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Missionary calling leads to new Orlando church

By Barbara Denman

December 10, 2013


Pastor Andrew Oates believes if the Apostle Paul were to start a church today, Orlando—one of the world’s most visited cities—would be a destination of his church-planting missionary journeys.

“If God calls us to reach the world and the world is here, then God is calling us to plant churches in Orlando,” said the pastor of Redeemer Church.

With more than 50 million visitors each year and with the second highest population growth in Florida, the region composed of two million people is desperately in need of churches, Oates contends.

Following God’s call, he moved to the region specifically to plant a church.

Located in an affluent Winter Garden suburb, the three-year old church plant is surrounded by more than 60,000 homes.

“Redeemer was started in Horizon West, a 23,000 acre special planning area of Orange County,” explained Mark Weible, director of church planting for the Greater Orlando Baptist Association. “The population of the area was estimated at just over 4,000 people in 2005 and is expected to grow to as many as 63,000 people by 2030. The area is in need of several new multiplying churches in order to keep up with population growth.”

“We could plant 20 churches here and it is still not enough,” concurred Oates. 

The church was planted in 2010 with a mission to have members actively involved “in sharing Christ with our neighbors, our friends, Orlando and the world,” he explained. “It is not the church’s purpose to make disciples. It’s the people’s responsibility to make disciples. We are on this journey together.”

“Andrew thinks like a missionary,” said Weible, “He is skilled in community exegesis. As any pastor knows, proper Biblical exegesis is needed to effectively teach the Bible. Likewise, missionaries understand that they need to research their communities to discover how to present the never changing message of the Gospel to an ever changing culture.”

Redeemer began with a small nucleus of Baptists meeting together in living rooms and praying. Six months later, the group numbered between 50-60 members, had outgrown the homes where they met and began to search for a more permanent meeting space.

The gregarious pastor recalled that the church had $6 in the bank, but church members were challenged to give sacrificially.  They eventually began renting a store front facility on Winter Garden-Vineland Road which snakes behind the Disney world resort properties.

The facility was originally retrofitted as a church for another denomination. Redeemer remodeled the facility with a warm and inviting charm and large areas for members to gather.   

During the first year, the Florida Baptist Convention provided the congregation with $2,000 a month to underwrite the new church start. That amount was expected to decrease to $1,000 the next year, but the church determined they did not need the financial subsidy continued and believed it would better benefit another church plant.

In three years, the church grew to 200 in attendance, but a conflict developed within the congregation that resulted in 60 members leaving.  In one Sunday attendance dropped from 200 to 140.

The church split was painful, said Oates, but helped the congregation better “define who we are and what we are about.” Ultimately, he said, the church became healthier as a result of the parting of ways.

Attendance has nearly grown back to the level it was before the split.

The church, with its contemporary worship style, conversational style preaching, and warm glow of candles, offers members a Lord’s Supper observance each week as a means of recommitting their lives to Christ.

“We believe in a huge God who wants to move supernaturally among His people,” Oates said. “We are not here to consume but to be consumed.”

The multicultural and multigenerational congregation includes members from England, India and Puerto Rico, resembling the Orlando community where members live, the pastor said.

David and Gerrie Osbourne were looking for a church that would also appeal to their grandson, “teach the Bible as the inspired word of God and that God is the center of our lives. This church is doing this,” he said.

“Redeemer has given us a church family,” David Osbourne observed. 

The church, he continued, is reaching people who are “looking for something to hold on to and must decide if they are building their house on rock or sand—broken people who now want to reconstruct their lives on rock.”

Al Delara said he had a deep emptiness in his life, when he and his family found the Redeemer church while walking in their neighborhood. He now defines that void as the “need of Jesus in our lives. We needed to be filled.”

He was spiritually saved and baptized at the church. The pastor and staff demonstrated their care and concern for him. “This is an amazing place. Everyone treats you as family.”

“I am a regular person and I fall at times, but this church catches me,” he said. “This place has changed our lives.” 

Redeemer Church is partnering with the North American Mission Board to provide on- the-job training for future church planters. In this collaboration, Mike Bard who serves as the church’s children minister is applying real-life experiences to church planting principles.

When it starts the new church, Weible said it will come from a strong lineage of multiplying churches. “We soon see a third generation church plant in the area.”  

As church members follow  the course set by the apostle Paul, the missionary journey in Orlando—the destination of the world—continues.

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