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First Baptist, Daytona Beach: launching point for bus tour

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press will release a feature story on each church on the itinerary of the national bus tour of Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–What some would say is among Southern Baptists’ most influential churches was founded from the debris of a storm at sea, and that’s fitting, says its pastor, Bobby Welch, who also is president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

More recently, First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach celebrated Welch’s 30th anniversary as its pastor by cleaning up glass and tangled awnings in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley –- yet as many church members were helping others in the community as were working on the battered church grounds.

Life is all about storms and getting through them, Welch said. First Daytona Beach pioneered the FAITH Sunday School-based evangelism strategy that helps people see Jesus Christ as the navigator who can best lead them through storms and every other part of life.

“FAITH is our stackpole for ministry to the community,” Welch said. “FAITH is a highly effective way to discover needs and to dispatch the church to meet those needs.

“I was in Arcadia [Fla.] last Wednesday [Aug. 18] and came across two retired men who had come there to help out after the hurricane by using chain saws to cut down trees,” Welch recounted. “They told me in the course of cutting those threes they had shared FAITH and 28 people had prayed to accept Christ.”

The Daytona Beach church is the starting point for Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, and FAITH is the starting point for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism.”

“This is the initiative that I’m encouraging our convention to take advantage of, to have one million baptisms in one year,” Welch said. “That has a lot of involvement attached to it.”

From First Baptist Daytona Beach’s earliest history, personal involvement has been key to its ministry.

It was in 1898 that Baptists gathered up debris washed ashore from a storm in the Atlantic Ocean to frame a building; they then covered it with tarpaper to start the church.

Aug. 29, about 2,000 people attend worship during two Sunday morning services in a facility built in 1983; about 1,900 attend Sunday School.

Among the 235 people baptized so far this church year at First Daytona Beach was a middle-aged man almost completely paralyzed, deaf and unable to speak. He had been reached during a FAITH visit and wanted to make public his profession of faith in Christ.

“We had to take him into the baptistry in a straight-backed chair,” Welch said. “Someone signed to him from the baptistry so he knew what I was saying, and someone signed from the floor for the hearing-impaired in the congregation to know what was being said.”

In his 30 years as pastor in Daytona Beach, Welch has called church members to keep their eyes, ears and heart focused and moving forward.

“You continue in an axis of advance, and that way the church becomes well-established, well-grounded, clearly directioned, highly aggressive and strongly ministry-oriented,” Welch explained. “When you come to this church, you don’t guess what’s happening. You know where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The church plans to relocate in the next few years five miles west of its present location to 226 acres at the intersection of I-95 and I-4. The church’s website –- www.firstbaptist.org –- displays an architectural rendering of the proposed massive, cross-shaped church campus.

“There is a lot of confidence in leadership here,” Welch said. “The longevity is really like a great marriage, getting stronger as it grows.”

At the same time, he noted, “One of the things we watch carefully is how quickly a new member can get to a significant leadership role. We make conscientious efforts to make sure the way is open for new people to get involved in significant places of service quickly.”

Twenty-three mission teams scattered across the globe over the last year; one recently returned from Russia; another recently ventured to Cuba.

“This started back in the early 1980s when I felt our people needed to be on the mission field,” Welch said. “They come home better church members, and good, soul-winning church members make better missionaries.”

Participation in short-term mission projects also helps fuel First Daytona Beach’s commitment to financial support of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of mission support for maximum impact, Welch said.

“Cooperative Program giving is a big deal to us,” the pastor said. “We believe that makes us involved in Kingdom work around the world.” The church has given 15 percent of undesignated receipts to CP Missions for each of the last 30 years.

Local mission teams include the SBC-trained Disaster Relief chainsaw and mud-out crews who are still working in Hurricane Charley relief efforts under the glare of hot sun alongside homeless residents.

“We ask people to take up work,” Welch said. “We’ve got plenty to do.”

First Daytona Beach faces several key challenges, Welch said.

“One is to continue the aggressive ministry we have now established and need in this location,” the pastor said. “Two is to complete the relocation of our entire facilities. Three: to be extraordinarily strategic and active as president of the SBC.

“It’s so easy for this church to clearly see the hand of the Lord unfolding in all this through them,” Welch said. “Because of their Kingdom focus over many, many years, it makes this release of me [from preaching every Sunday] become an opportunity for them.”

Welch’s frequent travels the last seven years on FAITH business prepared the congregation for this longer stint away crossing the nation to promote evangelism. The on-site ministry of co-pastor David Cox “has allowed me to give an extraordinary amount of time to what we believe are the extraordinary needs of our convention at this time,” Welch said. “The church sees this [my service as SBC president] as an opportunity and a privilege.”