By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
Lives are changed at True Life Center in Zephyrhills.
Since opening in March 2008, the church has helped heal the sick, feed the hungry and bring direction to the lives of its members, all while meeting in a cramped house on Allen Road.
In celebration of its growing congregation, the church will open a new 7,000-square-foot worship center Easter Sunday. The building, 4797 Allen Road, represents the growth True Life Center has experienced this past year.
“Since coming to True Life Center, my life has completely changed,” Vicki Shrader Carpenter said. “I had problems with drug addiction and family problems. That’s all gone now.”
The church’s pastor, Randy Lawrence, has a similar story. Lawrence was involved with drugs and alcohol into his late 20s, when a book he was reading led his heart in a new direction. The book was about a businessman transformed by the Christian faith. Lawrence was a stockbroker at the time and identified with the author.
“I said Lord if you are real, come into my life and show me what to do,” Lawrence said. “I was able to let go of all the things that were holding me back. I was saved.”
Lawrence became a member of First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Pinellas County. There he met his wife, Sara Jo, and began serving in the ministry. He studied at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and earned a pastoral degree.
In 2006, the couple felt called to start their own church.
“Our goal was to reach people who don’t have a background in church,” Lawrence said. “Church used to be as foreign as Mars to me so I can identify with people in that situation. I wanted to connect with them.”
True Life Center didn’t happen overnight. Lawrence and Sara Jo started small. In January 2007, they moved from Clearwater to Wesley Chapel and began hosting a Tuesday night Bible study in their home. As the study grew, they decided it was time to look for another meeting place and start Sunday services. They found a house on Allen Road, a former home day care, and began renting the property.
The church held its first service Easter Sunday 2008. At the time, there were only a few dozen members. Today, more than 80 people attend on a regular basis, eighty-percent of which had never been to church before.
The new sanctuary seats 300 and is adjacent to two children’s ministry rooms. There is also a café. Lawrence describes the design as modern yet comfortable, spacious yet intimate. He expects a near-packed house on opening day.
Members are excited and hopeful.
“The new worship center is going to be wonderful,” said Pam Otero. “I think it will be filled up pretty soon. It’s such a blessing.”
Less than a year ago, Otero was out of work and overwhelmed by health problems. She saw a sign for Harvest Food Pantry, an outreach of True Life Center, and stopped for information because she was having a hard time affording groceries.
“They told me what the church had done for their lives, so I went one Sunday and it has changed my life forever,” Otero said. “With faith, hope and prayer, I got a job that I love and my health is better. Now I volunteer at the food pantry and share my story with people.”
Matthew Deblase said True Life Center is different than other churches he has attended.
“I’d been to churches before where people were judgmental,” he said. “When I walked through the door here, I felt like I was at home. Everyone greeted me with open arms and a lot of love.”
Susan Morrison has been with the church since April 2008 and considers the Lawrences family.
“My husband and I both grew up in church,” Morrison said. “When we moved to Zephyrhills we were looking for our first church together. I saw a sign for True Life Center that said, ‘Life is Free’ and I knew, they knew my Jesus. It was an answer to prayer.”
Morrison said she has seen miracles happen at the church.
“It’s unbelievable the way peoples’ lives have been transformed and how many positive things have happened because of this church,” she said. “This is the most genuine loving environment I’ve ever been in. It’s not about the church, it’s about what happens at the church and what happens here is amazing.”
Morrison said she is amazed how many church members volunteer to help with community outreach and share their testimonies.
“Like with Vicki (Carpenter), her testimony is so encouraging,” Morrison said.
Carpenter said she is happy to share her story, even if it isn’t all easy to tell. She was one of the people who spoke to Otero at the food pantry and brought her to True Life Center.
Carpenter no longer feels a need to fill a void with drugs and alcohol.
“My old life is behind me,” she said. “Pastor Lawrence had been through some of the pain I’d been through and he taught me the hole in my heart was one only God could fill.”
Lawrence encourages everyone he meets to come be a part of his growing church family. He considers the new worship center a chance to meet new faces and let more people know about Christ. He said needing a bigger space is always a good thing.
“God wants us to transform and live the life he wants for us, an abundant joy-filled life,” he said. “I want to help people make that transformation.”
Easter Sunday service will begin at 10 a.m. For information, call (813) 788-5433.
If You Go
- What True Life Center Worship Center opening
- When 10 a.m. Easter Sunday
- Where 4797 Allen Road