For years his wife had told him, “God is going to do something really important in your life one day, and He’s going to use you in a big way.”
Bob Rayburn listened to his wife, Kelley, and after years of wandering from God, he said, “I figured it was time to be a man and give it all to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”
Soon after making that decision, Rayburn was baptized by Danny Bennett, campus pastor, Calvary East Lake Baptist Church in Tarpon Springs. The church is the first satellite church campus launched by Calvary Baptist Church, Clearwater, which describes itself as “One church. Two locations.” Today, Rayburn and his wife are active volunteers at Calvary East Lake Church.
Launched on Easter Sunday 2013, Calvary East Lake Church began with 100 people from Calvary’s main campus committing to drive about 13 miles north, on the same road, to begin the satellite campus.
On the Saturday before Easter, congregational volunteers hosted an egg drop for community children. Expecting a crowd in the populous area, leaders printed 1,000 wristbands for children. They quickly ran out. By day’s end, an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people had participated in the community event.
The next day, as it opened its doors for the first time, Calvary East Lake Church welcomed more than 1,000 people in two services, exceeding expectations.
“People were sitting on the floor. Three people were sitting on two seats,” recalled Bennett.
Since that time, momentum has not waned. Over the past year, worship services averaged 600, and baptisms reached approximately 100.
“The biggest God-blowing-your-mind moment,” said Bennett, is realizing that in its short history, Calvary East Lake Church has averaged one profession of faith per week.
Leaders at Calvary Baptist Church had discussed and prayed about starting a satellite campus north of the main campus for four to five years, Bennett said.
Starting a satellite church is a “great way to advance the kingdom of God,” said Ervin McWilson, associational director, Suncoast Baptist Association.
“The best way to reach people is to bring the gospel to their community. Our county is one of the most densely populated and least churched in our state. There were literally tens of thousands of people within driving distance of our East Lake campus who are far more likely to be reached by a church in their own community than by a church much further away,” said Willy Rice, senior pastor, Calvary Baptist Church.
Also, church members “are far more effective at reaching and inviting their neighbors when the church gathering is actually in their neighborhood,” he continued.
One benefit of launching a satellite campus is that community residents are already familiar with the “brand” of the existing church, said Bennett. Also, the main campus and satellite campus of the church share a vision, mission and resources.
For example, when it was started, Calvary East Lake Church had a “leadership pipeline” from the main Calvary campus, Bennett said, allowing church members the opportunity to serve and be a part of the launch.
Twice each Sunday Rice preaches on the main campus, and his messages are streamed by video to the East Lake campus. Just in case the simulcast goes down, Bennett has Rice’s sermon notes in hand so he is prepared to deliver the message if needed. Then, each Tuesday all staff members from both campuses meet on the main campus for a collaborative meeting.
In leading one church in two locations, “clarity is important so that everyone understands the strategy and works together for the same common goal,” said Rice.
Even with all that the two campuses share in common, there are some subtle differences. Demographics for the East Lake campus tend to run a little younger, reflecting its community. East Lake music features a worship band, rather than a choir and orchestra.
As the first church in Clearwater and the first Baptist church in Pinellas County, Calvary Baptist Church is rich in history. Still, it is positioning itself for the future.
During its 150th anniversary in the spring of 2016, Rice challenged the church to move from “addition” to “multiplication” over the next ten years. He has set goals to plant 100 churches internationally and 25 churches nationally, to help revitalize 20 churches and to launch five additional satellite campuses, with the next satellite campus set for Seminole in 2017.
By Margaret Colson, Florida Baptist Convention, November 10, 2016