FLEMING ISLAND – A mega-church building left vacant since 2011 will soon have new life as it becomes the sixth campus for a growing Jacksonville church.
In May, current Clay County residents who travel to Jacksonville to attend service at the Church of Eleven22 will worship at 4459 U.S. Highway 17, site of the former Berean Baptist Church. The former Baptist church closed after a videotape was presented to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in which former co-pastor Greg Neal secretly videoed women in 2001 as they undressed to their bras and slips in the pastor’s office.
Church of Eleven22 Lead Pastor Joby Martin said the church recently had 11,500 worshippers at its five locations and is “pretty much out of room.” He said the new Clay venue will serve some 600 families who already worship at its Jacksonville sites.
“In John Chapter 1, it says, ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and the message interpretation of the Bible [Eugene Peterson] said the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood so we believe that the gospel is supposed to move into the neighborhood,” Martin said.
The Clay County Property Appraiser’s Office reports that the property has a taxable value of $2.93 million and church officials said they plan to invest $4 million into the location.
Eleven22 started as a weekly worship gathering in 2008 under Martin at Beach Church in Jacksonville with the goal of reaching what they call the “lost generation,” or the generation of the unchurched and de-churched who range from age 18-to-35.
Beach Church’s pastor, Jerry Sweat, asked Martin to lead this weekly gathering, which Martin did on Sundays at 11:22 a.m. This gathering continued to grow until 2011 when Sweat challenged Martin to become the lead pastor of a church and expressed his interest in launching a new church. It was in that moment that the Church of Eleven22 was born.
The church grew to have more than 11,000 in attendance weekly. Despite that growth, Martin hasn’t forgotten its humble beginnings.
“Eleven22 was just what time the first service started, and we scoured the Bible and found a verse, Mark 11:22 that says, ‘Jesus answered, have faith in God,’ but really, it was not like a super strategic name,” Martin laughed. “We had no intention of becoming a church. This guy that owned a skate shop got saved and started making bumper stickers that said Eleven22 and just started handing them out all over the place and it just stuck. We were branded accidentally.”
Eleven22 isn’t coming to Clay County to lure parishioners from other churches. Martin said the church focuses on discovering a relationship with Jesus for those who have never had one, or those who turned away from it, and deepening that relationship for those that already know Him.
“We are a movement for all people to discover and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ so no matter where you are on that spectrum, all means all,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of folks that have had bad experiences at churches and they seem to find a home at Eleven22. There’s also a lot of people that don’t know the language of church and what church is about, if you will.
“In Acts Chapter 15, James, brother of Jesus, says, ‘why would we make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to the Lord?’ and they were talking about Jewish rules and regulations,” Martin said. “But I think that the same thing could be said here [with church] and so we chose trying to make it not difficult for what Jesus has made easy. Everybody’s welcome to the table.”
Martin describes Eleven22 as a no-nonsense kind of church, but says he tries to not take himself too seriously.
“We are a Bible-teaching, gospel-centered no-nonsense kind of church and on that same hand, I don’t take myself too seriously,” Martin said. “We have no problem laughing and having a good time, but we take God and His Word very, very seriously.”
Church services will be video streamed into the Fleming Island sanctuary from the original location at Beach and San Pablo in Jacksonville. Pastor Todd Hickox will serve as the Fleming Island Campus Pastor.
Hickox has been the associate campus minister at the Mandarin campus since May, although his tenure goes back as far as 2011 when he became a youth pastor for a Westside church. While Martin will be the man behind the main sermon, attendees can expect Hickox to host the welcome, lead prayer time, lead benediction and virtually everything else that Martin isn’t doing via on the video stream.
“As our church continues to grow, Pastor Joby is just one man who provides the teaching, but he can’t obviously pastor a church that continues to be a multi-site and grow to 11,000 plus people,” Hickox said. “On our campuses, we have campus pastors and campus staff who shepherd the flock, who equip the saints for the work of ministry, and I will be leading that team there [Fleming Island] that does that.”
Hickox said that there will be some occasional weekends that he will be preaching at the campus but that on most weekends, Martin will preach.
The building behind the main building – which once housed a school led by Berean Baptist Church – will be transformed in a community center, of sorts. While no specific plan is in place, the church has been speaking to local organizations to determine what they can do with the space.
When this campus opens in Fleming Island, attendees can expect to see Hickox in person, Martin via stream, live music and more every Sunday at 9 a.m. and of course, 11:22 a.m. Martin said there are plans for other services on other days if the potential growth demands it.