FOREST HILLS — For Keith Babb III, the opening of the Way Church of Tampa Bay, represents the fulfillment of a calling.
When Babb, 35, rededicated himself to Christ in 2005, he committed to sharing the Gospel in underserved communities.
For more than a decade, he volunteered assisting youth and families in East Hillsborough. He earned a Bachelor’s in social work from the University of South Florida and a Masters of Disciples Ministries from Liberty University. He became a licensed minister in 2011.
Babb knew he wanted to lead a church. He waited for God to reveal to him the when and where, he says. He drove around Tampa Bay looking for a community in need. His search led to the Forest Hills area.
The Way Church will launch with a Family Fun Day at 11 a.m. on Saturday (Jan. 13) and its first official service at 10:45 a.m. Sunday (Jan. 14) at 12703 N Florida Ave.
I spoke to Babb about his vision for the church and the Forest Hills neighborhood.
You spent the last year planning the church opening. Can you tell me about the process?
We have been evangelizing and doing community outreach. We hosted pre-launch services and family events. We started meeting at a hotel but then I was driving one day, it was like 10:45 a.m., and I drove by Faith Lutheran Church. I saw there was nobody there so I reached out to the pastor. It turned out they do their services earlier so we partnered together. We are sharing the space. We have our own ministry and leadership. But we are also going to be working together on community outreach. They, like us, do work with Miles Elementary. They have a community garden and we want to become involved with that so people in the area can grow fresh produce.
What inspired your work with Miles Elementary?
One day I was driving I-275 and my eyes shifted toward Miles. I went and talked to the principal and assistant principal about the school’s needs. I realized the area was a great place to start a ministry. We want to provide families and kids with services they need.
What are your goals for the Way Church in 2018?
We want to be a church the reaches outside its four walls. Our three pillars are evangelism, education and empowerment. We are going to have every 5th Sunday where we go out into the community instead of hosting a service. Whether we visit local nursing homes or nearby apartments, we don’t want people to just come to church, we want people to become the church. A church is not a building. It’s the people.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of starting a church today?
For me, speaking from an African-American perspective, the biggest challenge is planting a church in the hurting African-American community. A lot of people have become disheartened with the church, especially the African-American Church, because many think it has come to focus on money and putting pastors on pedestals. I am interested in restoring the respect once held for the African-American Church.
At events and pre-launch services, has attendance been promising?
It’s gone really well. We had events at Palm Square Apartments. We reached out to the management and the residents came out. Between kids and adults, it’s been about 175 people each time. We give out free food and clothing. At our first pre-launch service we had about 80 people. We have had between 45 and 60 at services since then. It’s important to us to be a community church. We don’t want to be the world’s church or even the city’s church. We want people to be able to walk to church. We are here for Forest Hills.
For more information, visit waytampabay.org.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]