FERGUSON – As First Baptist Church prepares for the 80th anniversary of being on mission on Sept. 18, they will celebrate the future as well as the past.
The church’s building is now becoming the home for the George Liele Center for Mission Mobilization, though the church family will continue to meet here.
The new center is the 17th of the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief mission centers. It is named for George Liele, the first African American to be ordained and to leave the continental US as a missionary to Jamaica – preceding even the famed Baptist missionaries William Carey and Adoniram Judson in leaving for the mission field.
FBC Ferguson closed on the sell of the building this month. The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association will provide administration for the George Liele Center.
“It is great to celebrate our history,” James L. Goforth, Jr., senior pastor, said. “Great things have been done in this place, but we will never be what we have been, and we will be what we’ve never been.”
Goforth referenced the history of FBC Ferguson. “Forty years ago,” he said, “back in Bob’s (Werner) hey-day, this was the lead church in the convention, doing what others wanted to do, but it was 95% Anglo. It was focused and fitted for that.”
But, through the years, the demographics in Ferguson shifted. “Over the years, our direction changed,” Steve Hancock, chairman of the elders and a member since the ‘80s, said. “We lost members as they began to move west and because of members aging. We’ve seen a reduction too as young people have not seen the importance of faith.”
“We had this large building of 95,000 square feet,” he continued, “and the maintenance was taking up 50% of our budget. It was not good stewardship.”
As a member of the pastor search committee, Hancock saw God working through the entire process.
“We tried several directions,” Hancock explained. “We wanted the church to remain as a ministry, so we pursued larger African American churches to see if they would add our building as a campus. We also talked to a couple other congregations about merging, but God shut every door.”
“This is really a God thing,” Hancock said. “Darren Casper called the search committee and let us know that Jim Goforth might be available. I called him and told him that we wanted our church to look like heaven and reflect the community. He was sold.”
Darren Casper, executive director of St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, agreed with Hancock that Goforth is a great fit for pastoring at FBC, Ferguson. “I knew Jim had a great history in St. Louis, especially Ferguson. I knew of his love for the community and for the church family. I’m excited for him as he starts this new work, and we will support him in every way possible.”
Goforth had ministered in St. Louis before. In fact, he was on staff at FBC Ferguson. “My heart is in the city,” he said. “I served as pastor at New Life in Florissant for several years, and our goal was to make that church as diverse as the neighborhood.”
In recent years, Goforth was serving in Texas. “I was praying for God to put me in a city and to serve for racial reconciliation. I was frustrated because COVID was uncovering where the country is, and I didn’t have a voice. As great as FBC Ferguson is, it had lost its voice and it didn’t look like the community.”
“We needed a leader,” Hancock said, “and Jim has all kinds of contacts with friends in the African American community from the last time he served in St. Louis.”
Goforth is a believer in communication. He was only here a few months when he contacted both the mayor of Ferguson and the city manager.
“It is not politics,” Goforth said. “It is about people. I had a wonderful meeting with Eric Osterberg, city manager. Then, the next week, my phone was ringing, and it was Osterberg. He told me that hundreds of people were displaced by the flooding the night before. He wanted to know if they could come to church. I met him and put on the coffee while he came in with donuts and people.”
Joshua 3:5 will be the focus of worship on the September 18 anniversary. “I want to share what Joshua did,” Goforth said. “‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
Hancock is looking forward to the church serving in the ministry center. “We will have all the building maintenance expenses taken off our shoulders,” he said, “and we can just do ministry which is what we want to do. I see all kinds of ways to serve by bringing in doctors, dentists, job trainers. The sky is the limit. I believe our ministry will explode tenfold.”
Casper agreed with Hancock’s assessment of service. “Having the George Liele Center in Ferguson will have a tremendous impact to not only Ferguson, but to the entire St. Louis area.
“We expect hundreds of volunteers from throughout the country to stay and do works of compassion in Ferguson and the surrounding area. I can only imagine the impact of people praying and loving Ferguson while here. I can only imagine the great spiritual impact it will have on the community.”