Alumni Feature: John Garippa Plants Downtown Harbor Church | Knox Theological Seminary
John Garippa

2011 Alumnus

John Garippa is the Executive Director at Downtown Harbor Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Prior to this role, John was the Pastor of Discipleship at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale. John entered into the ministry world after having run his own business as a Rare Book Dealer for many years.

John Garippa Bio

Towards the end of my 2nd year at Knox (I was there for 3 years), I was offered a part time position at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale in a new role as Neighborhood Pastor. My duties at that time were to help build the program in the southern half of our county — creating home groups, helping them with their outreach projects, as well as writing the curriculum they used each week. Within a year, the church promoted me to Lead Neighborhood Pastor, where my duties were to drive the overall direction of that ministry and manage the other neighborhood pastors. It was a great opportunity for me to get my feet wet in ministry.

About one year after graduation, I was promoted to Pastor of Discipleship at First Baptist. In this capacity, I was driving the vision for all adult education and outreach: Neighborhood Groups, Adult Bible Studies, as well as our membership process. It truly was a great experience for me.

About 24 months ago, Adam Duckworth (Lead Communicator at DHC) and I really began to feel this burden that we, personally, had to do something to reach the “unchurched” population in Fort Lauderdale. So many of our friends and family members were not engaged in church, and we knew it had nothing to do with God or Jesus— it had everything to do with their church experience. Things were going on inside the church building that they hated and the more we listened to them talk about what they hated about church, the more we realized these were things the church should hate about church.

So, God began to work in our hearts and helped us to realize that if its the church experience that is keeping people from having a relationship with Him, than we would need to “redefine the church experience .” And, thats exactly what we set out to do— to Redefine the church experience in the city of Fort Lauderdale.

The education I received at Knox has proven to be invaluable. The funny thing about theological education is that if it is executed improperly, it only puffs up the individual (as Paul warned.) But Knox did a phenomenal job at not only equipping its students with a deep understanding of scripture, but also coupled that education with the challenge to love others. To express our faith in God through loving others. I think thats tremendous. To this day, I try to pass that challenge along to those who attend Downtown Harbor Church— yes, you may know what the scriptures say, but how will you use that knowledge to serve those around you.


Downtown Harbor Church

Mission Statement­: To redefine the church experience in the city of Fort Lauderdale.

Background story: Downtown Harbor Church firmly believes that the message of Jesus Christ is absolutely irresistible. Who would not love a message of grace, mercy, and love? And yet, if the message of Jesus Christ is irresistible, why is it that 87% of the people in the tri­‐county area do not attend church?

For John Garippa and Adam Duckworth, that 87% was not a nameless statistic. Those people were friends and family. When asked why they do not go to church, here is what they learned:

Rarely did a person say “I don’t go to church because I disagree with the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Rather, what they heard time and time again was: “I hate this about church, or a I hate that about church.” And, when they complied all of the things people hated about church, they quickly realized they were things that the church should hate about church.

So what was holding back the 87% of the population from having a relationship with God? It wasn’t the gospel and it was not Jesus—it was their experience in church!

So John and Adam set out to redefine the church experience in order to give these people a fighting chance at having a relationship with God.

To do this, they did not have to alter the content, but they did seek to alter the experience, the environment, and the approach.

Downtown Harbor Church–Guiding Principles:

Authentic. Somewhere in the course of history, people felt as though they had to hide who they were in order to come to church. We want the city of Fort Lauderdale to know that you can explore the teachings in the Scriptures and still be yourself–that is authenticity. Our staff will lead by example: you may see us visiting the sick on Tuesday, helping out Walker Elementary School on Thursday, and then out on the town with our friends on Saturday night. This is Christianity in real life. This is attractive.

Practical. Have you ever left a church service and had no clue what the message was about? Don’t feel bad, you are not alone. At DHC, the goal is for you to leave on Sunday and know exactly what to do on Monday morning. By focusing on relevant and life­‐stage related topics, we can show our city that the scriptures are still alive today.

Conversational. DHC is interested in dialogue, not just dogma. DHC is interested in education, not indoctrination. We understand that people, in general, do not agree on every issue and that is fine with us. This is a church where if you don’t agree with us, you still feel welcome! We want you to feel safe and encouraged as you process doubt and wrestle with the teachings of Jesus.

Our Mission Field:

We believe that people have figured out what it means to be a missionary in a foreign country. But, we think people have forgotten how to be missionaries in their own city.


Downtown Harbor Church wants to break down the walls and serve God by fully integrating into the city experience, enjoying what Fort Lauderdale has to offer and serving the people of this city. ‪#‎dhc ‪#‎soflo ‪#‎redefine

We love the city of Fort Lauderdale. We desire to engage the community in a way that you’ve never seen a church do before. #redefine

Downtown Harbor Church meets every Sunday in downtown Fort Lauderdale at the Museum of Discovery and Science.