New church reaching Jacksonville’s Mandarin population
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
For the past 106 years, Trinity Baptist Church in north Florida has seen God work beyond what its members could ever have imagined. They know the Lord steers his people into prayer, meets their needs and guides them through their biggest challenges.
Earlier this year, he did it again.
A core team, including pastor Daniel Warren, invited the community to the first worship service of Trinity’s Mandarin campus. One hundred fifty people showed up on April 17, including families new to the area and people who hadn’t attended a service since the start of the pandemic.
“God had put the dream on our heart, but we had no plan in place to make this happen,” Warren said. “This is not the result of our strategy, intellect and skill.”
A good plan didn’t seem like it was going to happen
In 2019, Trinity’s leaders prayerfully hoped and planned for a new church by the end of 2022. By August, though, that seemed increasingly unlikely.
At that time, senior pastor Tom Messer was in New York. While walking around a scenic spot in prayer, he remembers the Lord asking him, ‘What do you need me to do at Trinity?’
Messer prayed again that the church eagerly desired a third campus, but there seemed to be little chance at another location, as a new facility would cost millions to build. Still, Messer prayed for a merger where Trinity could supply resources they had while another church offered a building. Three days later, Andy Pietrylo, then leading Faith Baptist Church of Mandarin in Jacksonville, called Trinity.
Pietrylo, who has long had a close relationship with Trinity, felt especially convicted that his church was supposed to live on with a new approach. So, the two pastors and their churches began to discuss merging into one.
During prayerful gatherings over the months, Trinity’s leadership met with Pietrylo and Faith’s core group. As a result, momentum and optimism for a merger grew.
Some, though, questioned whether they would participate. For example, the Warrens knew of one man and his wife who weren’t sure about joining the church plant. But then they went to a joint prayer meeting of the two congregations. The man prayed through tears, an act of surrender that completely surprised Warren.
“God, I just want to thank you,” the man began, while Warren and others prayed silently. “We have kids in this church again. We have renewed emphasis on missions and evangelism.”
As the man cried, Warren was moved to tears as well.
“This is what we’ve been hoping for: unity and missional alignment,” Warren explained. “I get emotional just telling the story because it is such a moment.”
Gary Canova first attended Faith in 2001. In 2002, he went on staff as a worship leader and music director. He remains active in the music ministry.
Canova said almost everyone from Faith joined Trinity Church and that more people are attending worship after the merger. He noted Trinity’s caring and helpful support encouraged changes that, with prayer, could further the church’s reach in Mandarin.
“Trinity Mandarin is actively reaching out to our community,” he said. “It is clear what our mission is and that we serve God,” he said.
Congregation a perfect fit for the mix of generations
As an expression of the power of prayer and the kindness of God, Trinity’s newest campus is uniquely situated between a shifting culture and the church’s multigenerational identity.
The Mandarin section of Jacksonville is quickly becoming an age-diverse community. People have been moving here since the pandemic, mainly for two reasons: the area is somewhat more affordable for younger families seeking starter homes; at the same time, new assisted living facilities have opened so grandparents can be near their grandchildren.
“We feel like we can do really well with families with young kids and with more senior adults,” Warren explained. “The goal is to make them part of a multigenerational church. We just look at how our church is, it’s part of our story.”
For that reason, Tony and Katie Forde felt led to join the Mandarin team. Tony has served in kids ministry in multiple roles at Trinity since 2003.
“God grabbed a hold of my heart walking through there,” he said when he first toured the building.
Now, their 13-year-old helps Tony with children’s ministry while their 12-year-old helps Katie oversee the nursery.
Forde remembers excellent conversations with kids beginning to understand the Trinity. He also sees kids recognizing when sin shows up in their words and actions.
Both represent gospel opportunities for children and their families: “We are able to minister to them on their level,” Forde said.
At the same time, Warren immediately thinks of people who are new to the church. At a recent Trinity event, among the barbecue and bounce houses, visiting families discovered how the church’s culture blends in with their own lives.
“They were looking for community and a family,” Warren said of these neighbors.
Since that community party, at least two families have begun attending Trinity services at the Mandarin campus.
Because new families are moving in and older couples are relocating around the Mandarin area, the transition is creating new opportunities. The new church is proving to be a place where people who’ve yet to form new social networks can do so.
Among God’s people, newcomers and people in transition experience more of Christ’s truth and grace. This opportunity, Forde said, has led to a renewed excitement for the two congregations who joined together as one church.
“God’s going to use us in this community to reach this community,” he said.
The latest challenges come after a God proven by prayer
Many of those in the area surrounding Trinity, whether new arrivals or established residents, have grown up or spent some time in the church.
Therefore, the spiritual challenge of making disciples involves helping people recognize the need to do so. The core team has sometimes realized a great harvest is not guaranteed or easy. They do, though, rest in the Lord’s presence throughout the process of adding a third campus.
When Faith members had to give serious thought to being part of a new church, the Spirit began to move, and Warren saw those same people suddenly praying with gratitude and concern for other campuses. The Lord was setting in motion something new: a unified church body.
“We did not see a path where that was going to happen until God showed up,” Warren said.
Warren, the core team, and the people who came from Faith Baptist know God has a new future for this church. That means supplying encouragement and wisdom for neighbors in hard times, including a family that recently started attending.
This family didn’t immediately make friends, as they were new to the church. Warren recently connected with them about a struggle in their lives. Through that, he believes they can grow closer to Christ and build relationships with other believers.
“They’re getting ready to walk through a time when they need a lifeline,” Warren said of the family. “God brought them here before they needed us so, at this time, we could walk with them. We’re here for such a time as this.”
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.