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Hispanic Ministry Growing in Avon Park, Florida

AVON PARK, Fla.—At Bethany Baptist Church, a Hispanic congregation is a growing extension of the church’s ministry. Bethany Baptist Church has two congregations: an English-language congregation that meets on Sunday mornings and a Spanish-language congregation that meets on Sunday afternoons.

“The vision to launch a Hispanic outreach really began prior to my coming to Bethany as pastor,” says Bill Martin. Bill has been pastor of the church since March 2018. “I first met with the church’s pulpit committee back in January of 2018. And as part of that discovery process about the church and the immediate community, it was clear that the demographics of the area cried out for some type of ongoing Hispanic ministry.” The population of Highlands County, where the church is located, is 20 percent Hispanic. “The vision to plan and launch some kind of outreach that could meet the needs of our community was born in my heart.”

What Bill and the deacons desired “was not an independent church plant, but rather an extension of our ministry—an ongoing outreach that would complement our current ministry vision,” Bill says. Knowing its goal, the church would next need to identify the right person to lead that effort. “In the spring of 2019, God brought a retired Ecuadorian missionary and his wife to Bethany, and we immediately clicked. They, too, were not interested in leading an independent church but were clearly looking for a ministry based both on evangelism and discipleship to and with the Hispanic community.”

That new leader began canvassing the neighborhood and contacting people, letting them know that the church would be launching a Hispanic ministry. The first Sunday, Bill says, “the crowd was small—only 10 or so individuals” meeting in a portable building that had been on the grounds of the church. “But the following week and the next the crowds continued to grow.” The staff decided to relocate and reschedule the group, moving its Sunday worship service to the church auditorium at 2 p.m.

“God has continued to lead and bless this ministry,” Bill says. A number of people have professed Christ as Savior and have been baptized. “At every opportunity, we have sought to ensure that this growing body of believers understand that they are truly part of our church—not a separate entity but a vital part of our fellowship.”

The staff has “learned much about ministering to this community as well,” Bill says. “What we were very naively calling just a Hispanic ministry, thinking really just about the Spanish language that connected them, was really made up of a very diverse group of individuals—Mexicans, Hondurans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc.—with different cultures, diets, and traditions. It has been eye-opening.”

As God has blessed this ministry, Bethany Baptist has sought God’s leading on expanding its building. The membership was already growing before the church started the Hispanic ministry. “We’ve added almost 50 new members over the past two years and often find ourselves restricted by our current building limitations,” Bill says.

With the addition of the Hispanic ministry, the church’s “space needs are even more apparent” as the church juggles various services and activities throughout the week; for instance, a midweek prayer meeting has shifted from Wednesday to Thursday evening to accommodate a growing ministry to children and youth, who meet on Wednesday evening. “It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it’s still a problem,” Bill says.

The Hispanic ministry is currently transitioning to new leadership, as the original leader desires to step back from the ministry due to health concerns related to aging. But within the Hispanic ministry is a man with ministry experience. He plans to take over the leadership role when worship services resume following the coronavirus pandemic.

“God is so clearly at work in the ministry of our church!” Bill says. “Seeing these new believers come to faith in Christ, be baptized, and begin to grow in their faith is a blessing and encouragement to our church.”