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Churches develop unique vision, forge unity

By Margaret Colson

January 21, 2014


The church leaders came together and shared their pains, struggles, victories and dreams, journeying through a six-month intentional process, led by their associational director of missions and two Florida Baptist Convention leaders.


As a result, 11 pastors, along with several lay leaders from each church, in Central Florida’s Marion Baptist Association rediscovered each congregation’s unique God-given qualities, allowing each to develop a unique vision and strategy. The pastors and lay leaders also forged a rock-solid unity with one another in a commitment to fulfill God’s Great Commission as partners rather than competitors.


Under the tutelage of associational director of missions Pete Menendez and Florida Baptist Convention staffers Lewis Miller and Bob Bumgarner, the group of about 65 individuals participated in an intense strategic planning and visioning process, “Church Unique.”


After an initial all-day orientation retreat late in 2012, pastors and several leaders from each church gathered together for six monthly meetings to be led through the next step in the process, which they then would take back to a team at their own church. Ultimately each church would create a “vision plan that God had put on their hearts based on the uniqueness of the church and the community being served,” said Menendez.


“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do,” is how Miller explained the rationale behind the “Church Unique” approach. He said the process helps churches to “hone in on and focus on what God has given them to do, to become unified around a clear, compelling and common purpose.”


Most of the churches participating in the Marion Association process average less than 200 people in Sunday worship attendance. They serve a variety of communities across the sprawling urban-rural county. One Hispanic congregation and one church less than three years old, also took part in the revisioning process.  


Although a bit early to evaluate the full and long-term results of Church Unique, initial reports are enthusiastic.


“We are still amazed at what God has done over the past nine months,” said Brian Caple, pastor of Citra’s Sparr Baptist Church.


“There is amazing potential in this little church, but we understand God doesn’t bless potential; He blesses obedience. I want every member of our church to have a clear understanding of how to be the absolute best Sparr Baptist Church God has created and called us to be in His strength.” 


Pastor Russ Randall of First Baptist Church in Dunnellon, the largest church participating in experience, appreciated the razor-sharp focus the process helped his church achieve.


“We have been doing good; now we can focus on the best. This will allow us to have greater influence in our community,” he said.


In May 2012, when Chris Gilliam accepted the call to pastor Highlands Baptist Church in Ocala, the church was averaging about 50 in Sunday morning worship. Church members, he said, “had a good understanding that we needed to do something different.”


The process they underwent challenged church members to ask God, “What is a personal preference, rather than a kingdom priority?” Gilliam said. 


Since working through the process, Highlands Church has commissioned a group to plant a church in Marion County, including one key leader who is 82-years-old.


“The church is now on a clear path of where we need to go,” said Gilliam.


Helping design the pilot project for the 11 churches, Miller explained that both the local association and state Baptist convention “exist to serve the local church.”


Through the revision emphasis “many of the lay leaders, for the first time, got to see how the association and state convention work together to help the church fulfill their God-given mission,” added Menendez.


That partnership did not go unnoticed.


“I’m grateful for the resources and training our team strategists from the Florida Baptist Convention provided throughout the process, and thankful that we have a director of missions who saw the value in partnering with our state convention to make this opportunity available,” Caple said.


At one point in the process when some of the participating churches seemed to be getting “bogged down,” the trio of leaders set aside a full day and met with each pastor individually for a time of coaching and encouragement. 


“I think we all found that component extremely helpful,” Caple said.


“All three men have done everything they can to ensure that we are successful and effective at the local church level.”


 As church leaders began to understand more fully how churches, the Baptist association and state convention are partners in Kingdom work, Menendez noted, “I believe we left with the understanding that though we are all unique in many ways, we are also in this together. We experienced a greater appreciation for each other and for the work of the Kingdom.”


Resources to define your congregation’s vision Florida Baptist Convention church health and church planting strategists are available to consult with churches and associations as they seek to find God’s vision to reach their communities.


Church Health Group

Bob Bumgarner

Lead Strategist


Doug Watkins

Theological Education Ministries, Team Strategist


David Lema

Theological Education Ministries, Associate Team Strategist


Roger Felipe

Theological Education Ministries, Associate Team Strategist


Eugene McCormick

African-American Church Development Team Strategist


Joseph Gaston

Haitian Church Development Ministries, Team Strategist


Deris Coto

Language Church Development Ministries, Team Strategist


Lewis Miller

Congregational Support Ministries, Team Strategist


John Boone

Sunday School, Groups, and Discipling Ministries, Team Strategist


Tony Hoffman

Sunday School, Groups, and Discipling Ministries, Associate Team Strategist


David Moore

Sunday School, Groups, and Discipling Ministries, Associate Team Strategist


Emanuel Roque

Leadership Ministries, Team Strategist



Terry Williams

Music and Worship Ministries, Team Strategist




Church Planting Group

Al Fernandez

Lead Strategist


Robert Beckman

English-Speaking Team, Team Strategist


Rick Lawrence

English-Speaking Team, Field Missionary


Jeff Powell

English-Speaking Team, Field Missionary


Frank Moreno

Language Church Planting Team, Team Strategist


Rogney Paz

Language Church Planting Team, Field Missionary


Julio Piñeiro

Church Planting Group, Language Church Planting Team, Field Missionary


Enoc Toby

Language Church Planting Team, Associate Team Strategist


Francisco Tola

Language Church Planting Team, Field Missionary


John Voltaire

Language Church Planting Team, Field Missionary


Patrick Coats

Urban Impact Center, Field Missionary

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