Pushing the envelope and saving souls

You may have seen the attention grabbing billboards advertising Strip Club or The Bare Naked Truth on Sex series in various locations as you drive around South Florida. Although there have been a variety of comments, bewildered looks, and even criticisms and judgments by both believers and non-believers, there is one truth that stands mighty and alone through all of it; whether you are a fan of his style or not, Pastor David Hughes’ mission to lead as many souls as possible to Christ is working.

A South Florida native, Pastor Hughes recalls being given the opportunity to lead at Church by the Glades (formerly Coral Baptist) eleven years ago as somewhat surprising. Having completed an undergraduate degree in Religion at Baylor, followed by a Masters in Theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary, Hughes jovially describes his original role at the church as the “fill-in guy for the fill-in guy.” Although, at the time, the church had undergone some division and splits, Hughes firmly believed that the church had a great thing happening around it, as Coral Springs was becoming increasingly popular and residents were quickly growing in number.

“I remember I had come to speak here for, what we thought would be, a onetime deal; but then they asked me to be the interim guy,” recalls Hughes. With a chuckle, he remembers being told specifically that he would “not become their next lead pastor.” God had other plans, it seems.

Three months later, Hughes was told that God had led the church to ask him to be just that.

Excited and honored, Hughes only had one request if he accepted the position, and it was non-negotiable. “At the time, Coral Baptist was a very traditional church. There was always a remnant there, very mature people, amazing people who had been battle tested. My only expressed desire was to have the ability to do an ultra-contemporary service in addition to keeping the traditional services,” Hughes relates.

Hughes was granted his request and worked overtime, trying different methods of reaching the community and ultimately determining which ones had the greatest effect. Church by the Glades began to form a bond with believers in the area, as well as fruitfully reaching out and connecting with non-believers in South Florida. Today, the church, whose membership had initially dwindled down to less than 500 worshipers when Hughes took the position, has grown to over 5,000.

Planted in an area that Hughes says is “93 percent unchurched,” he is forthcoming about the fact that the church has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to creatively and effectively bring Life to the residents of South Florida. “We spend a great deal of time championing the great commission. As you fish for men, you put different types of bait in the water,” explains Hughes.

“For example, when we structure the worship experience at our church, we begin with who we are trying to reach. Considering that this is one of the most unstructured counties in America, our worship experience purposely feels like a concert venue. The people we are trying to reach a hand out to have most likely been to a concert recently rather than a church, so our goal is to connect with them on their current level.”

Edgy, unexpected, and innovative with its visions and ideas to lead souls to Christ, Hughes explains that the church has been asked some great questions along the way. “Why are you so provocative, rocky, and different? People have asked all sorts of questions about why we do things the way we do here,” tells Hughes. “No matter how different it may seem, we always use a biblical basis. I think back to Acts 17 when Paul was trying to reach the Athenians. He looked around, studied, and saw that there were pagan statues being worshipped. He used the statue entitled ‘The Unknown God’ to reach them. By using a cultural connection point, whether it’s a statue, a song, pop culture, or a catchy named series, you reach people by starting where they are, then you take them on a journey, and ultimately you bring them to Jesus.”

On the subject of being provocative and edgy, one series that was a huge hit at the church was their Strip Club series. The name was an instant attention grabber, and made people think about what was going to be discussed at a church that was presenting a series with that sort of name.

“The entire Strip Club series came from reading Isaiah 20. The Lord spoke and told Isaiah to go buck naked and preach the message for three years straight! That was shocking to me when I really sat back and thought about it,” explains an excited Hughes. “The premise of Strip Club was that sometimes church can be more like a fashion show, but more important than just clothing, people ‘dress up’ in attitude and pretense. They act as if they have it all together. But God wants us to strip away our arrogance, our self-righteousness, and our sin. This is the message we tried to get across in that series. Before church can be meaningful to you, you must strip away all of these things.”

With provoking and intriguing series, Church by the Glades plans to continue on its present course, changing lives and reaching those who they say are “Skeptical of the ‘absolute’ yet longing for a standard; those who crave for something more.” New, engaging series start every few weeks and can be experienced at both contemporary and traditional services at the original location in Coral Springs or at the new location, on Sample Road and Riverside Drive.

“We have done some provocative series, things that have created a ‘buzz.’ I think the worst thing for a church is not to be misunderstood, but to be ignored, and I sometimes wish other churches would allow a little latitude for diversity,” explains Hughes. “The biggest scandal for Christ was that he was labeled a friend of sinners. Here, we are evangelistic. We do get criticized for being too big, too entertaining, and maybe not deep enough. My goal in every service is to have the non-believers, new believers, and long-time believers all fed by the time they leave. But, as far as being criticized for entertaining? Jesus would entertain and hold a crowd’s attention for hours. We want to entertain and feed people with substance and content, not confuse them with theological jargon; we want to make the messages in the Bible very clear for people to understand.”

When asked if he ever thought he would be leading such controversial series when he began eleven years ago, Hughes cheerfully expresses, “My personality is actually quite tame. God’s sense of humor can be funny sometimes when He lays things on your heart, such as different messages or series that can be interpreted by others as so radical. When God laid certain series on my heart, I argued with Him for several months, thinking ‘if I do this, Lord, this will really bring the heat on our church’; but you really never want to argue with God. He puts it all out there, He has a plan. He has taken me completely out of my comfort zone, and I am thankful, because it worked. I want to see the kingdom aggressively advance, and if my being aggressive leads one person to Jesus, then I have done my job. I refuse to play it safe when eternity and heaven and hell are at stake.”

Standing separate from all others, Church by the Glades has truly become a one-of-a-kind church over the years. In addition to sharing captivating, educational, and thought provoking series, they utilize small groups both on and off campus, value Life teams, and have a sincere heart for evangelism. In addition to the variety of classes, groups, and services that the church offers, visitors can also enjoy a freshly baked donut, coffee, and fellowship time after service, and may just come across a mariachi band, flamenco dancer, a giant elephant, or some other type of unexpected Culture. Something new and exciting is always happening at Church by the Glades.

“People can tell if you really care about them. At Church by the Glades, we try to make everyone realize that they matter to us,” adds Hughes. “No perfect people allowed; that has become the branding of our church. So, if you are part of the messed up, shacked up, and jacked up of South Florida, then come on over. We want to meet you.”

For more information on upcoming events and series at Church by the Glades, or to learn more about their newest location, groups, and service times, visit: www.CBGlades.com or call
954-755-7767. >

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