Bay Hope Church is expanding its horizons with a new multisite campus set to open this month in a suburban community just north of Tampa, part of a plan to bring 30,000 believers to Jesus by 2030.
With 3,500 members, a charismatic pastor with a quarter century of experience in the area and a dedicated staff with a singular vision, no one at Bay Hope is resting on their laurels.
|Bay Hope's expansion to a multisite campus will include a $500,000 facelift of the former Wellspring UMC campus. The Tampa church will also house a new 3,200 square-foot children's and administration center. Photo by Andres Aquino.|
“Our mission is pretty clear: We contact people with a life-changing mission with Jesus Christ,” said Rev. Matthew Hartsfield, lead pastor at Bay Hope Church in Lutz, 30 minutes northwest of Tampa. “What we have discerned from God is that the way He wants us to accomplish that mission is through a 3M vision He has placed on our hearts to maximize, multiply and mobilize.”
Multiplying means Bay Hope is backing a project to open a new church campus serving Westchase, Town ‘N Country and Citrus Park, Tampa bedroom communities within 30 minutes of downtown. The $500,000 facelift of the former Wellspring UMC campus will include a new 3,200-square-foot children’s center and administration center, in addition to a complete renovation of the current 5,000-square-foot building. A grand opening is planned for March 18.
Bay Hope adopted Wellspring after discussions last year with Wellspring staff and Gulf Central District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Candace Lewis. Hartsfield and his staff are now rebirthing Wellspring as a campus of Bay Hope. After 20 years, Wellspring had reached the point “where they were not able to be self-sustaining and have the kind of missional impact they desired,” Hartsfield said.
“(Wellspring) wanted to grow and have that missional impact, so that’s why they entered into a discernment process with us and the district about how new life and a rebirth could happen there.” That rebirthing team included 100 former congregants of Wellspring, as well as Bay Hope members.
“Wellspring and their pastor, Keith Harcombe, didn’t (just) think territorially,” Hartsfield added. “They had a very beautiful and generous Kingdom mindset.”
With a combined population of 124,441 in Westchase, Town ‘N Country and Citrus Park, according to the 2010 U.S. Census—those numbers have likely grown—new campus Pastor David Wildes said the opening of a church campus at this time shows God at work.
“It’s been amazing to watch God work through the whole thing,” said Wildes, a Bay Hope fixture since 2013 who received his local pastor license late last year. “His hand is obviously on everything we do.”
Tampa is certainly fertile ground to sow a few mustard seeds.
A 2014 Pew Research Center report of the 22 most populous metro areas in the U.S. found the Tampa Bay area ranked among the lowest when it came to church attendance. Only San Francisco, Boston and Seattle have emptier pews.
However, when asked “Do you believe in God,” Tampa ranked in the top half of the national survey. Nearly 79 percent of the 320 residents surveyed said they were certain—to fairly certain—there was a God, but those beliefs are not translating into church attendance.
“We certainly think Tampa is under-churched, and we want to turn the tide,” Wildes said. “(The new campus) is in a burgeoning area with a huge population. We think there could be several churches adopted or planted in that area. This is our first one.”
For now, Wildes is focused on growing the new campus. “We want a church for the entire community,” he said. “We are not a Westchase, Citrus Park or Town ‘N Country church. We want to be a church for everyone in the vicinity.”
Drawing lessons from Bay Hope’s success, Wildes plans a church “that is warm, welcoming, prioritizes connecting new guests, grows spiritual champions and also puts a lot of resources into growing our kids’ ministries. We want to make sure nothing interferes with the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life, so we put a lot of thought, time and effort into everything from what occurs in the parking lot to when they walk into the lobby and the service itself.”
What lessons has he learned from Pastor Hartsfield?
“Everything,” Wildes said. “Pastor Matthew is a great leader, but one thing I would like to emulate is that when you are talking to him you have his full attention, and I have noticed that for a long time. It could be a facilities person or someone on Sunday morning telling a story about their grandbaby—if he is talking to that person—that is the most important person in the world for him.”
The new campus—Wellspring UMC closed in October—is a 13-minute drive from Bay Hope’s main campus, comfortably close, said Bill Hoopes, Bay Hope’s director of multisite initiatives.
|Several Westchase pre-launch gatherings, held to help build "community," included live worship and video teaching. Bay Hope's vision is to bring 30,000 believers to Jesus by 2030. Photo by Andres Aquino.|
“You are looking for locations that are no more than 30 minutes from your first campus with people from your church already living in that area when you expand through multisite campuses,” Hoopes said. “So you already have the beginnings of a congregation in that location, but you also become attractive to other people in that area. It’s a huge initiative across the country now, and there’s a 90 percent success rate with multisite churches.”
Hoopes believes the multisite model is often more successful than classic church plants because it taps into resources of an existing staff and a lot of experience. “Usually in a church plant you average 50 people at a launch,” he said. “Whereas in a multisite you can draw people from your existing population who might live in the area and are willing to pioneer and move forward.”
Bay Hope’s multisite initiative illustrates what churches can do when they work together, said Rev. Dan Jackson, director of the Florida Conference’s Vital Church Initiative, which covers Fresh Expressions, Congregational Vitality, New Church Development and new church transition across the state.
“Wellspring had a terrific pastor in Keith Harcombe, but it had struggled over the last few years, and you had a very strong church in Bay Hope that had members all around the area of Wellspring,” Jackson said. “(The Tampa multisite initiative) shows we can do things better together, so it’s a very cooperative development. Sometimes a church needs a new start. That was part of the thinking here,” he added.
“One of the things we are trying to do throughout the conference is find ways some of our more effective churches can help struggling churches, and this is good example of that.” Jackson reported that a similar strategy has already borne fruit in Sarasota where Grace Church of Cape Coral adopted Vamo UMC. Community of Hope UMC’s adoption of Good Shepherd UMC in Palm Beach County also appears to be a success.
The maximizing and mobilizing legs of Bay Hope’s 3M strategy are no less ambitious.
Maximizing means using Bay Hope’s 32-acre current campus in Lutz to its “fullest redemptive potential,” Hartsfield said. “We want to maximize this campus for our next generation ministries for children and students, so we are right now a construction site.” Come Christmas, the $6.5 million project will see a new nursery, lobby and gathering space and coffee house at Bay Hope’s main campus.
Mobilizing 30,000 disciples—about 1 percent of Tampa’s population—to Jesus by 2030 is part of Bay Hope’s 30 by 30 vision. “Maximizing and multiplying is not the end game, those are just tools to what we are ultimately building: multiplying disciples in mission,” said Hartsfield.
“The jet fuel God uses for that is our relenting focus on our values: daring faith, fearless service, passionate excellence, extravagant generosity and an unshakeable focus on the future. You cut us, and we bleed that stuff.”
--Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in Brandon.
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