In the remains of long-dead Central Florida citrus groves, a new church is providing a "refreshing look at Jesus."
Another new United Methodist Church known as Horizon Tampa Bay, using space at the Tampa Garden Club, is introducing Christianity to 60-70 people who did not previously attend church.
Launching new churches takes a lot of time, work, organization and more than a little innovation. But for Dan Jackson, director of the Vital Church Initiative for the Florida Conference, it's about going where people are to share the love of Christ.
"For the past year, almost exactly a year, both Brian Johnson at Citrus Church-Horizon West and Chris and Erica Allen at Horizon Tampa Bay have been gathering groups of people and holding events to start to develop a community," he said.
"Where we used to knock on doors, social media is the new door knocking. If you look up either church on social media. you can see what they have done."
In Horizon West, a new town in Central Florida near the doorstep of Disney, homes, schools and businesses are sprouting in what used to be citrus groves. The result is a mix of new folks moving in and joining folks who may have lived there for generations.
Johnson, the new minister at Citrus Church, is working to accommodate both groups. Sometimes, that involves a little innovation—such as holding church in a luxury theater with a toddler area in the front to entice more families to attend.
"Every few months, more groves come out and more houses go up. In terms of the church, we are springing up from what was old Florida."
|A group of Citrus Church-Horizon West members share refreshments and fellowship.|
Young families are the focus.
"We are trying to make church where parents with young kids, who find it easier to stay home, will come to church instead," he said.
In South Tampa, the Allens have been busy for months preparing for their church's opening.
"When we arrived in Tampa, we spent the first three months meeting everyone we possibly could and inviting folks to coffee or lunch," Erica Allen said. "We were really intentional just to listen."
The Allens told people they were pastors starting a new church, and those they spoke with shared their passions, what broke their hearts and what they struggle with.
"The greatest challenge has been starting at ground zero with everything," Erica said. "We have no building. We had no people. We had no sound equipment. A year ago, there was literally only an idea for a new United Methodist Church here."
It was an idea that could only be achieved with persistence and a plan.
"We are really reaching people in their late 20s to lower 40s at both churches, and that is the dominant demographic in both of their areas," Jackson said. "We were intentional about the approaches we took."
"We are a resurrection people," Jackson said, "and it's very fulfilling to see that lived out as the faithfulness of one generation provides resources to reach new generations for Jesus."
Yvette C. Hammett, freelance writer, Florida Annuual Conference
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are creating new places for new people and seeking to invite people to follow Jesus Christ and grow together as disciples on a lifelong journey.