BUILDING A CHURCH
BY NATALIE NICHOLS GILLESPIE
In a bustling metropolitan city of almost 300,000 people, getting lost in a crowd is easy–and so is being lost for eternity. In Tampa, Florida, one has band-wife pastoral team has determined to make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone in their city. Their goal is to find the lost–each and every one of them–and make certain that no one falls through the spiritual cracks.
In 1991 pastors Randy and Paula White founded Without Walls International Church, formerly South Tampa Christian Center, with the single purpose of seeing every person in Tampa come to salvation through Jesus Christ. Of course, saving souls in the place where you live powerfully motivates all evangelical Christians. But the Whites have a passion and a unique approach and vision that motivate them to reach tens of thousands not only in the Tampa Bay area but also across the nation.
Picture the lost–the homeless men on the downtown benches, the empty stares of the inner-city children, the weary strippers, hardened criminals and drug addicts, the unchurched, and the unsaved. Now imagine them being reached, redeemed and equipped for building a church ablaze for the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit–a church where healing and restoration are everyday occurrences and where people give cheerfully though sacrificially. Impossible to picture? ‘Not at all,” say the Whites, who have done just that.
‘GIVE ME THE SHEEP NOBODY ELSE WANTS’
“When I was called to start a church, I asked the Lord l to give me the sheep that nobody else wanted,” Randy White told MINISTRIES TODAY. “I didn’t want to take another pastor’s sheep. I asked for the unchurched, the broken, the derelicts, the Mafia and the inner-city children. I wanted my focus to be on winning the lost. But you can’t expect people to listen to a message when they have empty bellies or when their children have no shoes on their feet. You have to meet their physical needs before they can focus spiritually.”
So the Whites set out to meet needs synergistically–body, soul and spirit. Without Walls is simply what its name implies–a ministry with no walls, no building and no limitations, just a willingness to reach anyone who is lost–anytime and anywhere. When Randy and Paula White began ministering, they didn’t wait for money, nor did they try to find or build a facility where they could sit and wait for the lost to come to them. Instead, the city became their church, the inner-city projects their sanctuary and the sidewalks their altars. The Whites and their core congregation bought an old, 24-foot box truck and began taking “church,” plus leftover bakery goods and any other. Food and supplies they could gather, to the streets, the tenement children and the lost.
“I would say that pastor is a ‘new millennium’ preacher,” says Jennifer Mallan, outreach pastor at Without Walls. “He is the kind of preacher God is raising up to bring an end-time harvest. He breaks the mold of the traditional preacher.”
Randy White is genuinely likable with a warm smile that reaches his blue eyes, and he saw no pretenses. He comes to his office wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots, his blond hair windswept from riding his hog, a Harley Davidson motorcycle. His staff and congregation are a melting pot of ethnic groups, social classes and incomes. There is obviously a warm welcome here for everyone.
“No one has to slip through the cracks here,” Mallan says. “If you have a desire to get plugged in and have just 1 percent initiative, you can get plugged in. People scoffed at pastor at first and said that you can’t build a church off the poor. But as long as we remain focused on our calling of unity, evangelism and restoration, God meets our needs.”
GOD IS MEETING NEEDS
God is meeting those needs with abundance. Now seven years after its start, Without Walls has grown from five to more than 4,000 members. It has 206 separate ministries under its evergrowing umbrella that reach more than 10,000 people weekly.
The church that had nothing but hearts willing to serve now has property worth millions plus a fleet of trucks, a medical clinic and more. There are ministries for bikers, exstrippers, former homosexuals and recovering addicts. Spiritual growth classes teach and train the newly saved and the Christian who wants to break out of the mold.
With a daily television program, cosmetology school, GED classes and a Christian school, ministry reaches people where they are and meets their everyday needs. The original truck ministry has expanded to Operation Explosion, a convoy of trucks that bring Sunday school and food and supplies to inner-city children five days a week. Without Walls feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. And there’s more.
The Whites are now training other pastors in 18 satellite churches. Randy serves as honorary chairperson of the Tampa Urban League, meeting regularly with city leaders. He has received the keys to the city from the mayor of Tampa for his work in the community. Paula leads women around the world to Christ. She helped found the national children’s ministry, Operation Stitches, and is in constant demand to minister at churches and conferences.
KEYS TO GROWTH
How did the Whites’ ministry grow so rapidly? And what can other churches learn from what God did in their midst? Randy White offers some insight:
1. Have a big vision coupled with faithfulness in the little things. “It is a combination of seeing a big picture and being faithful in the little things,” White says.
2. See the community’s problems as the church’s problems. “I think you have to ask yourself what you are doing for your community,” he says. “If your city has problems, they are the church’s problems.”
3. Be the church outside the walls of a building. “What we have to do is break out of the mentality that church is a building,” White asserts.
4. Be a territorial church. “I believe God calls us to a geographical area,” White says. “Once you are faithful in that area, God will expand your horizons.”
5. Move your church meeting location when necessary. Without Walls first met in a strip mall, then a local high school auditorium, and later in a south Tampa warehouse. A building was purchased in 1995 for office and ministry space, but there was still no sanctuary.
