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January 29, 2015

Press Photo

BCF Orlando Students Daniel Browne and Kevin McGaffigan came up to participate in the Church Plant practicum.

Panama City Beach, even in January, is a great destination for a holiday get-away or relaxing mid-winter retreat. But for a group of The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) students, relaxation was not on the agenda. Instead, students in Mission Professor Rich Elligson’s Church Planting practicum spent a week walking the myriad dozens of highways and byways along the Bay, prayer-walking, taking surveys, sharing the gospel, and promoting a new church plant just blocks from the Hathaway Bridge.

The practicum was just one product of an ongoing partnership between The Baptist College of Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention. Each year, the two entities support a new church start. The state convention provides some funds and materials, while BCF provides “boots on the ground.” “It’s a winning situation for all parties involved,” explained Florida Baptist Church Planting Team Strategist Robert Beckman. “As a convention, we see another congregation added to God’s Kingdom. That represents real people, encountering the real God,” he added. “The church planter gets some much needed help with the task, and the students gain valuable hands-on experience in an actual church plant setting.”

The new church, CHRIST Fellowship, was started last year by Florida Baptist Church Planter Michael Petty who realized that segments of the beach population were not being reached with the gospel message. “There are some great churches in Panama City Beach,” Petty stated. “But tucked back off of the road are dozens of out-of-the-way residential areas filled with year-round residents who are simply unchurched. Those are the folks who we want to reach.”

The goal for the week-long BCF mission project was to canvass those quiet, unassuming neighborhoods, assessing resident needs, introducing the new church to those who expressed an interest, and looking for opportunities to share the gospel. By the end of the week, the eight-member team had knocked on over a thousand doors and spoken to countless residents.

“I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the warm reception we got,” reported Senior Missions Major Justin Jackson. “But we were also a bit discouraged to meet so many people who had no connection to God, to the gospel, to any church, to anything spiritual. Pastor Michael and CHRIST Fellowship have their work cut out for them.”

Petty knows the challenges, but also the rewards; and he is far from discouraged. “Jesus said the fields around Him were ‘white unto harvest.’ We feel the same way here, and we are doing just what He said to do. We are asking the Lord of the harvest to send us some more folks like these men and women from The Baptist College to help us reach - and harvest - the unreached of Panama City Beach.”

To learn more about mission courses and projects through The Baptist College of Florida, call 850.263.3261 ext. 460 or visit the website at www.baptistcollege.edu

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BCF Church Plant participants compile literature and handouts to distribute during the week-long mission project in Panama City.