Religion

Lakewood Ranch 'mega-church' draws nearly 2,000

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A crowd approaching 2,000 attended the first service of Faith Life Church in Lakewood Ranch on Sunday.

The Rev. Keith Moore and his wife, Phyllis, whose mega-congregation, Faith Life Church in Branson, Mo., is “Lakewood Ranch’s big sister,” seemed to think of every detail prior to the service.

Roughly 20 volunteers directed traffic into the parking lot of the $11 million church.

“If there was a three-train pile-up, Phyllis would have everything sorted, labeled, and stacked within hours,” said Moore of his wife and church co-founder.

The bathrooms were country-club elegant and proof that the Moores feel confident that the 2,500 seat church will be completely filled at some point.

Many in the audience were from out of town.

They came from Miami, Pensacola, Fort Myers and Coral Gables. They also came from Virginia and North Carolina and many other states.

It seemed most had been followers of the Moores for a long time via Internet on their home computers or television or, from traveling to Branson and, for them, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

For about a half hour before the Moores appeared, a rocking band and singers led the congregation in praise and worship songs.

“I thought it was beautiful, awesome,” said Marshalla Thompson, who, with her husband, George, and children, Sky and Marshall, drove from Milton, near Pensacola, Saturday morning and stayed overnight at Days Inn in Bradenton to be in Lakewood Ranch for the first service.

“I like Pastor Moore’s presentation,” George Thompson said after the service, which ran 10 a.m. to noon. “I like how he expounds on the Word. He helps me to understand. I really think he has a gift, an anointing, that makes him a terrific teacher.”

Charlotte Edmondson drove in from Cape Coral.

She was so excited she could hardly stand it.

“I’ve been going to Faith Life Church on my computer for years,” Edmondson said. “It was about a year ago that they announced, ‘We’re going to Sarasota.’ I was crying and dancing and speaking in tongues.”

Faith Life is a church where the Bible is followed religiously, Edmondson said.

“This is a Word church,” Edmondson said. “The word of God can renew and change your life.”

Moore didn’t disappoint his congregation, revealing the boldness and confidence he is known for and has developed in more than 30 years of church work.

The first thing he said to the crowd was, “You came!”

He then revealed that the congregation at the home church in Branson was watching live on big screen TVs. He had his staff switch the Lakewood Ranch TVs to Missouri, where the congregation there eventually waved and cheered.

“There’s a 30-second delay,” Moore said.

Moore will be preaching from Branson next Sunday, but it is not known yet if he will spend alternating Sundays in Missouri or Florida or how it will work, said Faith Life staffer Dave Vaughn.

The plan, however, is to eventually move from just one 10 a.m. Sunday service in Lakewood Ranch to Friday services, another Sunday service if needed and, eventually, Wednesday night services, Vaughn said.

“We are not associated with any denomination, nor are we against any denomination,” Moore said. “Phyllis grew up as a Catholic and I was born again as a Baptist. We are not under the will of any one.”

Moore told the congregation that every Christian church is doing the same work and he respects them all.

“I do believe that when we get to heaven, there won’t be a Catholic section, Protestant section and Baptist section,” Moore said. “I’ve been to many countries and seen amazing things, but, in a different form, it’s all still the Holy Spirit.”

Moore also shared his view of heaven.

“I believe what we will see is earthly things, but in perfect form,” Moore said.

Moore also addressed a topic closer to home.

“People ask us why we came to Sarasota,” he told the crowd. “I tell them, ‘Why not?”

After the laughter subsided, Moore continued, “God led us here. That is the simple truth.”

Moore also said that he had read or heard some hurtful things about his church’s coming to Lakewood Ranch.

“Some said, ‘We have enough churches here, why do we need you?” Moore said. My reply was, “I wouldn’t want to be the only church in a town and take responsibility for all of those souls. The more churches the better. We can all work together to help people find God.”

Moore told the congregation that some criticize him for his prosperity.

“We’re used to it,” Moore said. “There are a lot of crooks in every business. You will have to decide for yourself.”

In future services, Moore promised to break down all the church’s finances for the membership, to show where all the money goes.

“You will see how much Phyllis and myself get,” Moore said.

Moore’s first sermon, titled “Is God Real?” was a bold start.

“If I was on my death-bed, breathing my last, and I found out that God wasn’t real, what would I think?” he asked himself. “Well, I wouldn’t think, ‘Darn, I could have lived a selfish, self-centered life.’ No, I would still be glad with the way I lived.”

In September, the Herald reported that the church had spent millions to buy the 82,000-square-foot facility formerly used by Teleflex in Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and an equestrian estate at Sarasota Polo Club.

Faith Life Church paid $6.4 million for the properties, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website.

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