Header Image

Our History

History of The Bell Shoals Church of Christ

A new congregation of the church of Christ was formed in Brandon, Florida and began meeting on January 7, 1973. There were fifty three in attendance–thirty five members and eighteen visitors–at the first meeting in the Brooker School on DeWolf Road. The nine families which started the congregation were all living in the Brandon area and worshiping in Tampa— four families came from Manahattan Avenue Church of Christ and five from Florida Avenue Church of Christ. Gervais Knox (G. K.) Wallace was the first minister for the congregaton and the first Elders were Fred Clouse, Dale Kowa, Pascal Smith and Clinton Thomas. Frank Workman and Jack Key were the first Deacons. The congregation purchased property at 2908 Bell Shoals Road, Brandon, in October 1973. It would be three years before funds permitted the construction of a building.

Due to the frequent absence of G. K. Wallace on gospel meeting campaigns, young men from the Lakeland School of Preaching were called in to fill in for him and from mid-1974 a student preacher, Jimmy Kennedy, was hired as assistant minister. During Jimmy’s ministry with G. K. Wallace the average attendance grew to 83 and the contribution averaged $450 per week.

By 1976 the congregation had accumulated sufficient funds to begin construction of a building and a formal ground-breaking ceremony was held in August of that year. Construction was soon completed and dedication services were held on January 30, 1977 in the new building.

As the congregation continued to grow it employed Barry Elliott as its full-time minister and he served in this position from August 1974 to September 1979 when he moved to North Carolina. The congregation at this time was averaging 130 in attendance with an average contribution of $1,000.

Kenneth West Franklin began his long association with Bell Shoals when he joined it as its preacher in 1979.  During his ministry which, like those who preceded him, he shared with G. K. Wallace, the average attendance increased to 211 and the contribution averaged $3,378.

Growth was such that the congregation’s leadership soon foresaw the need for a larger plant. It had already outgrown its existing classroom, library, office and storeroom facilities, and studies showed that a large growth in population was expected and there were many thousands within easy travelling distance of the existing property. The decision was made to build an auditorium which would seat approximately four hundred and fifty people with the capability of being expanded to seat seven hundred and fifty. Additional classrooms and larger fellowship facilities were included in the planning.

The land which the congregation owned was too small for the envisaged expansion, but a two acre site behind and adjacent to the property was available and, on the recommendation of the building committee, it was purchased in 1987. The congregation now owned a total of five and a half acres of land. Pledges for over $350,000 were made during a fund-raising drive and groundbreaking ceremonies for the building were held on February 12, 1989. The new building was dedicated on April 29, 1990. In September of 1990 a small congregation at Bradley Junction merged with us and their self-supported preacher, John Terrell, became an Associate Minister for Bell Shoals.

Jack Strachan arrived from Scotland in 1988 to work as Minister for the congregation and continued to serve till 1992 when he returned to evangelize his home-land.  He was actively engaged in the building program. During his tenure at Bell Shoals, his pre-existing heart condition worsened and he urgently needed treatment which would cost tens of thousands of dollars for which he had no health insurance. The brotherhood rallied to calls for financial assistance made on Jack’s behalf and he was able to have the required procedures. To this day, the Bell Shoals congregation contributes to Jack Strachan’s highly effective ministry in his native Scotland.

Jack McKeown served the congregation from August 1992 and was succeeded by Allan Watkins in February 1994. Allan left in June 1996 to preach elsewhere and was succeeded by Rex Dutton who began working with Bell Shoals in September 1996 and remains the Pulpit Minister to this day. In 2011 Steve Johnson joined the staff as Youth Minister.

As the congregation continued to grow and further expansion of our facilities on Bell Shoals Road proved to be impractical, the congregation invested in a 46 acre property on Lithia Pinecrest Road, a major artery serving the Fishhawk and Lithia areas. Approximately 6 acres of the property were sold to enable the building of new facilities for Foundation Christian Academy and High School, and the congregation is planning to build a  new campus on the remainder.

We were approached in 2011 by a realtor who had 20 acres to sell on the northern border of the Lithia Pinecrest property and, after many delays, the church purchased this additional land in July 2012 at about half the original asking price. Since Hillsborough County intends to widen Lithia Pinecrest road at some future time and will want to take a strip of our property to accommodate their plans, the additional 20 acres will more than offset any loss of land and compensation from the County will almost make up the cost of the new addition.

In 2011 Hillsborough County needed to improve drainage in a large area to the north of the Lithia Pinecrest site and approached the church to ask for its cooperation in their plans. County asked for land to accommodate new detention ponds and wanted to remove a culvert on the creek to help drainage. In return for this concession, County compensated us by building a concrete bridge giving us better access to our property on the east of the creek. Since the land taken by the county was mostly unusable for the church’s work, we agreed to their plans and the resulting drainage works have beautified the property.

The contractor who carried out the earth-works for the County offered to grade land and install a baseball diamond and soccer pitch for the church on the Lithia Pinecrest site because we had been so cooperative in giving them the access they needed to do the work. We accepted their offer and provided some donated funds for clay for the baseball diamond, a well, pump, and irrigation pipes for the fields. These facilities will benefit members of the church and provide playing fields which Foundation Christian Academy & High School will also be able to use.

In 2013 the church's offices were moved to a house on the 20 acre list recently added to the Lithia Pinecrest property. The office space vacated at the church building is being converted to provide much needed classrooms.

