Pastor: First Baptist Church Needs To Downsize Campus Because It's In 'Cardiac Arrest'

Sep 9, 2019

First Baptist Church Jacksonville Senior Pastor Heath Lambert thought it would be difficult to convince his congregation that a $30 million loan is the best way for the 181-year-old church to address a debt crisis and stop “bleeding from its pores.”

“Here’s what I’m telling you — First Baptist Church is in cardiac arrest,” Lambert said during his sermon Sunday, according to WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record.

“And if we don’t jolt back to life with a loan, we’re not going to make it. We can die and be irrelevant and have 500 people sitting in this room thrilled to be a part of the memory of the miracle of Downtown Jacksonville,” he said.

“We can die without a loan or we can live with one.”

Lambert said Sunday the church will consolidate its ministry from 10 city blocks Downtown into one, reducing its real estate holdings. It’s based at 124 W. Ashley St.

Church leaders proposed a $30 million plan to move its ministry into a 182,000-square-foot facility bounded by Church, Hogan, Laura and Ashley streets.

That block includes Hobson Auditorium, which was built in 1904.

Lambert unveiled the plan, called “A New Generation of Miracles,” to the congregation during the 10:30 a.m. service Sunday.

The congregation voted Sunday to authorize First Baptist Church leadership to take out a $30 million loan to finance a renovation and retrofit of “The Hobson Block.”

The work will feature upgrades to Hobson Auditorium, which will once again serve as the First Baptist Church worship facility, as well as enable new youth and child education and worship facilities and parking.

That block does not include its main auditorium and the Lindsay auditorium —named for former First Baptist Church pastors and leaders Homer Lindsay Sr. and Homer Lindsay Jr.

Lambert said the loan will be repaid by proceeds from the sale of First Baptist Church assets and property as well as donations and a giving campaign within the church.

Lambert told the congregation that no decisions have been made about what properties would be sold or when.

A meeting scheduled Monday will finalize details, including the possible hiring of a real estate broker to assist First Baptist Church.

“The plan would be to take it to the open market here in the last quarter of this year and see what we can get,” Lambert said in an interview after Sunday’s service.

“We’ll have about three months. We imagine things will happen fairly quickly,” he said.

Lambert said the tentative timeline is to open the consolidated facility Downtown in the first half of 2021.

An expanded version of this story that includes additional images and a look at the First Baptist Church holdings is at JaxDailyRecord.