The congregation met for two years under a tent in the sweltering Florida sun, then they erected an air-conditioned, inflatable dome, which is still in use today. Recently they contracted to purchase a building on a prime piece of real estate that will become their structural home.
6. Malt on God’s provision. Don’t financially burden your people. “The majority of our church is first-time converts,” White says. “And I didn’t want to put the burden of a big mortgage payment on these baby Christians. I wanted to be able to meet people’s needs first.”
So they waited, and God provided. First the office building that White says is valued at $4 million was purchased through “a series of miracles” for only $600,000. The facility houses the offices, ministries, classrooms and the Synergy Medical Clinic. Negotiations for a neighboring building to become the main church structure have been on again and off-again for the last two years. The price finally dropped several million dollars at the same time White received a long-term commitment of financial support from a prominent professional athlete.
CALLED TO A’WITHOUT-WALLS’ MIND-SET FOR MINISTRY
Without Walls should now own those walls sometime in 1999 and will then be sitting on a piece of Tampa real estate appraised at some $20 million.
“Everything we have–the trucks, the televisions, the buildings–every piece of equipment we own–has a miraculous story behind it,” White says. “We know we are following in the Lord’s will when He blesses us so tremendously.”
White was first called to Tampa from his home of Fort Washington, in the late 1980s. He was working as evangelism director for National Church of God in Fort Washington, Maryland, when a magazine ad changed his life.
“Pastor picked up a Charisma magazine and saw a little ad in the back, and the words ‘Tampa, Florida,’ just jumped out at him,” Mallan says. “He told his wife he thought they were supposed to go there.” So the couple sought confirmation from the Lord, packed up a U-Haul and moved, taking a position as youth pastors for an existing Tampa church, then moving on to begin a ministry of their own.
“I was on my knees in prayer when God gave me a vision and said He would give me the keys to the city,” White says. “I didn’t know how it would happen. It was totally by faith.”
White learned the hard way how to walk by faith and to lean on the Lord instead of asking God to follow his plans. He grew up in a Pentecostal home, a preacher’s kid from five generations of Church of God preachers. He came to know the Lord and experience the work of the Holy Spirit in his life as a child. But when he entered his teens, like many of his peers, he rebelled. After graduating early from high school, White entered college to train for the ministry and married the first time at the age of 17.
THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF PUTTING MINISTRY BEFORE MARRIAGE
White did enter the ministry but had turbulence in his personal life. Eleven years, three children and many dashed hopes and dreams later, the marriage ended. Divorce brought a pain White had never before experienced, but it also brought him back to his knees before the Lord. He experienced a spiritual renewal and felt the awesome power of forgiveness.
“There are two sides to every story, and I take full responsibility for the choices I made,” White says. “One of the biggest mistakes I made was that I put the ministry before my marriage. My priorities were wrong. But going through that pain was also the greatest learning experience of my life because I didn’t quit; I didn’t walk out of the ministry. I got up. Through my brokenness and restoration, my failure became an incredible steppingstone.”
After a time of healing, the Lord brought Paula into his life. Now eight years later the couple still find themselves overwhelmed by the goodness of God in bringing them together.
“This is the first time I’ve really ‘gone public’ nationally about my divorce,” White says. “Not that I’ve hidden it. But I think it is important to be up front about it now because to know about it is to know where this ministry was birthed from–out of the hurt and pain and then restoration that I went through. My congregation knows I’ve been divorced.
‘They know I can understand their pain. And the Lord has really grown Paula into the ministry. She has such a calling on her life, too. She is truly a life and ministry partner in every way.”
“I am definitely a product of His grace and mercy,” Paula White says of her walk with the Lord. “I love to minister to women and encourage them to discover who they are in the Lord, who He wants them to be.
“My father committed suicide when I was 5, and I was abused as a child. I spent my early years looking for love in earthly relationships until the Lord turned my life around. I can truly share with women that they don’t have to be what people say they are.”
TEAM MINISTRY TO THE LOST
Side by side, the Whites are reaching not only the city of Tampa but also the nation and the world through the ministry work of Without Walls and their preaching, television program and pastors training sessions. Through all of these avenues they hope people everywhere will catch the vision to reach the lost in their corners of the world.
“Pastor wants to train people to do what we do–how to go into the public schools, how to do street outreach ministries, how to meet with their city officials,” Mallan explains.
“It is an indictment on the church if there are empty bellies,” White says. “We can’t buy into the separation of church and state. We have to deal with government officials, city officials, because we haven’t done what the church was supposed to do, which was to feed the widows and the poor.
“Instead, the government saw the problem and created the welfare solution,” he continues. “Now that welfare reform is in place, it is a call to the church to do the job we should have been doing in the first place.”
White says his church found financial help in 1995 through the formation of a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) called REACT (Restoration and Evangelism Advanced through Community Training). Because of its 501(c)(3) status, REACT is able to apply for and receive federal, state and local grants and other government funding to minister to the community. Through government funding, the medical clinic, vocational school and other programs have become a reality for helping needy people in Tampa get on their feet.
