Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Living The Dream
By Nico Bougas
Special to ASSIST News Service
BRADENTON, FL (ANS) -- In September 2002, a group of 20 people gathered in a house in Bradenton Florida. They had been recruited by a young pastor from Louisiana, Randy Bezet, to start a church.
It didn’t look that promising when Randy and his lovely wife Amy arrived in Bradenton. They came fresh from a thriving church in Baton Rouge in Louisiana, the Bethany World Prayer Center with Pastor Larry Stockstill.
They were really comfortable in their home and church in Baton Rouge. Both their families were there. They were in a great church. But Randy realized that he needed to stretch his faith and God had more mountains for him to climb. Amy, was horrified at the thought of leaving Louisiana. But as they prayed about it God spoke to Amy from a verse in Matthew 19.29. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”
Choosing A City
That was the clincher. They were off to Florida. But Florida is a big state. They couldn’t just stick a pin into a map and decide to plant a church there. So they drove around various communities and cities in Florida, praying and seeking God for some indication that this was where they were to start a church. They remembered the advice given them by Roy Stockstill, the founding pastor of their previous church, “fall in love with the city and then go ahead and plant a church”. So they arrived in Bradenton and immediately fell in love with the city.
But they knew nobody. It wasn’t like there was a welcoming committee. In fact they were met with a lot of negativity. Bradenton was a small city of 50,000 people. There were already scores of churches in the area. Surely they didn’t need another struggling church?
They started off looking for a venue. Just three weeks before Bezet was set to preach Bayside Community Church’s first sermon in September 2002, he still had no idea where that service would take place.
After scouring the East County for a location, Bezet found Bashaw Elementary School. But the Principal, Minnie King, wasn’t supportive of the idea of hosting a church in her school; she had had a negative experience with a similar partnership in the past.
“We needed to print postcards to advertise, and we didn’t even know where to tell people to go,” Bezet remembers.
But then, Bashaw Head Custodian Rex Ballenger learned of Bayside’s situation. He and several teachers pleaded with King, who finally agreed.
In 2002 social media was not big. So they mailed out 50,000 notices announcing the start of Bayside Community Church. “There was so much emphasis on that first service,” Bezet says. “But we didn’t know if anyone was going to show up.”
Much to Bezet’s delight, 220 packed into Bashaw on Sept. 18, 2002, to hear that first sermon. They were up and running. Bezet was ecstatic. After one Sunday their number already exceeded that of many of the established churches in the area.
Moving On To The Next Level
But the next Sunday only 120 came and then instead of growing, the numbers continued to dwindle right down to 87. Bezet began to wonder if he had really heard from God. Was this really the place he was meant to be? Was this what God wanted him to do?
It was then that Bezet had his own “moment with God” as he got before God in prayer. He confessed that if that was all God wanted from him then he was ready to be the best pastor he could be to those 87 people. It proved to be the tipping point in his ministry. From that day on the church began to grow - slowly and steadily. After 6 months they had reached 120 and by Easter the number had swelled to 340.
It became obvious that they would have to move to bigger premises. All the available schools were already taken up by other church groups. But there was a new school being built on the east side of town. After a visit to the principal all was arranged and soon they moved into new premises at Freedom Elementary School. They stayed there for the next six-and-one-half years and during this time developed their own unique brand of “doing church”. By then, Bayside had ballooned to five services (two on Saturday and three on Sunday).
Home Sweet Home
But, as any Bayside member will tell you, the real church has nothing to dowith the building itself. Rather, it’s its sense of community and family that has allowed the 10-year-old church to prosper.
So what is the secret of the phenomenal growth of Bayside Community Church? What makes it different from other well established groups in the area appealing to the same population who struggle to break through the century barrier?
As a pastor and teacher, Bezet focuses on building the local church, reaching the lost with the gospel, and helping people reach their full potential in Christ.
“Bayside is a place where people can find a sense of family,” he says. “It’s a place to belong. It’s the way I always wanted church to be.”
“I’m pleasantly frustrated,” Bezet says of his career thus far. “It’s just awesome how many people we’ve been able to help. But I’m frustrated because there still are so many people struggling.
“I don’t see other churches in the community as competition,” he says. “Seventy-seven percent of people in Manatee and Sarasota don’t go to church, so there definitely is a need for more churches.”
With the new church already filled to capacity and having to hold 2 Saturday evening and 2 Sunday morning services, Bayside has spread out to two new satellite campuses in West Bradenton and East Sarasota. And even there they need to hold duplicate services to accommodate the crowds.
What Has Been Achieved?
To borrow a phrase from the political playbook, “Is Bradenton and the neighboring counties better off today than it was ten years ago before the establishment of Bayside?”
The gifts and leadership potential of scores of the congregation have been enhanced and developed through their Discovery Gifts seminars, the 101 introductory and Core groups for integrating people into the church structures and the year of your life program for young people called 24/7 school of ministry. As well as a whole spectrum of small groups to meet every need.
The poor and disadvantaged of the community have been greatly helped by their community programs such as Adopt a Block, Homeless Outreach and Bridge-a-life.
Bezet says, “I didn’t want Bayside to be just another church, I wanted it to be different. And it isn’t just about what goes on inside these four walls (of the church). We wanted to be integrated into the community. We want to be making this a better community.”
World missions have been advanced by the substantial financial contribution made by Bayside and the mission teams that have been sent out to various parts of the globe. And in the near future there are plans to plant a church in Zimbabwe.
In a word Bayside has created a vibe, an energy, a sense of family that unites its people in its purpose to “build strong families and make it difficult for people to go to Hell.”
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