The Florida District approved our launch for Table Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 11. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and our state was “locked down” just days later. But even with the lockdown, we felt the need to still launch our church, albeit in a safe way.
Our launch process began in early January 2019, when my wife, Kristen, and I felt God calling us somewhere else for ministry purposes. I had served as a leader in kids’ and teen ministry before I realized a call into full-time ministry at age 29. I was privileged to serve as family ministry pastor at Park Place Wesleyan Church (Pinellas Park, Florida) for a little over two years. Then I transitioned to Awake Wesleyan Church (Zephyrhills, Florida) in January 2018, where I served as executive pastor.
It was June 2019 when Kristen and I transitioned to plant Table Church. We went through the process of looking and praying for what and where God was calling us. There were no job openings, and we felt God calling us to plant. And not just to plant, but to do so at home. Thus, Table Church was birthed in our backyard in St. Petersburg.
“St. Pete,” as it is affectionately called, consists of a “non-religious” population that totals 64 percent. The average age of residents is 41, and 39 percent are minorities. With these statistics, we knew the mission field was in the home.
Our vision with Table Church is to minister through home churches that teach biblical knowledge, emphasize “movemental prayer” and disciple and reach an “unchurched” population. “Movemental prayer” is a priority in our lives as we fervently pray that God changes us so he can use us to disciple others and live out the Great Commission.
Our vision exists to grow the kingdom of God. We envision Table Church existing as home churches which meet across St. Pete weekly. Every home church will meet, share a meal together, sing, pray and dive deeper into God’s Word but also forge a bond with the people and “do life together.” Once a month, we will come together to worship with everyone as a corporate church.
After months of building and equipping our leadership team, we started hosting fellowship opportunities in our backyard, inviting those with whom we were building relationships for movies, games and bonfires. On January 18, we held our first backyard service. Seventeen people showed up that night for worship, prayer and a message on mustard seed faith (Matthew 13:31-32, Matthew 17:20-21 and Luke 17:5-6).
After the service, people stuck around for a while, and we shared a meal together (Acts 2). We started holding a service on the third Saturday of each month, followed by a meal together. We had just gotten into a good rhythm when COVID-19 restrictions began. Just like most churches in the U.S., we’ve had to rethink and rework our services for the time being.
We are continuing home church through Zoom and host virtual meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, we are streaming a devotional and worship on Saturday evenings through Facebook and host watch parties and invite people who don’t attend church. Several people have worshipped with us via Zoom, some of whom live out of state. With this opportunity, we are praying about a virtual church with out-of-state people. We are praying through it, but the hope and prayer is that we can disciple them to become leaders of their own home church in their local cities.
As we live in these COVID-19 days, we’ve also jumped at the chance to minister to the local community. A few of our people have donated thousands of masks to the front lines here in Florida including nursing homes, hospice care and children’s hospitals.
Some may question us and ask, “Why did you still plant in the midst of a pandemic?” My response is, “Why not?” Some people may see this as a risk, but we see planting during this time as obedience. We saw a need and kept plugging away, still building relationships with the help of technology.
Even though we see buildings being closed, that doesn’t mean the business of the church (God’s people) has to be closed. At our last service that physically met in February, 18 people attended. Since then we have seen an increase of over 50 percent in the number of people with whom we’ve connected.
God wants us to be smart during this time, but all he is asking from us is to have a little faith and boldness.
“It’s so exciting to see new churches rise up with courage during a time of cultural chaos,” said Dr. Ed Love, director of church multiplication for The Wesleyan Church. “New churches like Table Church are seeding our Wesleyan movement with an unshakeable faith.
Church Multiplication Sunday is a day to celebrate and invest in church plants in The Wesleyan Church, as they Unleash a Kingdom Force across North America. Learn more about Church Multiplication Sunday.
Note: Photo was taken prior to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
Rev. Mike Oliver serves as pastor of Table Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. He also serves as the Florida District youth president and is the youth pastor at Resonate Church in Land O Lakes, Florida.