“Our dream, our hope, is to take people with little hope, little education, little confidence, and move them through a process so that by the time they’re at the other end, they become successful, productive, healthy people,” says former REACT director Debbie Gee.
White observes that the development of a CDC is one good way churches can find the finances they need to fulfill this kind of calling in their communities. Although learning the Bible, studying theology, winning souls and performing weddings and funerals might have been the main skills pastors needed in the past, tomorrow’s pastor needs to know how to do all that plus how to keep and balance a budget, apply for grants and more, White says.
It is his hope that Without Walls can give these pastors a huge head start.
“It is teaching people how to see a need, then once you see it, how to meet it,” White says. “Once you start meeting needs, then God stretches us and gives us challenges. That’s where faith comes in. Every time we have had one of those challenges, God has brought in the volunteers, the equipment, the people with the right credentials.
“I see welfare reform as a blessing because this is the opportunity for the church to do what the government has been doing for years. And the government is giving us the money to do it–without any or very few strings attached. It is really a transference of wealth to the churches.
“Government funds are available now for programs the church has been doing for years–day care, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, youth programs, schools, mentoring. You just have to know where to look, how to ask and be persistent.”
When he first started the ministry, White went to the library, looked up foundation addresses and wrote to several of them asking for seed money to start a ministry. Out of all those letters he received only one positive response. But that one response was enough to get the ministry started. Now Without Walls has received several grants and continues to apply at the local, state and federal levels. Everything they receive benefits the bodies, minds and spirits of the people of Tampa.
“I see some pastors who I know are so frustrated because they are in the same spot they were a year ago,” White says. “I want to evoke something, to see a difference made. I don’t just want to live and die; I want to shake this nation.”
NATALIE NICHOLS GILLESPIE is a freelance writer who often contributes to Christian Retailing and has just become a new mom. She lives in Tampa, Florida.
Tips for Growing Your Ministry
Randy White says that though God gets all the credit for growth in any ministry, there are practical steps pastors can follow to make their cities their congregations and enlarge their ministries for Christ:
1. Know your call and catch a vision. If a pastor has the vision, the mind-set, to break out of traditionalism, great things can happen, White says. “Don’t lock yourself in a box. Find a need and determine to fill it. If your call is to the hungry, go to the bakeries and get leftovers and start delivering them.”
2. Be faithful in the little things and be consistent. “One thing about pastor is that he is very predictable,” says Jennifer Mallan, outreach pastor at Church Without Walls. “He does the same things every day, so people know Hey can count on him. You know that on Wednesdays and Fridays our trucks will be out; on Saturday foods are prepared. It’s never hit-and-miss. Pastor has parented the city very well.”
3. Realize that it takes time to grow. “You have to prove yourself,” White says. “You want to show that what you are doing is not fly-by-night. Ask yourself, ‘Am I building my own kingdom or really helping my community.’
4. Put people around you who will catch your vision. Build a team that has diverse talents to accomplish the vision you are called to fulfill. Focus on a particular hurt and cure it; find an ill in society and figure out how to solve it. Realize that you and your team will need to put 100 percent into bringing a solution to the problem. Bridge the gap.
5. Work within all aspects of your community. Realize that the support of city council members, police chiefs and other leaders is necessary for the large-scale success of any growing ministry. Meet with city leaders when you first start and share your vision. Then get on a council agenda once or twice~a~year thereafter to give a progress report.
6. Look for ways to gain visibility and exposure. When planning events at which media would be appropriate, be sure to invite them. Learn how to prepare press releases or add someone to the ministry who is familiar with media relations. One good newspaper write-up or television interview is an “endorsement” for your ministry that can be used to gain other support.
7. Break out of the mentality that church is your building and realize that your call is to your geographical area. When you are faithful in that area, Cod will expand the borders. “I was called to Tampa,” White says. “Now I feel called to the nation and am meeting with the movers and shakers of the world.”
8. When growth begins, remain consistent at home. Keep your focus. “That’s where I see men miss it, I think,” White says. “They get a little success under their belt and neglect the home base.”
9. Be innovative and creative. “The message of the gospel never changes, but methods do,” White says. “What innovative, creative method can you use to reach people? Is it a ministry for bikers, a club for lost young people?
“Do you want to go into the public schools or have a coffee shop for the homeless?’ You can only get the message to people in a ray they can relate to, White says. “If you’re going fishing for shark, take shark bait.”
10. Find people who have already done what you want to do and use those resources. “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” White says. “Network. Educate yourself. Listel1 to others; take the meat and throw away the bone. When you are starting a new ministry make sure you network with those already doing it.”
11. Do not let finances be a dictator to you. Your decisions should be based on your vision and what the Lord has put in your heart, not on finances. Be creative in looking for funding.
12. Take care of yourself, “Keep your body healthy and your marriage: a priority,” White says. And always keep a close walk with the Lord. Make sure your vision is His vision, and He will bless you.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY MINISTRIES TODAY, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER, 1998, PAGES 31-35. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.