|Orlando church plant removes barriers to faith
By Barbara Denman
July 9, 2012
Loudy Mortimer readily admits that as a “backslider,” she had fallen away from the faith she once held dear.
When she visited New Covenant Fellowship Church in south Orlando, she found a pastor who “appealed to something inside of me,” she said. But most importantly she found a church home where, “I could come just as I was.”
“Coming as you are” is a tenet of the new church planted in 2011 as a multicultural congregation to meet the needs of the community, said Pastor Charles Jones.
“Come as you are but you will not stay the same way you come,” he promises.
For Mortimer, who turned her life around and now teaches Sunday school to a growing youth class, as well as others in the congregation, the pastor’s words have rung true.
When he planted the church, Jones envisioned it as a “hospital for the spiritually sick. We care less about people’s pasts. We care about their future,” he said.
To fulfill that, the church has tried to remove any barrier from acceptance or worship to create a place where “every nationality or race, regardless of color or socio-economic background can meet here freely,” he said.
The openness extends to casual dress and non-traditional worship, which features a contemporary approach to music with keyboards, bass, drums and guitars.
In a year, the church that meets at the Freedom Middle School in Orlando’s Hunters Creek community has grown to 225 members and 300 people in worship attendance who represent eight nationalities. Twenty new converts were welcomed into the fold during the month of February, alone.
For nearly a decade Jones had served as a youth pastor at the First Haitian Baptist Church in Orlando. But he discovered that younger Haitians no longer spoke the Creole language of their parents and grandparents. Nor were they fully engaged in worship and Bible study in the more formal, first generation Haitian congregation. He feared that they were losing the current generation.
So he was determined to plant a church that would be a place where younger families could be committed in their faith and express their faith in comfort. To accomplish that, worship services are conducted in English, but Bible teaching is offered in Spanish and French Creole as well as English.
Although Jones himself is Haitian, he said, “God didn’t call me to be a Haitian minister, He called me to be a pastor to His people.”
Florida Baptist church planting field missionary Ray Campbell has walked alongside the pastor in starting the new church. “The growth of the ministry is a result of the Lord working in the life of Pastor Jones as he learned of the spiritual need that was developing within the second generation of immigrants,” Campbell said.
When he was “rebuffed in his efforts to get the mother church to make adjustments to meet these needs,” Campbell said, “the Lord led him to plant a ministry for second generation English speaking Haitians.”
Children’s director Suzette Woods agreed that the church’s strong foundation in this first year can be attributed in a large part to the efforts of Jones.
“He really is a go getter,” she said. “Everyone he meets or comes in contact with he shares about the church and his faith.”
Jones also urges members to invite friends, bring visitors and use their Facebook page to promote the church. He often gives prizes to members who bring the most guests.
While Woods, who serves as a Mission Service Corp volunteer, calls such methods “back to basics,” the church also utilizes a more sophisticated approach through direct mail and marketing campaigns, evidence of Jones’ professional acumen.
As a result, the children’s area where Woods works is filled each Sunday with children as young families are drawn to the church.
For his role as pastor, Jones does not receive compensation, but relies on his salary as an investment officer with Regions Bank and his wife’s salary as a nurse to support their family of five. Jones resigned from another banking position to work with Regions because the new job enables more time and flexibility to plant the church, even though it meant a 50 percent pay cut.
He credited Campbell and the Florida Baptist Convention, which provides the congregation with church planting financial assistance, for giving guidance and support. The Greater Orlando Baptist Association lent a helping hand with summer missionaries to help grow the church.
As he looks at the phenomenal growth of the past 12 months, Jones believes the church’s philosophy has resonated with the community. “People are looking for a place where they can be accepted, where they can be loved and no one will judge them.”
But along with that message, he stressed, must come radical change within the believers life, to enable them to be the perfect example of Jesus Christ to others.