At the dawn of the 21st century, First Church broke ground on the nearly $6 million sanctuary to accommodate a membership of over 1,000 people. Sixteen months of construction and design culminated in the dedication of the new 1,400-seat worship space on November 1, 2001.
The congregation extended a call to Rev. Joan Martin Quinn as Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care in June of 2000. She served through 2004. In November of 2001, the Ministry of Media and Resource was created to develop a variety of technology-based ventures such as video production and a radio ministry. In 2002, First Church took the lead role in launching Hope United Presbyterian Church, and a call was extended to Dr. James Berger as Associate Pastor for the Estero Campus.
In 2003, Rev. Paul Kirbas accepted a pastoral call in Sarasota, and we were blessed with an excellent Interim Pastor, Rev. Bob Smith. Under his calm guidance and biblical preaching, First Church continued to flourish.
In March of 2004, the congregation voted unanimously to call Rev. Doug Pratt (wife Jeanne) as Senior Pastor. A gifted preacher, teacher and leader, he knew how to nurture and grow God’s people. With a deep passion for the Gospel and the Great Commission, many of his initial changes at First Church were geared toward greater understanding of God’s Word and our church’s responsibility to spread that Word. Doug was able to see the big picture and grasp the needs of our church.
In December of 2004 with an active membership of 1,134 and 329 affiliate members, the congregation voted to extend a call to Rev. Paul Fahnestock (wife Linda) to begin as an Associate Pastor in January. Paul’s initial duties included oversight of the Diaconate and reorganization of the Missions Ministry.
Pastor Steven Grant (wife Nanette) began his part-time ministry as Parish Associate in September 2005. In October of 2008, after three years in that position, the congregation voted unanimously to extend his call to that of full-time Associate Pastor.
In 2006, a 3-year Strategic Plan was approved by Session. It set a detailed strategy for every aspect of building a healthy, intergenerational flagship church. A capital campaign was planned to fund facility improvements and pay down the debt. In September of 2006, Session hired Jeff Faux as the new Director of Sacred Arts. One of his first efforts was launching the Fine Arts concert series as a fundraiser for the First Academy of Music.
The church continued a course of steady growth in members, ministries and resources. A capital campaign in 2007 reduced the debt on the Sanctuary and funded the renovations of McClure Hall, creation of the Lightner Conference Room, the BookCenter, Café First and the Hawk Hospitality Center, as well as improvements to the preschool classrooms.
Easter Sunday attendance in 2008 was 4,446, a record at that time. The First Thrift Shop replaced a twice-yearly rummage sale. Supplementing a strong sacred arts program, the men’s, women’s and children’s ministries of the church thrived under gifted leadership. Thee church’s mission program grew to over 40 partners and projects, both domestic and international, and the Bonita Christian Forum speaker series extended our outreach to the community.