It’s a mammoth church — with a 143-acre campus, a 444,000-square-foot building and 12,000 members.
It’s so big that it uses five entrances on Sundays to allow members to stream into its 5,000-seat auditorium.
Despite the scale, Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz wants to extend a personal touch to its members, said Rich Walker.
He’s a church staff member who also leads Idlewild Concierge, a ministry with 30 volunteers. And more than eight years ago, when Idlewild was moving into its larger quarters off North Dale Mabry Highway and Van Dyke Road, Walker came up the idea of creating a concierge ministry.
“We’re still the only one that I know of, anywhere,” said Walker, a retired law enforcement officer who oversees campus safety.
The ministry helps visitors and church newcomers tend to details that are important to them. The idea came to Walker when a hotel concierge service helped him and his wife. They were traveling and wanted to go for dinner, but they didn’t want to have to drive to get there.
Walker’s wife suggested he ask the concierge for some recommendations. He did, and within 15 minutes they had a list of restaurant options, with different specialties and price points, along with directions for getting to them.
Idlewild’s concierge ministry strives to create a sense of hospitality, with the motto of “Providing the unexpected personal touch,” Walker said.
Ministry volunteers work at the church’s welcome center to greet people who are visiting the campus. Sometimes they help people find their way around campus. Other times they provide individual tours to help potential members learn about the church’s ministries and ways to meet their specific needs.
“There’s not a line out the door, but every week, somebody will come and they want to look at the church,” Walker said. “They’ll just show up on their own.”
The concierge will get a bit of information about the visitor and will let them know about various ministries that may suit their interests, Walker said. The idea is to help them plug in and feel at home, he said.
“There are some people on a real fact-finding tour, is this the church for me? That can take a couple of hours,” Walker said.
That’s what happened when Margery Cordova recently visited the church, Walker recalled.
“She told me right up front, ‘I am looking for a church home.’ That told me, ‘We kind of want to dive deep here and see if this is a good fit,’” he said.
Cordova was impressed.
“I got the deluxe grand tour of the whole facility,” said the woman who moved to Lutz in late July from Sacramento, Calif., after her husband’s death.
Besides discussing ministries that may be of interest and showing off the facilities, Walker enjoys giving visitors a look at “backstage” Idlewild.
The walk-through involves traveling through corridors decked with framed photographs taken through the years during big church events. Visitors can duck into the choir and orchestra rooms and check out the staging area where props are kept for church productions.
They can even walk down a passageway that leads from the orchestra room to the raised stage in the worship center.
Besides helping newcomers and visitors, the ministry also pitches in on special events. Team members drive trams at the church’s Fourth of July event, for instance, and give airport shuttle rides to special guests.
The team once arranged airport pickups for 65 missionaries visiting Idlewild. They met the missionaries at the airport, took them to their hotels, transported them to the church each day and ferried them around on errands.
One volunteer helped organize the logistics by creating an Excel spreadsheet detailing the airline and arrival time of each missionary.
The concierge ministry at Idlewild pays attention to details. And that makes a difference for both members and visitors alike.
“Everyone there is just super welcoming and genuine,” Cordova said. “It’s not a phony thing. You really feel it’s sincere. I feel like I was led there.”