Struggling Florida church now experiencing a ‘God story’

Weldon Family
(Florida Baptist Convention)

Struggling Florida church now experiencing a ‘God story’

Located just south of St. Augustine, Florida, on U.S. 1, Moultrie Baptist Church has shared the gospel faithfully in its community for four decades and has enjoyed seasons of growth.

However, by 2018 the congregation was in decline, and the average age of members was 68 years old.

Change was needed and God opened the door for Jacksonville native Johnny Weldon to come and help shepherd the church into a time of new growth and revitalization.

After serving on the mission field in Belize and ministering in South Carolina, his young family arrived back in North Florida to tend to his ailing mother. He was asked to preach at Moultrie Baptist, which had recently lost its pastor.

Soon the Jacksonville native was tapped as interim pastor and found a disheartened congregation who believed their best days were gone.

After preaching a series from Psalms on seeking God in hard times, he was approached about becoming pastor.

Church divided

While prayer walking one morning, God confirmed to the former missionary that he should respond positively to the church. He was called in February 2018 but the vote was tight. Some people left, some stayed.

The remaining congregation “would have to long for change within themselves and within the church, believe that was what God wanted,” he said.

He began praying for God to burden their heart for the community. Slowly they began to move toward health and ministry teams started to coalesce.

The turning point came with the onset of COVID.

When the church was unable to meet as usual, the congregation began asking themselves: who are we, and who are we without our building, our programs?

Members realized during the pandemic that people need Jesus; they became excited as they launched outdoor services in March 2020 as well as online services.

“I want there to be a church here after I’m gone,” some said. A desire to become a healthy church soon emerged as a longing for the past died away.

‘Fighting is gone, we just serve’

“COVID brought a change, a redo,” the pastor said. “We have rebuilt our mission, vision, strategy, signs, and worship team. Fighting is gone, we just serve.”

“Together we make a difference” is the church’s new tag line as they aspire to become a multi-generational, multiethnic, and multiplying people on mission.

Changes have been made: the number of committees was reduced by more than half; scheduled workdays addressed maintenance of buildings and the five acres of land; and despite cutting the budget by 20 percent, the church was able to save money.

Sunday attendance is now between 60 and 80 people.

Looking ahead

Upcoming outreach events include hosting a fall Pumpkin Palooza in this month, sending Christmas cards for area police officers and firefighters, and sponsoring the Florida Baptist Convention’s mobile dental clinic at a local elementary school in January.

The pastor is grateful for the ministry of the Florida Baptist Convention. “Craig Culbreth, our regional catalyst, has encouraged me in dark days, cheered our breakthroughs. The convention has helped us forge relationships with local clinics, schools and the Department of Health; and they have connected me with coaches in every field that we asked about, and we have asked about a lot. I love the Florida Baptist Convention,” he said.

“Moultrie is a God story,” continued the pastor. “He is getting hold of members’ hearts and they now want to see themselves as a mission center in their community.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Barbara Hoffman, a member at FBC Eau Gallie in Melbourne, served alongside her husband Mike for over 25 years as North American Mission Board church planters in Georgia, Maine, and Florida. She is a graduate of Florida State University and taught Pre-K/VPK for many years. While serving in Maine she wrote articles for the New England Baptist, and currently writes articles for the Canaveral Port Ministry’s newsletter. She and Mike have two adult children, and she enjoys spending time with their four grandchildren. This story originally appeared on the Florida Baptist Convention website.

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