Bay Point Church

July 14, 2022

Nokomis church refits, rebrands for growth

By: Derek Maul

Steven Bowers (left) and the Rev. Dr. John Guerre record the weekly message for Baypoint Church in Nokomis. Bowers joined the staff as chief executive director last fall. Guerre is lead pastor. (BPC photo)
Steven Bowers (left) and the Rev. Dr. John Guerre record the weekly message for Baypoint Church in Nokomis. Bowers joined the staff as chief executive director last fall. Guerre is lead pastor. (BPC photo)

Steven Bowers has a challenging task: to convert a 50-year-old sanctuary into a worship space that’s conducive to sharing the gospel message in today’s cultural milieu.

The goal, Bowers says, is to support a mission “to introduce people to a life-transforming relationship with Jesus,” particularly those who struggle with traditional churches and spaces.

This spiritual, and physical, transformation is happening at Bay Point Church, a United Methodist congregation in Nokomis formerly known as Venice-Nokomis United Methodist Church.

Bowers joined the church staff as chief executive director last fall. He says he wants to engage the community’s growing demographic of people who’ve never been to church or have given up on it.

The Rev. Dr. John Guerre, lead pastor at the church, “helped me find a calling on my life,” Bowers said. “I wrestled with God, then gave up a 21-year sales career.”

Jean Larsen, a certified financial planner and the church’s lay leader, says she can never do enough to give back to the church. An active member since before her children were baptized, she says she has “chaired every committee two or three times.”

“To watch this for 35 years has been an amazing experience,” she said. “I learned how to lead and have become stronger in this church. It’s pretty compelling.”

The call to reimagination, Larsen said, is a response to a culture that seemed to be settling for “55-plus” in perpetuity and inevitable obsolescence.

“We want our continuity to be about bringing people to Christ,” she said. “This project is forward thinking. The whole idea is to enhance the message and the worship, engaging people, making the message more accessible to where people are.”

Positioning the church to serve a changing community began with upgrading outdated financial software and technology and assessing staffing. Now, the church is reconfiguring the traditional sanctuary so it’s more “user-friendly,” Bowers said.

A $500,000 loan from the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s Development Fund is helping the church accomplish that task.

“The message never changes. The methods, however, always change.” — Steven Bowers, Bay Point chief executive director

“Bay Point has a big, gorgeous campus and a healthy endowment,” said Andy Craske, the foundation’s vice president of loans and investments. “The question is often, ‘Should we use endowment money or take a loan?’”

For Craske, the answer is simple and strategic. “If you don’t take dollars out of the market, and we can give you a good loan, then you can use earnings to pay the loan payments,” he said.

“It’s a win-win,” he adds. “Because when an endowment is tapped, it’s not so easy to put money back.”

Larsen agrees. “Why use our money when it’s earning well, when we can borrow at a competitive rate?” she said. “A relationship with the foundation works with the strategy we’re employing.”

Preparing for the future

Church leaders expect the project to be done sometime in August.

“We’re knee-deep in the middle of it,” Bowers said. “Our budget was $500,000, and right now I’m anticipating $27,000 t0 $30,000 over. People tell me that’s not bad in today’s construction climate.”

The remodel, Bowers said, will create “a community space, a more relaxed atmosphere, a sanctuary where people are encouraged to hang around and fellowship, not run out the door to beat the Baptists to breakfast.”

Craske senses both energy and stability behind the historic church’s plans.

“It’s really about overhauling the appearance from the traditional, staunch Spanish Mediterranean architecture,” Craske said. “It’s about making it attractive to new people. They have changed the name to Bay Point, and they are reimagining themselves into a more contemporary pattern going forward.”

Baypoint Church Sanctuary
Members at Baypoint Church in Nokomis worship in the sanctuary before renovations begin. The historic church is upgrading technologies and facilities to offer a more modern worship experience. (BPC photo)

So far, the church seems to be on the right track. “The latest information is that this congregation has started growing again,” Craske said.

The challenge is taking a traditional worship space built in 1969 and making it work for a contemporary, multi-generational future.

“We’re including more open areas to invite people into a café, coffee and fellowship,” Bowers said. “We’re adding a cry area for parents with babies. It’s so much more comfortable.”

The church is also installing audio-visual capabilities for state-of-the art streaming, electric shades, controlled lighting and an LED wall with LED pillars.

Additionally, the renovation includes all new seating, Bowers said, but the planning team is going to great lengths to contact families with plaques on the old pews.

“We understand we have to be sensitive to folks who have real connection to tradition,” he said.

“I see new people all the time; it validates the dream.” — Jean Larsen, Bay Point lay leader

Such reimagining does not come without pushback.

Founded in 1868 by the Rev. Jesse Knight, the church has a long history of witness and mission in Venice-Nokomis. The sanctuary features stained glass from 1929.

“We’ve had some older members not too happy with this,” Bowers said. “But if we’re going to grow, we have to become a multi-generational church, and this is one of the steps. It’s about refresh and renew. We have hired a young worship leader, and we’ve even done away with the pipe organ.”

And in keeping with the vision of engaging more young families, the church launched a day school this summer for children 6 months old to pre-kindergarten aged.

New method, same message

“This is an exciting time,” Bowers said. “Our vision is 500 by 2025. This may be a time of being in overdrive, but it’s a season.”

Larsen said she’s seeing new people, which, to her, supports the church’s path forward.

“It validates the dream,” she said. “The vision is a good vison, and the mission is an important mission. We had to do this. No more senior citizen club. Everyone is passionate about this, and we’re building that vital community back again.”

Baypoint Church App
Baypoint Church in Nokomis launched an app for the church in June 2021 as part of its plans to upgrade technologies and facilities at the historic church. (BPC photo)

After the grand opening in August, Bowers says the focus will shift to the community.

“Our goal is to raise leaders,” he said. “I’m excited. We’re going to use this to reach new people — new generations — for Jesus. We’re called to make disciples, and we know that one way is through a more modern, less churchy feel.”

“The message never changes,” he adds. “The methods, however, always change. God’s heart is for the lost.”

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