Pastor of First Baptist Church Fort Lauderdale Resigns After Congregation Size Dwindles
The pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, James Welch, resigned last week with no public reason provided.
Welch’s resignation followed reporting by MinistryWatch that the church’s membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) had been suspended. The ECFA is investigating whether FBC Fort Lauderdale has complied with standard 4 regarding “use of resources and compliance with laws.”
The suspension and investigation began in October 2022.
When asked about the suspension and investigation, Steve Blount, the church’s executive director of ministry services wrote, “First Baptist Fort Lauderdale certainly understands ECFA’s review, and we aren’t surprised by the review given the sustained campaign of unsupported and unsubstantiated public criticism we have endured these last three years.”
Since Welch took the helm in 2019, the church has been dealing with various controversies involving issues such as the canceling of a popular Christmas pageant, claims of a toxic environment, a lawsuit between congregants and church leadership, and a real estate dispute.
When Welch became the pastor of FBC Fort Lauderdale, the congregation was nearly 1,100—but attendance has since dwindled to about 200.
The church was founded in 1907 and owns a large complex of buildings that takes up most of a city block.
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An email announcing Welch’s resignation was sent to church members. It read, “We’re writing today to let you know that James Welch resigned as lead pastor this week to pursue other interests. We wish James, Amy, and his family only the best as they continue to faithfully live out God’s plan for their lives.”
Welch preached his last sermon at the church on March 5, but he did not inform the congregation about his intended resignation during the service. On March 12, two church trustees addressed the congregation about Welch’s departure.
“Our pastor, James Welch, has been a strong leader here in the past time for First Baptist Church, a time that was a deep transformation for our church,” trustee Timothy Mowrey said.
According to reporting by the watchdog site Florida Bulldog, last month the Welch family purchased a home in Coral Springs about 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale.
Before coming to Fort Lauderdale, Welch planted and led Harbor Community Collective in New Orleans for nearly 13 years. Upon his departure in 2019, the church merged with Vintage Church in Metairie, Louisiana.
A committee made up of FBC Fort Lauderdale parishioners and an executive search firm yet to be chosen will begin the search for a new pastor this week.
“Be assured that the work and ministry of [FBC Fort Lauderdale], as directed by God’s word, and illuminated by way of the Holy Spirit, will not be deterred. As always, we will continue gathering to edify, equip and encourage one another,” the email to the congregation read.
FBC Fort Lauderdale did not reply to a MinistryWatch request for comment before the time of publication.