They grew from a meager 12 parishioners to nearly 600 in just four short years, and this Christmas season, Bell Shoals Baptist Church is giving thanks for all the blessings God has given them since their establishment in November 2011. In addition to the traditional holiday celebrations of the season, they will rejoice in the opening of their new worship center in Apollo Beach, a 22,000-plus-square-foot building that has taken a year to complete.
The Apollo Beach location is a branch of Bell Shoals Baptist Church of Brandon. There is also a campus in Palm River.
“We plan to have our first service in the new church this Sunday [Dec. 20], which is open to everyone,” said Assistant Pastor Dan Collis, waving aside the boxes, ladders, and construction crews still in evidence around the building last week. “I’m confident that we’ll be ready for Sunday worship.”
Led by campus Pastor George Thomasson, Bell Shoals of Apollo Beach has seen a phenomenal growth unheard-of in central Florida. Originating in the small worship building at the south end of the present campus, they added a Christian preschool in January 2012, which now offers programs for two-year-olds up to VPKs (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten.) Rebeka Corgan was hired as full-time minister of preschool and children in June 2014, and said that individuals are still needed to get involved with the growing children’s ministry. “We need people to use their spiritual gifts to plug in,” echoed Pastor Thomasson.
Thomasson and his wife Sandra have served in full-time vocational ministry since 1974. Thomasson most recently served for five years as senior associate pastor at the Brandon campus of Bell Shoals. He spent the previous 10 years helping to facilitate the start-ups of new churches across Florida, the U.S. and Canada. He has written two books and co-authored a third, The Church Blueprint – Practical Helps for Building the Body, which has been used by many churches to establish new congregations.
“I believe God put me here to be a bridge builder,’’ Thomasson said.
In keeping with their growth, Bell Shoals has added members to their operating staff, including Dan Collis, assistant pastor, who previously served at Southside Baptist Church in old Sun City; Anna Ahlgren, events coordinator; Lee Collis, administrative and counseling assistant; Debbie Wolf, executive assistant; and Ed Brown, director of facilities and maintenance.
An impressive fact is that most of Bell Shoals’ church expansion has been funded from donations by parishioners, said Collis. The $350,000 needed to build the new preschool was contributed by members in only 3 months, and the new $2.5 million worship center is already halfway funded.
“Walking in with a clean slate financially is a great feeling,” said Collis, who added that the generous spirit of giving at the church extends into missionary efforts as well.
“We have missionary projects all over the nation and the world, from sharing the gospel to building new churches and funding scholarships,” he said. “Our missionaries range from young teens to senior adults, to everything in between.”
Bell Shoals serves the local community by working in conjunction with the Good Samaritan Mission, Mary & Martha House, South County Career Center, and various veterans organizations and hospitals.
Bell Shoals’ vision is to be “one church multiplied” to infuse central Florida with the teachings of Jesus Christ through the gospel. Pastor Thomasson believes that the Apollo Beach campus originated with that purpose in mind. Rather than focusing on growing where they are planted, their existing churches focus instead on multiplying the number of congregations in areas that lack an active home parish.
In celebration of their many blessings this Christmas, Bell Shoals has planned a number of holiday events, including a “3D Christmas Eve Celebration” that the public is invited to attend. At the Brandon campus two weeks ago, Bell Shoals Baptist hosted three-time Grammy Award-winner Michael W. Smith, who has been called the “cornerstone of Christian music.”
The grand opening for the new Apollo Beach campus is set for Sunday, Jan. 10, and will feature a special service with local dignitaries in attendance.
Bell Shoals Baptist Church’s Apollo Beach campus is at 6414 Golf and Sea Blvd. in Apollo Beach. Sunday worship services are at 9 and 10:45 a.m. Wednesday prayer services are at 7 p.m.
For more information on ministries, LIFE groups and other Bell Shoals activities, visit apollobeachcampus.publishpath.com or call the church office at 813-641-2222.