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Local Church Spotlight: First Baptist Church of Naples, FL

One of the things we want to do at SBC Witness is highlight local churches that, in our opinion, are representative of the very best of who we are as Southern Baptists. While it would be easy for us to highlight our own local churches–all five of which are great churches–I wanted to highlight a congregation that I have never been a member of, but have some familiarity with; my wife's uncle is a lay leader in the church.

The First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida is one of the largest churches in their state. At the moment, the church is probably most well known because her senior pastor, Hayes Wicker, is the president of the SBC Pastor's Conference. There are many things I like about FBC Naples.

First, the church is evangelistic. FBC is a church that is growing, and to the glory of God most of that growth is conversion growth. In terms of its membership and attendance, FBC has 5000 members and about 4000 active members, which is a far better percentage than most SBC churches enjoy (and is a remarkably percentage for a megachurch). In the last fifteen years the church has baptized over 2500 new converts.

Second, the church takes the teaching of Scripture seriously. Dr. Wicker, whose sermons are available online, is a genuine expositor in a denomination too-often filled with expositional posers. He is committed to preaching through books of the Bible while making the old, old story understandable to contemporary Americans. The church's large youth ministry also emphasizes serious Bible teaching and discipleship, as opposed to the trite morality studies that is so often characterisic of American youth groups.

Third, the church does baptism the "right" way. Let me explain what I mean. Since the late 1800's, most Baptist church buildings have come equipped with a built-in baptistry, which is of course quite convenient. But I think baptistries–as good as they are–have stolen away some of the significance of baptism. Baptisms used to be a public affair; after all, it is a public profession of one's faith. Part of taking a baptismal candidate down to the creekside was so that non-Christians could witness the ordinance and hear the gospel preached. Indoor baptistries, while allowing for baptisms during the cold months when the creek is froze over, has "insulated" baptism from the outside world, taking away some of the ordinance's ability to play a crucial role in evangelism (though admittedly non-Christians may witness a baptism in a church building). FBC Naples conducts some of their baptisms on the beach, in the Gulf of Mexico. I think that is very, very cool, and I have no doubt that a number of passerbys have come to faith in Christ by being able to witness outdoor, public baptisms.

Fourth, the church takes membership seriously. It is so very rare to find a large church that is both evangelistic and makes membership meaningful. FBC does so by making use of a church covenant (which most churches have, but ignore) and by practicing corrective church discipline. Just in case you missed that, I will say it again: FBC is a megachurch that practices church discipline. It is not easy, especially in a church of several thousand members. But FBC is committed to not only being a growing congregation, but being a healthy congregation. And that means caring enough about people to confront them when they are in open rebellion against the commands of Christ.

I praise God for FBC Naples; I personally believe they are one of the finest churches among us. And in the coming months, we hope to highlight many others churches–of all shapes and sizes–that represent some of the very best of Southern Baptists.