He comes from north of Kennedy Boulevard. New Tampa folks know his name. He's their pastor, or rather that pastor from the big church that causes traffic problems on Sundays.
Out that way, he's Pastor Brad White, founder of the 2,000-plus member LifePoint Church.
In South Tampa, he's just the latest guy trying to start something new. He realizes people see him as a stranger, but he wants to change that.
"In New Tampa, we have credibility," White said, preparing his team for the launch of LifePoint South Tampa's opening today. "Here, for all these people know, I could be David Koresh."
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The dream started a decade ago when White, now 39, led a small congregation at the New Tampa YMCA. Money was tight, but steady growth propelled the church forward. White, a graduate of Gulf Coast Seminary in Panama City, Fla., tailored his sermons to reach unbelievers.
As a teen growing up in Louisiana, he lost a friend to suicide. The experience prompted him to seek out the lost, he says.
At LifePoint, he didn't care if visitors came dressed in gym shorts and smoked cigarettes in the parking lot. Church was about reaching the broken, not catering to the holy-roller crowd, he told members. Soon hundreds came to hear him speak about stress, sex, work and how it all relates to the Bible.
By 2007, LifePoint moved into its own building, a former Winn-Dixie off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard rebuilt to house a worship hall, youth rooms and offices. White gained a following online as well, broadcasting sermons and using social networking sites for advertising. He tweeted about people giving their lives to Christ on Sundays. Church attendance went from hundreds to thousands.
Today, White preaches at four Sunday services and one Saturday night service. A staff of eight and dozens of volunteers help him keep the church running, from managing parking to signing children up for programs each week. There are mission trips to go on and youth events to attend. Still, White wanted to take on more.
"I've always wanted to open a South Tampa campus," he said. "About six months ago, I decided to take the leap and just do it. I'm addicted to saving lives."
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A team of six, led by Executive Pastor Don Allensworth, will oversee LifePoint South Tampa. The church will meet one Sunday a month through January at Kate Jackson Community Center in Hyde Park. A grand opening is planned for February, when LifePoint will launch weekly worship. Services will mirror those in New Tampa, Allensworth said.
About 50,000 mailers went out last week to South Tampa homes and businesses. Still, White worries no one will show up. At a prelaunch meeting, he urged his team to pass out invite cards and spread the word. He said it's like starting over again. He envisions something big happening in South Tampa, but it will take time.
"My goal is to have 50 people there on Sunday," he said.
Visitors can expect contemporary worship music and themed messages. Most weeks, White will appear life-size on a 6-foot flat-screen TV. Allensworth will introduce his sermons and serve as the go-to pastor for South Tampa members.
"It's a concept even I was skeptical about at first, Allensworth said. "But the screen is so big, it's like he's really there."
Some New Tampa members who live or work in South Tampa will migrate to the new church.
Jose Lubrano, for instance, used to drive 60 miles round trip on Sundays. Now, it will only take him a few minutes.
"I'm glad its going to be closer," he said. "This way I can invite more friends from out here, too."
Reach Sarah Whitman at (813) 661-2439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.