Several of us had the privilege to attend the annual Pastor’s Conference at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida this past weekend. The Pastor’s Conference is four worship and preaching-filled days. Debbie and I have been so encouraged by it over the past eight years. FBC Jacksonville is one of the largest of our Southern Baptist Churches with a membership in the 1990s that exceeded 20,000 members. The church built an impressive 11-square-block campus in downtown Jacksonville with a worship center (sanctuary) that seats nearly 10,000 people. With these resources, they have a unique ability to minister to pastors and their families and have held this conference for nearly forty years. However, its membership has gradually declined to the point that this year we were told the church is in the process of scaling down its huge campus to meet its current budget restrictions. They will not hold the conference next year as the church transitions to meet these adjustments, and are in the process of reducing their staff. I tell you this to remind you that no church, not even one as large as FBC Jacksonville, is immune to the effects of an increasingly secular culture. There are a couple of important lessons to glean from this example. First, a church must maintain the buildings it occupies. Buildings and grounds cost money. In the case of FBC Jacksonville, it is several million dollars per year. In our case, it is several thousand dollars per year, about 16% of our total budget. I believe our church has done that wisely with good stewardship of the resources God has given us. I think we have been cautious in not expanding our buildings without a definite leading from God. That is a credit to the many fine leaders and members in our church who have faithfully served over the years. Second, all churches should be focused on Gospel proclamation. The new and young pastor at FBC Jacksonville made a plea to his congregation like our emphasis of every person finding one person to share the Gospel. Even in a mega church, the Kingdom grows one person at a time. Of all our tasks, it is most important that we engage lost people with the life-saving Gospel of Christ. We remain relevant as a church when we do the work God calls us to accomplish. I pray as we go forward that we will place our committed personal efforts, every man, woman, student and child, to meet lost people and build relationships to share the Gospel. I ask that you pray for the lost to find Christ through the work of this church. God bless you in this effort.
Rev. James A. Cohn