A Planning and Building Committee is working with the Elders to construct a facility which will eventually comprise facilities in several buildings to house up to 800 worshipers and provide classroom, benevolence, fellowship, and administrative space of adequate size for the congregation.Mission and Outreach Programs

Mission and Outreach Programs

The Bell Shoals congregation has always been conscious of its responsibility for preaching the gospel to the world and to this end has been heavily involved in mission and outreach programs. It was the sponsor for the Amazing Grace Bible Class television program which was broadcast in the Tampa area with the financial assistance and cooperation of many Bay-area congregations. On many occasions Bell Shoals carried the brunt of the financial burden so that the program could continue to be broadcast. Eventually, due to a change of station ownership the program was moved to a less favorable time slot on a less well-known station and broadcasts were finally brought to a halt.

Missionaries and missions which are being supported are: Ron Clayton evangelizing in Hyderabad, India; Louis Gerber conducting a Prison Ministry in South Africa;  Loy Mitchell preaching and caring for congregations in Zimbabwe, Jack Strachan, preaching in Scotland; support for “In Search of The Lord's Way” being broadcast in the Tampa Bay area, and the World Bible School correspondence course ministry which is conducted by our members by mail and on-line.

Some short-term or one-time mission works have also been supported by Bell Shoals. Donations have gone to Trey Reed, Dumas la Fleur, Chris Simmons, Mike Mitchell and Chuck Galloway for mission trips to Guyana, Haiti, India, the Ukraine and Russia. The congregation has, in addition, assisted a radio program in St Louis, a building fund for the Newport Church of Christ in England and the Bible program at York College.

In June 2011 the congregation sent a  team of thirty eight members on a short-term mission to Honduras where it worked with Torch Missions to build homes, distribute food, and conduct medical clinics. Other short-term mission outreaches to Honduras were conducted in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

An exploratory short term mission trip was made to Costa Rica in mid-summer of 2014 with a view to finding prospective sites for future trips.

Benevolent Work

In addition to the Benevolent ministry which provides canned and dry foods and clothing to the local needy by means of weekly distributions, Bell Shoals was involved in disaster relief to the east coast of Florida after the area was devastated by hurricane Andrew in 1992; to Illinois in the aftermath of floods in the area in 1993 and to California when it was struck by an earthquake in 1994; to southern Florida after the hurricanes of 2004, and to the victims of hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When the need arose, the congregation arranged for the purchase, preparation and distribution of food to shut-ins by means of a “meals on wheels” type program. The ministry drew up menus, organized cooks, and worked out distribution routes and drivers to deliver the food. Our "Women In God's Service" ministry, W in G S, responds to the needs of members who need help when they are ill at home. Responding to the needs of those who are hard of hearing, Bell Shoals has trained workers who can communicate in the American Sign language and has its worship services and Bible classes translated for the hearing impaired when needed. The main auditorium where the congregation worships is equipped with FM sound enhancement putting out signals which can be picked up in modern hearing aids or on personal receivers which can be borrowed on request to our AV  ministry.

Saved to Serve

A program of activities which we call “Saved to Serve” is currently being organized where each area of the  congregation's work will be carried out by members directed by Deacons’ Committees under the oversight of the Elders and using guidelines provided by them. This program is constantly reviewed and, when necessary, updated to respond to current needs and make the best use of the talents of members.

The present areas of service are too numerous to mention here but cover: Assemblies, Benevolence, Buildings & Grounds, Education and Evangelism, Fellowship, Family Needs, Missions, and Youth.

In addition there are women actively involved in the Quilters who supply quilts to Mt Dora Children’s Home; and the Bear Makers who provide little stuffed bears to Brandon Regional Hospital to provide comfort to children in its emergency clinic. A number of the congregation’s women are part of the TLC ministry which sends cards to those who are sick and in need of encouragement and comfort.

Leadership and Staff

The Bell Shoals congregation is scripturally organized under the leadership of biblically qualified Elders who are, at present:  Dwight Eppler, Tommy Hale, Rob Hight, Steve Johnson, and Todd Mikula. Under their oversight and working with them are the Deacons who are: Jim Adair, Todd Beggs, Robert Clouse, Clare DeBoef, Ross Fisher, Derek Fonte, Greg Girard, Michael Hagger, Mike Hamm, Jeff Hernandez, Vernon Howell, Ernie Hudson, Roger Jaynes, Adam Key, Cliff Latimore, Brian Miller, Les Rydl,  Gionte Solomon, Gerard Teamer, David Tew, John Walsh, Ray West, and Bobby Williams.

There are three full-time employees on the staff of the congregation: Rex Dutton, our Pulpit Minister; Dwight Eppler, the Family Life Minister who runs the Refuge Counseling Center; and Janea Rydl who is the Receptionist. Steve Johnson is working as the congregation’s Youth Minister with partial support, and Mel Sheasby works part time to create the bulletin and attend to the congregation's accounts.

Vision and Core Values

We are a family of believers focused on worshiping God, sharing Christ, and transforming lives through serving others. Our core values are to be the church which Jesus established and bought with His blood, by being a body dedicated to acting according to His will as expressed in the New Testament. To be the church which nurtures its members, lives the gospel before the world, takes the gospel to the world, and brings as many into Christ as possible. To be Christians by following in the steps of Jesus Christ—obeying His teaching, adopting His attitudes, and imitating His life. To be a church which reaches out to suffering humanity in benevolent works.

Elders’ Mission Statement

As your Elders we will hold fast to God’s faithful Word, watching out for souls of members as those who must give account to God.  We will focus on spiritual matters, building up Christ’s Body in unity and love. We will dedicate ourselves to equip the saints for every good work and to encourage all to develop their talents for God’s service. We will work to challenge all to mature spiritually and develop a living faith.  In all things we will serve with humility, graciously accepting the trust you have invested in us.

Call to The Congregation

We call you to join us, giving yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Together we will reach up to God in faith, seeking his love, grace and mercy.  We will reach in to the family to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the saints, and we will reach out to the lost that they might accept Christ and gain eternal life in heaven.