First Baptist’s young leader wants to stem attendance drop, be ‘better neighbor’ downtown

First Baptist's young leader wants to stem attendance drop, be 'better neighbor' downtown

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville’s sole senior pastor is a 38-year-old Kentuckian who speaks frankly regarding the need for turning spherical dwindling attendance on the downtown church, which has normally been a sturdy energy over its 180-year historic previous.

“We now have been in decline for 20 years,” Heath Lambert talked about. “You can’t preserve declining: It is a should to stop it after which start rising.”

Lambert, who has been the church’s co-senior pastor since September, takes over the one administration operate after Mac Brunson’s announcement last week, all through the service, that he would step down as senior pastor. Brunson talked about he would lead his final service on the church Sunday.

Lambert talked about he found that info when everyone else inside the congregation did, as he sat inside the entrance row last Sunday listening to Brunson.

“I consider the selection to resign from the church that he’s pastored for 12 years was a personal dedication and he wanted to share it on his private time, when he thought it was correct,” he talked about.

The knowledge wasn’t a complete shock to Lambert, in actual fact.

He was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., along with govt director of the Affiliation of Licensed Biblical Counselors sooner than Brunson requested him to affix him at First Baptist. In January 2016, Lambert grew to change into the church’s affiliate pastor. In September 2017, he was named Brunson’s co-pastor and successor.

Brunson, in a Events-Union story on the time, talked about he wanted to rearrange for an eventual clear transition. Efforts to achieve him for comment this week weren’t worthwhile.

Lambert was amongst those who credited Brunson for opening First Baptist Academy, a school, and attempting to broaden the church’s presence previous downtown.

All through his tenure, First Baptist opened new church campuses in Ortega and on the Faculty of North Florida. And there’s a Might 20 groundbreaking for a church inside the fast-growing Nocatee area for a congregation that’s been meeting in Ponte Vedra Extreme Faculty.

Many downtown church buildings have struggled all through America, while large suburban church buildings have grown.

“It’s undoubtedly true for First Baptist. Metropolis sprawl, the growth of communities farther and farther away, and attempting to get of us to do what they certainly not do, which is go downtown, and to do what they certainly not do, to go to church — that’s laborious to do,” Lambert talked about.

First Baptist counts eight,400 of us in its congregation, and about three,000 attend firms downtown each Sunday, he talked about. These numbers are down significantly from its heyday, when info tales talked about the congregation topped 25,000.

Lambert talked about the church had turned inward inside the last couple of a very long time and wasn’t reaching out to the neighborhood as loads as a result of it wished to. That’s going to should fluctuate, he talked about.

“Mission main, for me, is we now should equip our of us as soon as extra, in a scientific, world method, to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to this metropolis,” he talked about. “We’ll doubtless be rolling out a model new plan to do that inside the subsequent six or seven months.”

Via the years, the church has included members who bought right here from all by the city’s political and enterprise development. That’s nonetheless true, nonetheless possibly not inside the numbers it as quickly as had.

First Baptist was normally seen as a sturdy voice on social or political factors going by the city. That have an effect on too may be waning significantly.

Jacksonville is rising, and with that the political center of gravity is shifting, talked about Ron Littlepage, retired Events-Union political columnist.

“You’ve got bought a great deal of new of us coming to metropolis, assuming positions of administration, who aren’t linked to First Baptist. First Baptist as an institution stays to be an unlimited youngster on the block, nonetheless it isn’t the one youngster anymore,” he talked about.

Littlepage talked about the church recently normally seemed to be a lot much less of a voice inside the metropolis. “I may be flawed, nonetheless it appeared like with Mac Brunson that they had been additional insular, dealing with First Baptist and by no means the neighborhood as a complete. Clearly besides the HRO — they carried out an unlimited half in that and misplaced.”

The church, beneath Brunson’s administration, was a sturdy voice in urging the city to not approve the expanded human rights ordinance, or HRO, which gave discrimination protections for LBGT of us. Nonetheless, the Metropolis Council in 2017 handed the HRO, which had the sturdy backing of monumental segments of the enterprise neighborhood.

The church bused opponents to conferences on the HRO, and Brunson despatched emails to church members urging them to oppose it. After the measure handed, First Baptist invited council members who voted in direction of it to be acknowledged at a Sunday service. And later last 12 months, it hosted a info conference asserting a drive for a ballot measure to supply voters the prospect to overturn it.

Don Redman, a former metropolis councilman acknowledged for his sturdy conservative beliefs, has been an usher on the church for 40 years. He’s moreover a barber, and has decrease the hair of the earlier a lot of preachers, along with Brunson, at his barbershop on Belfort Road.

Redman talked about he’s proud that the church has taken sturdy stands on some political and social points, nonetheless acknowledged that, because the city has grown, that there are additional competing voices on hot-button factors.

“So to be as sturdy in your stand is harder to do. You can take a sturdy stand, nonetheless when you’ve got loads in the marketplace stopping in direction of it, it most likely seems that you don’t accomplish as loads,” he talked about.

In the middle of the extended HRO debate, Lambert was moreover part of the church’s efforts in direction of the ordinance.

In a February 2017 meeting on the issue, he characterised the legal guidelines as an attempt to “affirm” homosexuality. Christians take into account which may be a sin, he talked about, and passing the legal guidelines could possibly be a discriminatory act in direction of Christians.

After it was handed, Brunson and Lambert co-authored a column for the Events-Union criticizing that switch, saying, “So in case you marvel why crucial part of Jacksonville’s religious neighborhood is not going to be dancing on the road with others who’re celebrating, it is on account of a bill that was presupposed to eradicate a class of discrimination created a model new objective. Christians know that the model new objective is us.”

Lambert talked about last week his church has one overriding priority: “Love God and love of us. Our intention shifting forward is to do that.”

Nevertheless he talked about that won’t preclude speaking out on cultural, social or political factors as soon as they battle with the church’s beliefs.

Lambert moreover talked about the church must take a proactive technique in efforts to be “a higher neighbor” in its standard downtown home.

“Now now we have an unlimited bodily presence downtown. The downtown campus is our Jerusalem,” he talked about. “We have to current additional care and concern for the homeless and the enterprise neighborhood.”

He plans to make long-term effort, since he and his partner, Lauren, with whom he has three children, hope to make First Baptist their last stop.

“We would have liked to settle right into a spot by the purpose I’m 40,” Lambert talked about. “Our plan is for this to be our last switch. Our plan is to go away proper right here inside the 2040s.”

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