Advertisement
  1. News

Grace Family Church will celebrate its 25th anniversary this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Debbie and Pastor Craig Altman of Grace Family Church. On Sunday, the church will celebrate its 25th anniversary at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo courtesy of Grace Family Church)
Published Mar. 13

As a teen quarterback at Land O' Lakes High School, Drew Weatherford inspired his teammates on and off the field.

Weatherford, who went on to play football at Florida State University, accepted Christ as his savior at age 16.

When fellow Land O' Lakes Gators saw a positive change in Weatherford, many began attending services with him at Grace Family Church in Tampa.

Weatherford grew up with founding pastor Craig Altman's son Brent and often the visited the church before becoming a regular member in his mid teens.

"Pastor Craig was my peewee football coach," Weatherford said. "After games, I would spend the night at the Altman's house and go to church with them in the morning. I never could have imagined then, sitting in their small congregation, what the church would become."

On Sunday, Grace Family Church will celebrate its 25th anniversary at Raymond James Stadium.

The church, which now operates 5 campuses and cites more than 20,000 members, invites the public to come tailgate and learn a little something about Jesus.

A come as you are approach and disinterest in serving only 'religious' people propelled Grace to it's near megachurch status, Altman said.

The church has sites in Lutz, Temple Terrace, South Tampa, Waters Avenue and Ybor City. A Pasco county campus is under development in Land O'Lakes.

"We started with 80 people, subleasing a jazzercise space next a bar, and now here we are, one of the biggest church's in Tampa Bay," Altman said. "My vision was always to connect with people who might not know a lot about God or the Bible, and to stay relevant."

Members from all five Grace campuses, including its main building on Van Dyke Road, will gather at Raymond James.

Altman and teaching pastor Matt Rhoden will speak, among others. Longtime member Tony Dungy will give a message via video.

Dungy and Weatherford are among many athletes, including Steelers defensive lineman Trey Johnson, who attend Grace.

"I think its the diversity of the church that attracts athletes," Weatherford said. "Team sports is a lot about working together with a diverse group of people. It's what we are used to, people of all ethnicities and walks of life."

Now a family man, Weatherford continues to attend Grace with his wife and children.

The church's youth and teen programs bring in many families, Altman said.

Technology, engaging lessons and high-energy music keep them coming back.

"We have children dragging their parents to church," he said.

Grace offers many opportunities to get involved outside of Sunday services. The church operates the Dream Center in Ybor City, which serves low income families. Small groups focus on people's individuals needs covering issues ranging from recovery from abuse to grief. The church itself veers off the traditional path.

"People are tired of fake in the church," Altman said. "We aren't trying to be self righteous. We have things like our coffee stations. Some people have a big issue with that but it's those little things that make people feel more comfortable. Our message is sacred and holy. Our methods are less conventional."

Weatherford said the Altmans, Craig and wife Debbie, haven't let the church's success change their mission.

"They are still the same people they were when I met them," he said. "They could've have became less real, less relatable, but they haven't done that in the slightest."

The event at Raymond James is part reunion and part welcome party, Altman said.

"Its a celebration of how big God is and what He has done," he said.

The GFC 25th Anniversary event begins at 9 a.m. March 17 at Raymond James Stadium. For more information, visit www.gfconline.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a body from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped the structure during services Sept.15,1963 . Associated Press
    Fifty-six years ago, a bomb blew apart the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and injuring dozens more.
  2. Danielle Harris of Pinellas Park leans against a large photo of Terri Schiavo and her mother, Mary Schindler, during a vigil outside the Woodside Hospice Villas in 2003. Associated Press
    “Terri Schiavo is now a martyr,” one then-state representative said upon learning of her death.
  3. Yesterday• Pasco
    The Port Richey Citizen's Advisory Committee recently installed a mini library at the Mallett Fishing Pier. The box has a painting that depicts the stilt houses off the Port Richey coast, Johnny Cash (who was known to have loved the city and visited often), as well as dolphins playing. This is the second mini library the committee has erected, with the first installed at City Hall, next to the dog park. Pictured, from left: Blaine Lee, builder of the mini library; City Council member Jennie Sorrell (committee member), Laurie (committee member) and Jeff Simpson, Judi Cain (artist), Interim City Council member Angel Nally (committee member) and Tom Kinsella (committee member). Claudia Smith
    News and notes about your neighbors
  4. Yesterday• Hernando
    Members of the Live Oak Conservatory Pre-K 1 Combo Class rest after their first session of tap, jazz and ballet. The class includes children from 18 months to 5 years old. The conservatory kicked off its second year in August, offering performing arts classes for children and adults. The Live Oak Theatre Company is a nonprofit repertory company, located at the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for the Arts in Brooksville. Visit liveoaktheatre.org. Jane Russell Geddings
    News and notes about your neighbors
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates.
    Charges in the accident are pending.
  6. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Ok losers, who needs access to our state politicians, anyway?
  7. The Dade City Monarch Butterfly Festival will be Oct. 12 in Hibiscus Park. AP
    News and notes from Pasco County
  8. Bubba's 33 recently broke ground on its first restaurant in Florida, which will open in Wesley Chapel in December. Pictured, left to right: Experience Florida's Sports Coast (Tourism) Director Adam Thomas, Bubba's 33 marketing director Crista Demers-Dean, Bubba's 33 managing partner Jeff Dean, Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and North Tampa Bay Chamber CEO Hope Allen. Andy Taylor
    News and notes on local businesses
  9. Taylor Bland-Ball, 22, posted this photo and open letter to Judge Thomas Palermo to her Instagram account on September 10, the day after she lost custody of her 4-year-old son Noah McAdams. The boy's parents wanted to treat his leukemia with natural health care remedies instead of chemotherapy. [Instagram] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Instagram
    The couple refused chemotherapy for their son, instead seeking alternative treatments including dietary plans, alkaline water and THC and CBD oil treatments
  10. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Friday Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Threatening to exacerbate islands’ problems, Humberto’s rains were falling on Abaco island.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement