which attempted to pinpoint language pockets within a community. By joining forces, the association was able to develop an “intentional, cohesive and simple strategy plan for starting new churches.”
Although 80 churches have been planted in Miami during the past five years, the starts have not been “intentional” through a planned strategy, said David Cleeland, Miami Baptist Association’s director of missions. “We need to get to the point where we have a plan and an intentionality to what we’re doing.
“When considering the languages, the diversity and the unchurched people we have here, we must have a plan to reach them for Christ. This is the initial step in developing that plan.”
Cleeland said that the probe uncovered high-priority locations where churches are needed to reach a specific segment of the population and resources which could be utilized. One aspect of the March 10-11 probe assignment was to identify locations that could accommodate large groups where churches could meet — schools, office buildings, church buildings of other denominations and clubhouses in apartment complexes.
The probe solidified many of the group’s perceptions and offered some surprises, according to reports given at the end of the experience.
A growing area of need is churches for second- and third-generation Hispanics in the Miami area — individuals who were raised or born in the United States and speak English as their first language. In almost every grid assigned, probe participants reported that this group represents the largest single percentage of people. Reaching them with the gospel requires a unique church capable of blending worship styles, Thomasson said.
Participants discovered new pockets of ethnic groups living throughout the communities. One group discovered the need for a Chinese church in an area off the Florida Turnpike. Church-planting consultant Deris Coto of Tallahassee discovered Nicaraguans living near the Sweetwater area.
As they drove through the Coconut Grove area with 60,000 people living in thousands of apartments and condominiums and only six Southern Baptist churches, Coto said he believed 10 second-generation Hispanic churches could be developed in that area alone.
Another surprise, Thomasson said, was the willingness of strangers to talk openly with the Baptists. “Not only were they willing to talk with us about the makeup of the neighborhood and the need for new churches but several asked questions about the gospel.”
As his group ate lunch at a restaurant, Coto questioned a waitress about the surrounding community. After hearing of their purpose, the waitress told Coto, “We’re all lost and we’re looking for something.”
Mark Bryant, associate pastor of Miami Shores Baptist Church, and Frank Moreno, director of the convention’s Hispanic and international church-planting department, went through the Kendall area. They asked a young man working in his yard about the composition of the neighborhood and were preparing to depart when the man asked them, “Don’t you have a tract or something?”
“Here we were acting all business-like,” Bryant said, “and this guy was searching.” The two Baptists shared the plan of salvation with the young man.
After driving through areas where sprawling subdivisions stretched endlessly, church-planting consultant Charles Koch of Fort Myers lamented the lack of space for a church. The areas are devoid of churches, he said. “How do you plant a church when the developers did not even leave room for banks, schools or businesses?”
One group of surveyors identified an area west of the turnpike that needed a new church and located a Methodist church willing to allow the Baptists use of its facilities as meeting space.
Participant Al Fernandez, pastor of Jubilee Community Church, sounded the faithful spirit of Joshua and Caleb as he promised to sponsor the new work. “My church is a tiny church, but my heart is in this. I believe in what the association is doing and the convention is doing. We will take on this project.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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