By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
Van Dyke Church in Lutz is using technology to expand its more than 2,500-member congregation into Land O’ Lakes.
The church recently opened a campus at Sunlake High School where senior pastor Matthew Hartfield’s message is streamed in live via the Internet.
“We wanted to give people a way to be part of a big church, but in a smaller neighborhood setting,” said Andy Sistrunk, pastor of the new campus.
The new mobile campus meets at 11 a.m. Sundays in the school auditorium. The campus has its own worship band, led by musician Michele Weger, and Sistrunk delivers a short weekly message. Attendees then view Hartsfield’s sermon on the big screen.
“It’s a way to reach out to a whole new area and to people who aren’t already connected to a church,” Sistrunk said. “The area out by Sunlake is constantly growing and new homes are being built. We want to be the church for those people.”
More than 100 people attended the grand opening service on March 7. Hartsfield stopped by in person to cut the dedication cake with Sistrunk. The two chatted about future plans for the campus and greeted new faces.
Sistrunk said he doesn’t mind sharing the pastoral role.
“My job is to connect with the people,” Sistrunk said. “I am the face of this campus.”
Sistrunk calls his campus a portable church because everything needed for Sunday services arrives in a trailer, is set up by 11 a.m. and gets taken down by early afternoon.
Sistrunk said the campus is different because the setting is more intimate.
“I tell the people in my congregation they have a better seat to see Pastor Hartsfield than a lot of the people at his campus, because it’s so big there the people in the back can hardly see him,” Sistrunk said.
Member Dave King moved to Tampa from Colorado in December. He and his wife spent weeks looking for a church. When they visited the Sunlake campus, they instantly knew the search was over.
King said he likes the church for many reasons.
“I like it because it’s come as you are,” he said. “You can wear your jeans and your t-shirt and sing off key. It’s a smaller setting, and you can just be yourself.”
King plays bass in the church worship band. Every Sunday, the band plays surrounded by colorful lights and tech effects, making it seem like a mini-concert.
Weger, a singer and guitarist, loves the look and feel of the new church.
“I’ve led worship at a lot of churches and what they’re doing here technology wise is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before,” Weger said.
Land O’ Lakes resident Kerry Kent attended the March 7 service and left feeling inspired.
“I loved the music portion and the high energy,” Kent said.
Sistrunk said depending on the success of the Sunlake campus, Van Dyke Church may open more mobile sites in the future.
“We’d like to expand throughout Pasco and maybe have a campus further south in Tampa,” he said. “This is a great way of reaching more people.”
For information, call (813) 968-3983.
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