A Church for the City

When Shaquwanda Baker moved to Orlando, Florida, she checked out a number of churches via their online services. After watching a First Orlando service, she knew it was where she belonged—most notably because there was an invitation to serve.

“The most important part of my journey with Christ is serving, and I was eager to jump in,” says Baker, who now volunteers in guest services.  “From my experience, the biggest thing folks want when they come into church is to get involved in one way or another, especially if it’s a large church. First Orlando makes it seamless to get involved right away.”

Senior Pastor David Uth calls First Orlando a church for the city because its diverse congregation represents the area that they are committed to serve. In fact, in the spring of 2023, the church gave away all the money that came in one weekend to benefit the homelessness and health care needs of the people of Orlando.

“We donated $1 million, which sent a message to the community that we care,” says Uth.

The church also participates in a number of service-oriented outreaches. For instance, on Good Friday they went to a local rescue mission and washed the feet of people there, then presented them with new shoes. But they don’t just do different things for the sake of mixing it up.

“We want to do things around a mission that have intentionality to them,” says Uth. “Doing cool things only lasts for a weekend unless they are mission-driven. If it’s mission-driven, it has a lasting effect.”

This is why the church undergoes a quarterly evaluation in which they identify not just the community’s needs but also what motivates their people. This process forces them to ask questions, come up with answers and dive deeper into their impact. 

“It keeps the mission in front of you instead of getting lost in the tangential things,” says Uth.

Using the principle of the 99 and the one, they came out with a strong strategy for connecting with their “one.”

“Everybody has a ‘one’ in their life. Who is that?” asks Uth. 

Founded in 1871, First Baptist Church of Orlando is a trilingual, multigenerational, multicultural church. They have intentionally begun to reach Hispanics, Portuguese, Brazilians, Haitians and Asians in the city. 

“We asked, ‘How do we communicate that we are the body of Christ but still give opportunities for culturally appropriate worship services and study/home/small groups?’” says Uth. 

They are always trying to figure out what would keep people from coming through the doors, then work to remove any barrier that could be a hindrance. 

“It’s amazing what happens when you start becoming self-aware about how you present yourself,” says Uth. “Everything we do matters and has an impact. [Sometimes pastors] sacrifice the gospel message for a political message, which harms the growth of the kingdom. We have to be aware of the lostness of our world and be intentional about making sure the gospel is the main thing.”

Uth believes that the key to good church leadership is checking the ego at the door.

“Humility is a lost characteristic in leadership today,” he says. “If you can come to the table with humility, then you will hear others. Sometimes leaders come with their minds already made up, which defeats the collaborative effort and ensures a bad result. But come with an open mind and you’re guaranteed to end with a good plan. 

“I don’t care how many programs you offer, how cool your worship is, or how awesome your coffee shop is, people go where they are loved,” says Uth. “We want everyone to feel loved, so that drives everything we do.”

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewinghttp://christyheitger-ewing.com/

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.