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Bay Hope Church Opens Doors March 18

Bay Hope Church’s Westchase campus opens March 18 with two services and the potential for rapid growth as the ministry examines the needs of nearby residents.

“We believe people matter to God, therefore they matter to us,’’ Bay Hope senior pastor Matthew Hartsfield said. “Where there are people, there are needs. Basically, we are in the life business, whether it’s restoration or renewal, and that’s the business of helping people.

“We are going to the intersection of a great community. We’re excited to be in a location where we can serve people from Westchase, Citrus Park, Town ’N Country and all the surrounding areas.’’

Bay Hope, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has operated from its main Lakeshore campus in Lutz since 1985. As part of its 30 by 30 campaign — attracting 30,000 new church-goes by 2030 — it has studied expansion.

And it found a desirable site at 10701 Sheldon Road, which was formerly occupied by Wellspring Community Church.

David Wildes, who will serve as pastor of Bay Hope’s Westchase campus, said the old Wellspring building is undergoing a $100,000 “massive remodel.’’ Additionally, a 3,200-square-foot children’s building will be added to the campus as part of expanding programming for kids.

Bay Hope’s Westchase services begin March 18 at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m. Wildes will open and close the service, along with a live worship band, but Hartsfield will deliver the central message through a live fiber optic broadcast.

The Westchase campus will feature a video venue — a screen that is 16 feet wide and 9 feet tall — along with adjoining 70-inch screens.

“It will feel like he (Hartsfield) is right there on stage,’’ Wildes said. “It’s literally a head-to-toe shot. We viewed this technology during a conference in Atlanta and you felt like the pastor was right there.

“The pastor will use a touch screen — sort of like the weather guy on TV — to pull up various verses on the side screens. What we’ve learned is about 95 percent of the people in the room are primarily looking at the side screens. It might be an adjustment for some, but we feel it will be natural and successful. So much of our life these days are oriented toward screens, right?’’

Wildes said the church’s primary mission is to make sure lives are oriented toward positive messages.

There isn’t enough of that, he said, particularly in the Tampa Bay area.

“One study we saw ranked Tampa Bay as the second least Christian worshipping community in the country, just behind Portland,’’ Wildes said. “Las Vegas was higher. New York City was higher. We know Tampa Bay isn’t necessarily the Bible belt, but that’s what the numbers in this study bear out.

“There are lots of opportunities around here, lots people can be doing. So we think there’s great growth potential, specifically in the Westchase area. We think there could be four or five churches planted and launched in Westchase. There are plenty of fish in the sea.’’

As part of his pastoral career, Wildes once worked as a missionary, recruiting people to help with projects in the East African nation of Uganda.

That might seem a world away from Westchase.

Hartsfield said he sees a parallel.

“David has worked as part of meeting critical needs on an international scale,’’ Hartsfield said. “Well, what are doing here (in Westchase)? We’re trying to understand the culture. We’re looking for connection points. That’s also what you do as a missionary.

“You can’t just assume Christianity in North American anymore — for good or for bad. Some churches wring their hands about that. We see it as opportunity. Let’s get to know the people and community. Don’t just assume and impose yourself upon the community. Discover the people. Learn the needs. We’re familiar with all the bad news out there. Well, like the New Testament says, we have good news.’’

Wildes said Bay Hope’s Lakeshore campus has 3,400 members. On any given weekend, a service could attract 2,000 worshippers.

At Westchase, Wildes said he expects at least 200 adults to be in place for the first weekend. Some of them are former Wellspring members. But many will be new, perhaps attracted by the signage along Sheldon Road or word of mouth recommendations.

Wildes said he expects natural and organic growth. Bay Hope initially plans on establishing a presence at the community’s existing events, such as Easter egg hunts, instead of creating something new.

“I will be the pastor for Westchase, so that’s good because one person could be spread too then,’’ Wildes said. “At some point, Pastor Matthew can’t answer every pastoral care call or make every hospital visit. Sometimes, people just need to stop by and talk. This will allow for the Westchase community to have their own pastor who is dedicated to their community.’’

Wildes has been married to his wife, Carrie, for 12 years. They have a pair of 3-year-old adopted daughters, Maddie and Evie.

“The kids ministry is a big part of what we do,’’ Wildes said. “If kids have a good time learning something, Mom and Dad want to come back. We want to make people feel welcome. That will be a natural thing because we have already been made to feel welcome by the Westchase community.’’

By Joey Johnston

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