Melting pot community’s church plant helps bridge the gap between faith and misunderstanding

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Church planting & multiplication

Jose Reyes felt a little nervous when he first visited a new church in Sun City Center, Florida, on the south shore of Tampa Bay.

The believers at Total Life Church, which launched April 9, quickly calmed Reyes’ nerves through a love founded on God’s grace.

“I felt like I was wanted there,” the 28-year-old said. “They welcomed me and accepted me and let me help them with the projects.”

Tampa’s become a melting pot of people needing hope from all over the country

Pastor Dwight James Jr. moved to the Tampa area with his wife, Krystal, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a few years ago. They quickly started working on a new church because they realized so many people needed faith, hope and love. 

He said many in the bay area are hurting from life traumas. Many face mental health challenges, difficulty finding work, high incarceration rates, sex trafficking and poverty.

“People really need hope,” he added. “They need to understand that tomorrow is coming and God is with them. People need to know that God loves them.”

In addition, thousands of other people are relocating to the Gulf Coast community from locations to the far north and far west. That’s creating a melting pot, James said, where political values, spiritual beliefs and cultural norms swirl in one of the nation’s most populated areas.

“I’ve come across very few people from Florida,” he said. “We have a lot of people from different places.”

Related: The couple planting a Utah church found transplants and new churches go together.

People really need hope. They need to understand that tomorrow is coming and God is with them. People need to know that God loves them.

Pastor Dwight James Jr.

What’s the job of a church when people misunderstand religion?

For all those people, which includes young professionals, people from several ethnic groups or racial backgrounds, young families and older adults, Total Life Church exists so they move closer to Jesus.

“Our whole goal, honestly, is just to reach our community,” he said. “We have one job, and that’s to point people to Jesus.”

Part of influencing the south shore region of Tampa Bay includes creating a multigenerational, multiethnic community of faith. Jose Reyes, 28, said he might be the youngest person at Total Life Church, but any discomfort quickly shifted into an opportunity to be part of what God is doing.

He said many in his generation or younger could misunderstand religion as a serious and judgmental force in people’s lives.

Related: A Pittsburgh church serves many young adults with church hurt in their hearts.

“That’s not the case,” he said of Total Life Church. “We were all laughing. We were all joking. It was very warm and welcoming.”

James explained that Total Life Church seeks such a unified culture because he and the core team have embraced the diversity of heaven.

“We’re all going to be together worshiping one God,” he said. “If we can worship God in heaven together, why can’t we worship God on earth together? I want Total Life Church to represent heaven.”

To help turn their intention into reality, James said the church incorporates all races and ethnicities into their worship team, music style and leadership. The church wants to build hope, spread love and restore faith among the region’s diverse population. So they are developing leaders and going after the young and young-at-heart by valuing the lives of every person.

Related: Converge’s Office of Biblical Diversity can help your church achieve more unity.

We're all going to be together worshiping one God. If we can worship God in heaven together, why can't we worship God on earth together?

Pastor Dwight James Jr.

Two churches share the same heart

When James started Converge’s Church Planting Assessment Center in August 2019, he met Tom Townsend, who pastors Trinity Baptist Church, also in Sun City. Townsend was one of the assessors who approved James as a Converge church planter.

Their friendship continues now, and Townsend has embraced James as a church planter to help him succeed. A year after the assessment, Townsend suggested Total Life Church be planted in Sun City Center.

Now Trinity’s fellowship hall hosts Total Life Church, and they work hand in hand on ministry to the community.

“One of the best things that has helped me as far as being connected to Converge is simply the relationships,” James said. “There are still people from the assessment I met who I’m still connected to today.”

Receiving that gift from other Converge leaders only amplifies Total Life’s motivation to pour out the same love to their neighbors.

Related: See how one church exists even with services in different languages

Show some love

Several days after Total Life launched, the church learned about a house fire that killed three members of a family in the community. A woman and her three-year-old son survived but had lost everything they owned and were suffering from immeasurable grief.

When Total Life members learned about the family’s needs, the church gathered clothing, a child’s needed items and general toiletries for the family. The family reacted with surprise because the church didn’t even know them.

“We don’t need to know you,” James expressed to the family. “We did this because we want you to know God loves you.”

For everyone living in the south shore region of Tampa Bay, James said the church wants to be a shelter, a place of hope and restoration through the gospel. He said the church emphasizes evangelism and invitations to achieve such a role. 

He said the intentional effort is paying off, referencing a woman who had been looking for a church after moving to the area. She received a direct mailer inviting her to visit Total Life Church on its launch Sunday. 

She came, and now she’s a committed part of the church. She told James she only came because she’d been invited.

Related: The power of an invitation

“I don’t think you could have enough churches, especially church plants,” James said. “Church plants are how the gospel penetrates different communities because it’s something new, something fresh to introduce the community to.”

How one man’s growth offers the message of God for many more

That freshness has been a clear experience for Reyes, who first met Dwight James Jr. at a hospital where they’ve worked together for about a year. They both work in finance and accounting, and they first connected to complete overlapping work responsibilities. 

During their conversations and deepening relationship, Reyes said he wanted to grow in his faith and become a stronger Christian. As James befriended Reyes and shared about the church, Reyes knew joining the new church plant would be part of growing his faith.

“I want to help him spread the message of God,” Reyes said. “It’s trying to do my part.”

Converge's 10 districts have committed to deploying 312 church planters before 2026. Read more inspiring church planting stories and learn about the goal to send out 312 church planters in five years.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene