Two Florida Baptist congregations—one in the center of the state and the other in the Panhandle—in recent years have clearly faced the end but instead decided to take the path back to health.
SMALL CHURCH, BIG HOPE
Antioch Baptist Church of Eagle Lake is the smallest church in Ridge Baptist Association that owns property, according to Pastor Keith Wolfe. In May 2011 four members attended the church—three ladies and a man, all single senior adults. The eight other members were either seasonal or shut-ins. The tiny group invited Wolfe to serve as interim pastor.
“They were so small, and so about to go under, that they didn’t know what was ahead. I kept believing—I just knew it with my knower,” Wolfe said.
The 56-year-old new pastor, recently laid off from his job as a food grade lab technician, began preaching the Gospel, using the Gospel of Mark to preach through the life of Jesus. He limited the receiving of offerings to Sunday mornings, so “people could come to church without bringing an offering,” he said.
Wolfe began inviting Eagle Lake residents to Antioch Baptist and he went “hat in hand” to those who had left the church with hurt feelings. He repaired a neighbor’s fence that had fallen into the church parking lot.
“You can mend fences in a lot of ways,” he said.
In two years, the church has seen attendance grow ten-fold. Wolfe has baptized 19 new believers, and the church has a reputation of welcoming neighbors in its lower middle class neighborhood.
“People who need to be accepted come to Antioch. They don’t feel condemned here,” the pastor said. “We accommodate people because we love them.”
The church also has a new interest in ministering outside of its neighborhood, the church gives to missions through the Cooperative Program, Ridge Baptist Association, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, and the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon mission offerings.
Wolfe, who calls himself a “generic evangelistic Christian,” grew up in Eagle Lake where he attended the Assembly of God. While he was attending West Georgia College in Carrollton, a Methodist church called him to be youth minister. He said he has not missed a ministers’ meeting at Ridge Baptist Association since becoming pastor of Antioch Baptist.
“All of this has to be God’s doing. I never went to Bible college or seminary, but I rolled up my sleeves to work, prayed and God did the rest,” he said.
Wolfe said he hopes to re-organize Sunday School and offer Vacation Bible School next year. He also hopes to fill sorely-needed vacancies in Sunday School, youth and music leadership. He is thankful for the work of two interns, Titus Terrebonne and Berry Chatas, from Baptist College of Florida in Graceville who helped lead the youth and the music during the summer.
He believes the church’s future is bright.
“The little church at Antioch decided to be Jesus’ church, and the neighborhood sat up and took notice. We put the Holy Spirit in charge,” he said.
A LIGHT IN THE FOREST
Pleasant Home Baptist Church in Holt has a motto, “A light in the Forest.” According to Pastor Brian Deida, the motto is slowly becoming a reality.
Pleasant Home Baptist was the first church in Santa Rosa Baptist Association to have a Sunday School, and Lawrence Wells, the grandson of the founding pastor, is a member. The church is located in the Blackwater State Forest, a popular destination for hiking, swimming, canoeing and zip-lining in the Panhandle. The church building, that seats 50-60 and is in need of repair, is located next to a canoe rental business.
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