The Coral Ridge Story

For the past four years the fastest-growing congregation in the Presbyterian Church in the United States has been Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Its record includes the largest number of professions of faith in the denomination, a congregation of 1,600, and an annual budget of $629,000. It sponsors a Christian day school through the eighth grade, supports twenty missionaries, has fathered a daughter congregation nearby, and employs five ministers.

The most notable aspect of the church’s program, however, is its highly successful program of evangelism, responsible in 1967 for 800 decisions for Christ. Evangelism is deliberately central to the whole outreach of the church.

Coral Ridge’s success grew out of apparent failure eight years ago. The Rev. James Kennedy came straight to Fort Lauderdale after graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He had been the director of an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Tampa and was converted when Donald Grey Barnhouse asked this question over the radio: “Suppose you were to die tonight and stand before God, and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?” Today that very question is employed in Coral Ridge’s personal-evangelism technique.

Through ads in a newspaper Kennedy drew fifty people to his initial sermon in a schoolhouse in 1959. By 1961 the church, now chartered, had dwindled to seventeen members.

Then came a ten-day experience in which Kennedy was forced by circumstances to accompany an evangelist on home visitations and witness himself. Very shy, he regarded himself “fearfully ill equipped to speak to people person to person ...

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