Derek Allen remembers exactly when God called him to be a church planter.
While serving as executive pastor of Smoke Rise Church, Warrior, in North Jefferson Association, he and his wife, Lindsay, attended a conference in April 2012 on the topic of starting a church from scratch. They were hoping to get some ideas to incorporate into their own church, when, Allen says, “Out of nowhere, God said ‘This is what I want you to do. I want you to plant a church.’ I just knew immediately. One moment I wasn’t a church planter, the next moment I was a church planter.”
And in God’s providence, He called Lindsay at the same time in another room at the conference.
What followed was a yearlong process of praying, vision casting, raising support and consulting with the North American Mission Board – a process that ultimately led the Allens to Miami, Florida, to plant Christ Centered Church.
Beginning in July 2012, they traveled to Miami monthly to scout venues, meet people and make connections in the community. Then on May 29, 2013, the family – which includes three children who were then ages 4, 2 and 2 months – pulled up stakes and moved to Miami, a city with a school system where 123 languages are spoken.
When they first arrived, they were overwhelmed with the need they saw. “We realized there was a huge need for evangelism, a huge need for churches, and a huge need for discipleship,” Allen said. But they also saw huge opportunities.
“We’ve found from the very beginning that the mission field here is wide open,” Lindsay said, “People are so open to the gospel, and they are so open to conversations.
“One thing we really love about Miami is the fact that because there are so many different cultures and countries and ethnicities represented here, you really have this unique opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission in one spot.
But they realized they couldn’t do it alone. Beginning in July 2013, a steady stream of Alabama Baptist volunteer teams made the trek to Miami to work alongside the Allens, including volunteers from Hepzibah, McCalla; Kyuka, Attalla; Twelfth Street and Riddles Bend, Rainbow City; and Macedonia, Gadsden. Allen estimates that these teams made more than 15,000 contacts in the community prior to the church’s first worship service on February 9, 2014.
That service attracted 169 people, and the church has averaged around 100 in attendance since, with at least one profession of faith almost each week. They meet on the Biscayne Bay Campus of Florida International University (FIU) every Sunday at 11 a.m. and also have small group Bible studies during the week in homes, restaurants and other gathering places. Allen has also brought on two staff members and several short-term volunteers from Alabama, helping to make the church an oasis of southern hospitality in a city in need of Christ’s love.
During March, two Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) student teams – one from the University of South Alabama, the other from Etowah Baptist Association – traveled to Miami to assist with getting the word out about upcoming Easter services by handing out water bottles and invitations in parks, at busy intersections and on FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus, and canvassing neighborhoods with door hangers.
With deep roots in Alabama, particularly the Etowah Baptist Association (EBA) – Derek was born in Attalla and served several EBA churches as youth minister or pastor – the Allens are grateful for the spirit of partnership and firmly believe the church wouldn’t be where it is today without the work of mission teams from Alabama.
He’s also grateful for the support of Alabama Baptists through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
“The Cooperative Program is the way God has kept us in the city. Miami is an easy place to do ministry. It’s easy to talk to people and easy to strike up conversations about the gospel. What’s hard about Miami is staying in the city (due to the high cost of living), so the support given through the Cooperative Program is really invaluable to us.”
Reggie Quimby, director of Global Missions for the State Board of Missions (SBOM), said, “The Allens serve as a great example of what the SBOM’s missions partnership strategy, Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections, is all about, as they have networked and continue to network with churches and associations to bring volunteer teams to help them in their missions strategy.”
“When I think about Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections and Alabama Baptist churches partnering with us, the word that comes to my mind is encouragement, because this is a tough city,” Allen said. “Just knowing that we’re not alone, there’s a whole group of people, there’s an entire state full of churches behind us and supporting what we’re doing is so important.”
To learn more about Christ Centered Church, visit ChristCenteredChurch.net.