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Peninsular Florida District a Melting Pot

Superintendent Terry Raburn is grateful for the growing diversity in the nation’s southeast corner.

Terry Raburn has seen remarkable changes in his 19 years as superintendent of the Assemblies of God Peninsular Florida District, most notably in the expanding ethnic identities of those attending church.

“Even though Florida is in the corner of the country, Florida is a crossroads state,” Raburn says. “A lot of people come and go. Increasingly, ethnicity has forced us, gladly, to look at culturally correct ways to do ministry and to plant churches.”

When Raburn grew up on the peninsula, 5 million people lived there; now 18 million people do. The region has no ethnic majority. Whites comprise slightly less than 50 percent of the overall population as well as AG district church adherents.

And it’s not just Hispanics who are a growing part of the mix. Groups ranging from Portuguese to Slavic are establishing places of worship.

“That’s the world we live in, thank God,” Raburn says.

Peninsular Florida is one of the largest New Link AG districts by several measures. According to national statistics, Peninsular Florida has the highest weekly average worship attendance of the AG’s 67 districts — 96,681 — even though the district has only the ninth highest number of churches, 349.

Although Florida is considered a retirement haven, the district is far from having the highest ratio of senior citizen adherents. In AG Peninsular Florida churches, 11.9 percent of attendees are 65 and older. Eleven of the Fellowship’s 46 other geographic districts have a higher percentage. During the past decade, the number of adherents in Peninsular Florida increased by 20.2 percent, compared to 14.6 percent for the U.S. Assemblies of God as a whole.

The district typically is at or near the top in annual giving categories to such ministries as AG World Missions and Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge.

Six of the 50 largest AG congregations in the country are located in Peninsular Florida: First Assembly of God in Fort Myers; Faith Assembly of God in Orlando; Trinity Church International in Lake Worth; Calvary Christian Center in Ormond Beach; Victory Church in Lakeland; and Church of All Nations in Boca Raton.

“We want to be large if it’s an effective largeness,” Raburn says. “We want to be growing if it’s for Kingdom growth.”

Raburn says there is no typical AG Peninsular Florida church because local culture determines the flavor. A Caribbean congregation in Miami will look and sound a lot different than a black church in Jacksonville or a traditional white Southern church in Tampa.

“Our blessing is also a challenge,” Raburn says. “We are culturally diverse, but if we allow that to be pre-eminent, we will have cultural churches. We want to be Christian churches. If we allow Pentecost to be pre-eminent, we will have Christian churches.”

Image used in accordance with Creative Commons license. Photo credit: Christian Lambert Photography, Flickr.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.