A mega church poised to open in Lakewood Ranch may be the East County’s best-kept secret.
Although the Branson, Mo.-based Faith Life Church is expected to start services in its new 82,000-square-foot facility in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park in January, few details about the church, including its beliefs and decision to open a campus in the East County, have been released.
“It’s so hush-hush,” said Realtor Cyndi Myers, of neighboring Wagner Realty, adding neither she nor her associates have heard anything about the church. “There are no signs. There’s nothing.
“We usually hear about (things like this),” she said. “We love to promote businesses that are coming to our area, but we’re not sure what they are doing.”
NOTHING TO HIDE
Faith Life Church Associate Pastor Dave Vaughan, who has been on staff with the church for about 10 years, said the church is not intentionally being secretive about its opening, but many details still are unknown.
“We don’t have it all planned out yet,” he said. “They’re thinking and praying. It’s not that there’s anything to hide. It’s a church. If you walked into a lot of other churches, it would look almost the same.”
Faith Life Church Pastors Keith and Phyllis Moore had not returned numerous phone calls in the last year, and church staff members also have declined to comment, saying either no church representative was available to speak about the new campus or there was no news to release at this time. Vaughan, on Dec. 22, 2011, was the first representative of the church to return calls.
In December, the church released some information on its website.
“The new church in Sarasota is in the final stages of completion,” Keith Moore wrote. “The facility is full of activity, and it’s really starting to look like a church now. ... The plan is to be ready to have services by the first of the new year. A lot has to happen for that to come to pass.”
A BRIEF HISTORY
According to Faith Life’s website, the Moores held the church’s first service March 29, 2002, at the Yellow Ribbon Theater in Broken Arrow, Okla. Its first service drew hundreds of people. The church “grew abundantly,” especially after it began posting services on the Internet in 2004, the website states. Then, Faith Life moved into its current location on the main strip of Branson in September 2007.
Why the Moores chose to open a new church in Sarasota remains unanswered. However, under the Paid N Full campaign tab on Faith Life’s website, it states the Moores felt directed by God to preach to other cities, because they are “sent.” Vaughan echoed those sentiments, saying only the Moores felt led to start a congregation in Sarasota.
The Moores announced to their Branson congregation on Oct. 3, 2010, that they had closed on property in Sarasota.
The site, 6980 Professional Parkway E. in Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, is the former home of Teleflex, a boat manufacturer. Faith Life Church Inc. purchased the property for $4 million. The church mortgaged the building to First America Bank for $2 million.
Faith Life Church of Branson and Moore Life Ministries paid to start work on the church. The balance of the building and renovations are being paid for through the Sarasota Paid N Full project, a fundraising campaign that kicked off during the Week of Increase meeting in October 2010.
INSIDE THE EXPANSION
The building includes 22,435 square feet of office space with a two-story reception office, a conference room and employee cafeteria.
Tom Jackson, owner of Jackson & Associates General Contractors, the company completing renovations on Faith Life, confirmed the company is nearing completion on the project but declined to divulge specifics. Vaughan said Faith Life is hoping to hold its first services in January or February, depending on how quickly construction and permitting is completed.
Faith Life of Branson holds services on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. The website contains no information about service times in Sarasota, except that Pastor Keith Moore now can be viewed on local TV.
Vaughan said Keith Moore will be the only pastor for both locations.
“We’re a family-oriented church,” he said. “We have children and youth services. We want to be an asset to the community that we’re in. We believe that we are an asset to the community in Branson, and we will be an asset to the community (in Sarasota).”
The campus in Branson, he said, is used primarily for church services and special events and not for use by outside groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and others.
A CONTROVERSIAL MESSAGE?
Faith Life’s website reveals few details about the church’s doctrine. It includes no statement of beliefs or similar information. Vaughan said the church does not have a statement of beliefs available in writing, but individuals can hear its beliefs by listening to Moore’s sermons online.
Vaughan confirmed Moore’s connection to Kenneth Hagin, often seen as the father of the modern-day Word of Faith movement. The movement generally teaches that complete healing of spirit, soul and body is included in Jesus Christ’s atonement and is available to all who believe. Furthermore, it holds that God wants his people to be prosperous, both financially and in other areas, and that if one speaks a promise of God and believes it, it creates a power that enables the promise to come to fruition.
Keith Moore echoed those sentiments in a sermon.
“(God) wants you to increase, and he want you to increase in every realm and every area,” Moore said. “You need to obey God and keep your heart right, and God will bless you. He wants us to have plenty.”
Larry Johnson, spokesman for Kenneth Hagin Ministries, confirmed Keith Moore was a member of the ministry’s staff when Moore was a young pastor. Keith Moore later left Kenneth Hagin Ministries and its Rhema Bible Training Center and church to evangelize, before opening their church in Branson, he said.
“It’s a mighty church,” Johnson said of Faith Life.
Criticisms of the Word of Faith message are rampant, with authors and bloggers challenging Word of Faith’s origins and influences and biblical soundness. In particular, critics say Word of Faith teachers often fail to warn against emphasizing material prosperity and instead tell the importance of helping those in need.
Some critiques also argue the movement advocates that illness, sin and failure result from a lack of faith that can be remedied by claiming God’s promises for oneself.
Dave Sturkey, former pastor of Cornerstone Church of Lakewood Ranch, said Word of Faith churches tend to emphasize faith as the power God uses to create and change the universe, while evangelical churches see faith as trusting God during hardship.
Faith Life member Chris Wiley said criticisms of the church’s teachings simply result from a lack of understanding. Moore’s teaching, he said, is biblical and encourages individuals to be cheerful givers.
“It’s changed my life,” he said. “The pastor is a super-anointed man of God. It’s amazing how (what he teaches) is so true to life, and it works for your every day application (of it).”
BUILDING A LOCAL CONNECTION
Pastors locally and in Branson said they have not had any interaction with Faith Life Leadership.
Pastor Norm Howell, of Skyline Baptist Church in Branson, said he has never met Keith Moore in person but has watched him on television and met individuals who attend or have attended his church.
Locally, pastors say they have not had any interaction with representatives of Faith Life and they remain concerned about what they’ve heard of its teaching.
“We know nothing,” Harvest United Methodist Church co-pastor Steve Price said. “We’ve had no contacts with anyone from that church (which is uncommon for most church plants).
“I don’t know what that church is all about,” he said. “I do know that prosperity is not the message of the Gospel. Jesus is the message.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].