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Lithia area church meets God in the park every Sunday

One year ago, Kody Kirchhoff and a few friends started meeting God in the park every weekend.

It was a small group, five families, looking for a different kind of church and fellowship, and a faith experience that didn't start and end on Sunday morning.

"Lifestyle ministry is where we were at so we knew that wasn't going to draw a lot of people, but it was never designed to get big," Kirchhoff says. "We never say our way is the right or the only way. We just found there were people who wanted to have a family feel to a life of ministry."

Kirchhoff started "Don't Have a Name.com, a church with no walls" in July 2011 after leaving his post at Sunset Bay Chapel in Lithia. The church is now known as 242 On the Move after the Bible verse Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Faith for members of 242 On the Move is all about what happens Monday through Saturday, according to Kirchhoff.

"If you are going to come here just to come to church, you are probably going to be a little unfulfilled because we don't make Sunday our trophy experience," Kirchhoff said. "Sunday is our rejuvenation and family day to go out and live during the week. We don't just do church on Sundays. It's not for everyone."

Challenged to live her faith, 242 On the Move members Mary and Leo Isamberg started giving out small bags of food, water, and toiletries to the homeless last September. Church members adopted the idea within a month.

"Kody had us share the idea with the congregation and a lot of people thought it was a good idea, and now other parishioners take the bags with them when they are out," Mary Isamberg said.

A sense of community and family keeps the couple coming back to 242.

"242 is the first time in my life that we have come into a group that genuinely loves God and lives it. It's not just talk," Mary Isamberg said. "It feels like a community the way Christ wants us to live and love and be there for each other."

A Nebraska native, Kirchhoff felt his calling to Christian ministry while attending college in Vermont on a basketball scholarship. Although his family attended church, Kirchhoff felt no real connection to his faith in his youth.

"I had amazing parents but church was not fulfilling for me because I saw it as an end product. I went through the motions but there was no call or passion in it."

In college, he decided to take a year off to work at a Christian youth camp in Seattle. It was there he decided his future would be in ministry. "I really felt a conviction and call to do ministry in a lifestyle way."

Kirchhoff had some God-given talent in a different arena where he might have been the one being worshiped. Deadly from three-point range in basketball — he holds the Guinness World Record for the most three-pointers (7,007) in 24 hours — Kirchhoff had dreams of being a coach.

A life in the church proved a greater draw than a life on the court, but he still plays basketball. "I was successful in college but nowhere near the NBA level — but I've shared the love of Jesus on the court more than I have in church," Kirchhoff says.

After college, where he met his wife, Lisa, Kirchhoff went on to attend Valley Forge Christian College, landing a job in Nebraska after graduation. The couple moved to Florida in 2009, where Kirchhoff took a job as the high school and college pastor at Sunset Bay Chapel.

Two years later, God told him to start a small church.

"It was a Friday. June 17. A month later we started the church."

Today, 242 On the Move has about 120 members, just about Goldilocks size as far as Kirchhoff is concerned. Any bigger and they might lose their familial feel, he believes.

If the church does grow, he would prefer to see small satellite congregations of around 100 rather than a mega-church of thousands.

The church runs on a $100,000 annual budget with $40,000 a year going to "help those in need," according to Kirchhoff. The church donates to a mission in Haiti, sponsors a women's retreat and assists a homeless ministry in Tampa every month.

"I've given up a bigger salary and don't even have benefits. I'm a tiny church on a tiny budget."

That budget won't be covering any walls at a church building any time soon either, something Kirchhoff doesn't seem to mind.

"We come as we are. We are not putting anyone else down, but (meeting in the park) puts us in the public eye so we can't just focus on ourselves and we are using what God has given us and we don't have to pay for it. And our kids love it."

Kevin Brady can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

. fast facts

If You Go

242 On the Move Ministry meets on Sundays at 9 a.m. in different area parks — 1st Sunday-Aldermans Ford Park; 2nd Sunday-Park Square; 3rd Sunday-Garden District; 4th Sunday-Ibis Park; 5th Sunday-Ibis Park

Lithia area church meets God in the park every Sunday 09/20/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 20, 2012 4:30am]
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