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Young pastor revitalizes Miami church to mirror its community

By Barbara Denman

July 15, 2013

When Louis Egipciaco arrived at Miami Lakes Baptist Church as pastor three years ago, he found a congregation enduring “a difficult season.” The church was embroiled in turmoil while the building was in disrepair, the yard and bushes were overgrown and no signs announced its presence to the community.

It hardly matched the attractive, manicured city of Miami Lakes.

Even more disappointing to Egipciaco, the 20-member Anglo congregation in no way resembled the primarily Hispanic community.

Egipciaco had served the church as youth pastor several years before, but had been called to another church. When he learned the congregation was looking for a new pastor three years later, Egipciaco felt God pulling him back.

“I felt like David after Saul had taken his life, it was David’s time to lead. I felt God’s call,” Egipciaco said.

“They were like a sheep without a shepherd.”

Deacon chairman Gary Perkins held the congregation together during the time “Satan attacked the church,” he said. A nearby mega church expressed an interest in acquiring the church as a satellite location, he reported, but he was not persuaded it was the right move for the church.

Meanwhile, Egipciaco’s name kept coming up as a potential pastor. While some thought at age 29, he was too young to lead the church, Perkins was convinced, “age did not matter, spiritual maturity did.”

When he first took the helm as pastor,  Egipciaco preached, led worship and worked bivocationally, unable to feed his family on the salary provided by the church. Delivering FedEx packages in Miami Lakes, the young man, who grew up in the community, developed a network of friends and acquaintances.

Although he is English-speaking, Egipciaco grew up in a Hispanic home, as did much of the second-generation Hispanics in the Miami Lakes community.

Under his leadership, the church began to grow exponentially by more than 100 members each year, now reaching more than 350 in attendance.

Upon his arrival Egipciaco determined that to reach the community he first had to reach children in the family-oriented neighborhoods. He was sure that parents would respond if the children could be drawn in. With the first two weeks, they held a Vacation Bible school with 10 children enrolled.

A prayer ministry was developed; and without any Sunday school teachers, traditional Bible study evolved into life groups.

“We didn’t grow because we served coffee and donuts; we grew because we are studying the gospel and preaching the gospel,” Egipciaco explained.

“We contextualized the gospel but did not change the message. Just like in Acts, the Lord started multiplying.”

The church began to increase visibility in the community. The facilities and property were cleaned up. New signs were placed to make the church visible.

A New Year’s Family Festival grew from 500 people in the first year to 700 the second and more than 1,000 this past year. The church help sponsor and participates in every community-wide event held in the city to further create awareness of the church on the corner of Miami Lakes Drive and Miami Lakes Way.

In the second year of Egipciaco ’s tenure, he led the church to close down its weekday school due to financial issues. Enrollment had dwindled and while the school had contributed to the church’s bottom line at one point, it was becoming a financial drain in the harsh economic times.

While unpopular, the pastor believed with the decision the church became what God intended it to be, saying “Upon this rock we will build His church.”

The church continued to struggle financially after closing the school, requiring the congregation to get a loan from the Florida Baptist Convention “just to survive.” But slowly it grew in solvency until the loans was paid off even while the sanctuary underwent a $30,000 renovation.

Along the way, Egipciaco said he has drawn on the resources of several partnerships, especially with Al Fernandez, lead strategist of the Florida Baptist Convention’s Church Planting Group who directs the Convention’s Urban Impact Ministry center in Hialeah.

The young pastor said he took “full advantage” of every church planting, mentoring, church restart and coaching group sessions available at the UIM. Fernandez also individually coached the pastor.

“Miami Lakes Baptist is a testament that revitalization of Southern Baptist churches can take place,” said Fernandez, “through the power of the Holy Spirit with indigenous, teachable, evangelistic young pastors and existing church lay leaders that are willing to change ‘how they always have done it.’”

And in the first months at the church, Egipciaco called upon resources from Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church that sent a team of volunteers to lead the Miami church’s VBS. They returned for the second year, but by the third year, Miami Lakes was able to staff the event themselves—even with 300-plus children in attendance.

As it grew and became financially stable, the church was able to call a full-time worship leader, Jerry Sosa, who has created much excitement within the thriving congregation and music-driven Hispanic culture, reported the pastor.

As Egipciaco looks toward the future, he realizes the importance of multi-generations of family within the Hispanic culture. He plans to begin a Spanish-speaking congregation within the church to reach parents of church members and first generation prospects with the gospel.

On Easter Sunday, Miami Lakes drew 1,000 in attendance, yet Egipciaco is quick to deflect credit.

“It’s His story,” said the pastor. “We feel like God wants to transform the work here. It’s been hard work, but I felt if God wanted it, He would change this church. He would rise. Now we can see the results.”

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