When Van Dyke Church began in 1985, it met in the cafeteria at Claywell Elementary School in Northdale, and the church was named for its planned future location, on Van Dyke Road in Lutz.
It never did build on Van Dyke Road, though, because the land was taken through eminent domain for the Veterans Expressway project, said Matthew Hartsfield, the church’s pastor.
Instead, the church was established at 17030 Lakeshore Road, where it remains today.
So, in a sense, it never was accurately named.
When the church felt a calling to expand its role, it also decided to change its name to Bay Hope to reflect its new vision and mission.
Bay Hope wants to be involved in reaching out to people throughout the Tampa Bay area, to offer them a church home, Hartsfield said.
But, it isn’t trying to attract all of those new disciples to its Lutz location.
It doesn’t feel called to create a mega-church in Lutz, or on another campus. Hartsfield said.
Instead, he said, “We felt God impress upon our hearts that we needed to multiply well beyond this campus.”
So, Bay Hope wants to help to revive churches that are faltering, to reopen those that have closed and to plant new ones in areas experiencing population growth, Hartsfield said.
The goal is to “mobilize 30,000 disciples of Jesus Christ in Tampa Bay, by the year 2030, for the transformation of the world,” Hartsfield said.
First though, Bay Hope wants to maximize the use of its current property in Lutz.
It expects to have a groundbreaking this summer for a $6 million project.
“We’ve been working with our architect to renovate the campus to primarily create whole new, innovative spaces for children’s and student ministries,” he said.
The spaces will be bright and airy, he said.
“The goal is to make the campus a lot more functional for families with children and teenagers,” Hartsfield said. The project also includes additional children and nursery space, as well, and a larger, relocated coffee house.
“It’s basically a campus refresh,” Hartsfield said.
While making those improvements, Bay Hope is also making plans to extend its reach into other communities.
“We felt God calling us to multiply campuses of Bay Hope Church, across Tampa Bay, to reach every neighborhood with a vital, local congregation of Bay Hope Church,” Hartsfield said.
There are two primary ways that will happen, he said.
One approach calls for reviving faltering churches or reopening churches that have closed.
There are churches across the Tampa Bay area that have a great legacy, “but just due to some natural church lifecycles, they no longer have the resources, they no longer have the people, so they’re either in decline, or they’ve already closed,” he said.
“A good number of them will already be United Methodist Churches, so we’re working with the Florida Conference on their strategy to reach every neighborhood. We’ll partner with the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church to re-birth these legacy churches,” Hartsfield said.
The other approach calls for setting up new Bay Hope campuses in storefronts, schools, movie theaters or other locations, to provide a church home for people in growing communities.
“Some of these might be smaller, more targeted campuses in a small neighborhood. Some of them might be larger and more regionally connecting,” Hartsfield said.
“We want to be very open to the wind of the spirit, in terms of every geographic location in Tampa Bay, from urban to suburban to rural and to ethnically diverse campuses,” he added.
Bay Hope defines Tampa Bay as being Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Those counties are projected to have a total population of 3 million by 2030, and the goal is engage at least 1 percent of that number, or 30,000, as disciples of Christ, within that time frame, Hartsfield said.
In one sense, Bay Hope’s quest is in keeping with how the United Methodist Church took root.
“Our Wesleyan Methodist heritage is a basically multi-site heritage, from back in the circuit-riding days of John Wesley,” Hartsfield said.
Bay Hope’s initiative comes at a time when national reports reveal a continuing slide in membership rates among traditional congregational churches.
Hartsfield is not dissuaded.
“We don’t have a single discouraged or pessimistic bone in our body about connecting people to Jesus. We are wildly optimistic about bringing the hope of Jesus to Tampa Bay,” Hartsfield said.
Published March 22, 2017