building more than sand
a florida church helps birth a church in a coastal
By Joe Westbury
It's not every day that a vacation drive along the beach results in a new
church. And it's not every day that
a recent seminary grad with no interest in church planting is called to pastor
that new work.
But that's exactly how God intervened in the lives of pastors Dannie
Williams and Billy Wight to birth
Palm Coast Community Church in Florida's fast-growing Flagler County.
"My wife and I took a vacation at Crescent Beach from Palatka, Florida,
where I was serving at Peniel Baptist Church," Dannie relates. "We were driving
along the coast and noticed that for 17 miles there was one long stretch of
road with thousands of people but not a single Baptist church. I said I thought
that was a sin, and that's what started us thinking about how we could help
bring a church to the area."
Dannie met with the deacons at Peniel Church to share his idea. When the
deacons shared reservations, Dannie told them "this is not about what we can
afford but about what God can supply."
That night a unanimous vote sealed the church's commitment to the
Kelly and Jeff Drummonds lived "good lives," but they knew
something was missing. They found that piece of the puzzle when a co-worker
a new church to Jeff.
That conversation led to a changed life for the couple and eventually to a
changed career path for Jeff.
He grew up in a family that attended church sporadically.
"I'd even accepted Christ as a child but never understood what salvation is
all about. Then I found myself in my late twenties, probably saved, but didn't
a clue what the gospel was trying to tell me."
Kelly had a similar story-a belief in God but no understanding of Christ's
The couple talked about visiting the new church, which had opened its doors in
September. It took them until November to take the first step.
"We were at that stage in life where we felt like we needed to start going
to church for our children's benefit," Jeff explains.
"There always seemed to be an excuse not to attend," Kelly adds. "But our
first visit changed all that. It was just so real and relevant to our lives.
That's what kept bringing us back."
Jeff adds: "Our pastors' sermons gave us a lot of truth that we didn't know
was there. They sparked such a curiosity in us about the Bible that we just
dove right in and started reading for ourselves. That's when we discovered that
Christianity is about a relationship with Christ."
Soon Kelly accepted Christ and was baptized in the couple's swimming pool.
Jeff rededicated his life to Christ and began serving as volunteer worship
leader. He went full time last year.
He credits Palm Coast Community Church with saving his marriage and holding
his family together.
Jeff also credits the help of the partner congregation in Palatka. "The
eternal investment Peniel Baptist Church made in our community resulted in
hundreds of changed lives. A lot of people our age, young families with
children, have been given a new purpose for living. The return on Peniel's
investment for the Kingdom has just been huge."
About 700 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee, Billy Wight was waiting on God
to show him an avenue of service. He had never given church planting more than
a fleeting thought.
When John Shepherd, a friend from seminary, told him about a phone call he'd
received from Dannie Williams seeking help with the start, Billy decided to
place a courtesy call to explore Dannie's vision. That's when things began to
They learned that every church in the area had geared itself to reach the
explosive growth of the retirement community. But not a single church had been
launched for the younger generation who moved to be near their parents and join
the job market.
The three men compared notes and decided to form a partnership. Dannie's
established church, Peniel, would help launch the new church to be co-pastored
by Billy and John.
"We wanted to do everything we could to make sure the church plant was
a success," says Dannie. "That would mean some major sacrifices in time, talent
and money, but we believed that when God initiates, He provides.
"God had been so good to us and has blessed us in so many ways. I knew we
had people in our church who had missions on their heart-what they needed was
an avenue through which they could express that calling."
The Palm Coast area was ready for a new church. In 1980 it had only 10,913
residents but was growing at an explosive rate. In 1995 when the team arrived
it had nearly quadrupled to 38,000.
The first thing they did was pray, asking God for guidance. Next they
visited nontraditional churches to see how others were reaching the unchurched.
They also began to formulate their core values. Then they built a core group of
a dozen who responded to newspaper ads asking for volunteers to help launch a
"As we developed relationships in the community, we encountered people who
were what we called 'dechurched'-those not attending anywhere or with little
church background," says Billy. "As we began to share our faith a light began
to go on and they said, 'Wow, God really loves me and proved it by sending
Jesus to change my life.'
"I never realized how valuable a sponsoring church would be. Peniel
Church sent folks to our exploratory meetings so we'd have a small crowd. They
sent others every Sunday to the elementary school to help us set up and break
down. They provided us with a sound technician to run the equipment and helped
staff our childcare and teach Sunday school lessons."
The church planting team was constantly supported by the partnering church
through a variety of preliminary events. More than financial support, they
provided an emotional and spiritual safety net that cemented the relationship
from the foundation.
"We'd learned that if you have around 200 early in your launch, you'll most
likely level out at 100 and then increase your base from that group," Billy
"One of the most scared times in my life was the morning of the launch
service. We'd done our homework, bathed all of our efforts in prayer with our
partners from Peniel Church, but when it came right down to it we didn't know
what to expect."
That first morning the launch team met in a small classroom for prayer. They
made a commitment to God that they would do whatever it took to reach the
"When we got up and walked out, there were 205 people ready to worship,"
recalls Billy. "It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life."
Billy stresses the importance of Peniel Church's partnership. "Remember,
there were only 12 core members to minister to 100 people every week. It was
impossible. But Peniel Church poured themselves into us and just didn't stop
giving. Within a year we were averaging 200 in attendance; now we run more than
700 and have two worship services. We outgrew the elementary school and moved
into a middle school before we built our first sanctuary."
After 10 years the congregation moved into its own building in June 2005
where it continues to grow. It baptized 60 through the first 11 months of that
"The coolest thing about the birth and growth of Palm Coast Community Church
is to see how God gives a vision and then fills that vision," says Billy. "The
vision He gave us-to work with young families-He has filled in miraculous
"Now, on Saturday evenings we have a major outreach to more than 100 middle
school students. Of the 715 parents and children who regularly attend on Sunday
morning, 215 are in the fifth grade or below. Forty-five percent of our
attendees are 18 years or younger."
Today the church is just 10 years old but is third among Florida Baptist
churches in the number of baptisms for this past year and is second in the
amount of general offerings given. Members gave nearly $1 million through
tithes and offerings in 2005. And the Palm Coast area has grown again, nearly
doubling to 65,000 residents. In April 2005 the U.S. Census Bureau rated
Flagler County as the nation's fastest growing county.
"This didn't start with me," Billy stresses. "It started with a church in
Palatka, 45 miles away, that had a selfless vision for reaching people in a
community where they would never receive any direct benefit. They didn't do it
to increase their church membership but to get more believers into the
"There were hundreds of people in church last Sunday because they were
faithful to that vision. They didn't have the funds, but they had a God who
Dannie Williams, in his soft-spoken manner, underscores that belief.
"After their first year Billy brought 50 of his members to our church in
Palatka for a worship service, and about 20 gave their testimonies. It was one
of the most awesome experiences in our church life. After we saw the impact of
our faithfulness to God's vision, our offerings began to grow. We went from
giving $3,000 to missions to $150,000 in one year. That growth came as we
watched God perform His work of redeeming people through church planting.
But Dannie doesn't stop there.
"The outcome of our partnership has been so wonderful. When we started out
our mindset was 'I'm not really sure we can do this.' Then we came to a place
where we said to ourselves, 'We can't afford not to do it.'"
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