Pastor Svend Wilbekin says the diversity in New Tampa is one of the things that has helped make Lifesong Church in Tampa Palms successful

It was just a little more than five years ago when Pastor Svend Wilbekin opened the doors at Lifesong Church in Tampa Palms for the first time.

It was so unlikely, he says, that there’s no explanation for it unless God ordained it.

That was November 5, 2016, when Svend was sent from a church in Gainesville called The Rock, where he had served on staff for 20 years as youth pastor, college pastor and young adult pastor. He felt the experience led him to start a new church in New Tampa.

He says most churches these days don’t launch with fewer than 50 people, but his had only nine. And, the really unheard of thing? They started in a building that they already owned.

“God supernaturally blessed us to purchase a building right before we had our first service,” he explains. When Svend tried to find a place to rent, such as a high school, everywhere he looked was already leased. He started looking at what was available to buy and was shocked to find a building for sale that would work for the fledgling church.

That began frantic efforts to get the building ready, in addition to all of the details of putting together the very first service, while Svend’s wife Katy organized a picnic for all the friends and family who were coming to support them on launch day.

“A lot of families in Tampa Palms saw the bounce house and the food,” he says, and learned about the new church in the neighborhood. He says a full-page ad in the Neighborhood News hit mailboxes the day before the first service and, “It was a great way to introduce ourselves to the community.”

Five years later, Lifesong Church is an important part of New Tampa, as it continues to grow and welcome new people into its ministries.

“The vision of our church is to love out loud,” says Pastor Svend. “If you visit, you’ll hear that terminology. Our heart is to love everybody who walks through our doors.”

He says Lifesong members also are “out” loving the community, like through their homeless ministry.

“We noticed that within the homeless community, food is provided, some shelter is provided, and a lot of services, but what wasn’t being provided were relationships,” he explains. “We started going downtown with nothing but ourselves and our time. We’ve been doing that and made great relationships.”

The church offers life groups where people encourage each other, too. There is a group for women and one where men are challenged to be better husbands and fathers. Every year, the church offers a course to help couples strengthen their marriages, overcome obstacles, and live more fulfilling lives with their spouses.

Svend and his wife, Katy, who now live in Meadow Pointe, are parents to three sons, who all grew up in Gainesville.

Their oldest son, Scottie, had a remarkable career playing college basketball at the University of Florida, where he was named SEC Player of the Year in 2014. He was a star player on a team that went undefeated in the SEC and beat perennial powerhouse Kentucky at home to win the SEC championship in a run his dad calls “magical.” Scottie currently plays professional basketball in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Middle son Mitchell played basketball at Wake Forest and currently plays for the Greensboro Swarm, an NBA G League (the NBA’s official minor leage organization) team affiliated with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Wilbekins’ youngest son Andrew will graduate with a Ph.D. degree in Physical Therapy in May from Husson University in Bangor, ME.

“What’s beautiful about that is they’ve all graduated from college and they all love the Lord,” says Svend. “Where they’re at now really blesses us.”

The transition from living in Gainesville, where everyone knew how to pronounce their last name — thanks to their famous son — to the New Tampa area also has been a blessing for Svend and Katy.

“We absolutely love New Tampa,” he says. “It’s the most incredible community. We love so much about it — we love the restaurants, I love the golf courses. It’s very diverse.”

As an interracial couple, the community’s diversity is important to the Wilbekins and a goal for their church is to “build a community of believers that looks like heaven,” Svend says, embracing all ages, nationalities and skin colors.

Sunday Morning Services

Lifesong Church meets Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., and Svend says that’s where the “song” part of the church shines.

“We have anointed musicians and instrumentalists ushering in the presence of God through the use of music,” he explains. “We have a full band with guitars, drums, keyboards and vocalists singing contemporary music.”

He says the Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging seasons he’s ever experienced as a pastor.

“We shifted to an online service, and we’ve grown in that area, which has helped us expand our reach,” he explains. “But now, we have an online community as well as an attending community. It’s been neat to see.”

Melissa Choe and her husband Jacob have been attending Lifesong Church in person for about a year with their daughter Melody.

They’re one of the families that found Lifesong online and watched from home before deciding to attend  in person.

“I really like the community aspect of Lifesong,” says Melissa. “Everyone is very welcoming and there are opportunities to get plugged in and get involved.”

While Melissa and her husband serve on Lifesong’s Worship Team, her daughter loves Lifesong Kids.

“She’s always saying, ‘Can I go to my church?’ and ‘I love my church,’” says Katy. “I love that (children’s director) Julie (Nash) is really mindful of not making it your parents’ church. They focus on teaching the children about the Bible, but in a fun and appropriate way.”

Svend says Julie offers a hands-on and age-appropriate version of church for kids. “It’s enjoyable, and they come away with the knowledge of God’s word in a practical manner,” he says.

Svend graduated the from University of Florida with a degree in political science. He went through a mentoring program at The Rock under the leadership of Pastor George Brantley to be trained and equipped as a pastor.

Of the experience of planting a church, he says, “It was harder than I thought, and more rewarding than I thought it would be. Seeing people become a community has really been a priceless and beautiful moment, and such a confirmation of what God put in my heart six years ago.”

Lifesong Church hosts its weekly service on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., including a special Christmas Service on Sunday, December 19. The church is located at 6460 Tampa Palms Blvd., near Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club and Tampa Palms Elementary. For more information, visit

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