These four exciting churches are different from one another, but one notices some key ideas that they share.
1) Each church is united behind an idea of their mission that is biblical and inspiring.
2) They do not stay within their walls, but make serving and loving their wider community a key part of their identity and purpose.
3) They make reaching children and youth among their highest priorities for leadership and resources.
Connection Church was planted in 2011 as a partnership between North Carolina East and North Carolina West Districts. Serving the Thomasville and High Point, N.C. area, it has begun well, and growth has been steady with attendance now regularly topping 550, with a high of 900 at Easter. The lead pastor is Rev. Scott and Dacia (Emery) Newton. Prior to his call to the ministry Scott had been making a living as a professional golfer. He attended the Charlotte Wesleyan youth convention in 2003 as an adult sponsor. God met him there and changed his life. As a result, he has been pastoring churches since 2005.
The mission of Connection Church is simple and powerful: “We are vessels of the Holy Spirit being used to set people free.” According to Scott, there are four ministry essentials, and everything they do is designed to strengthen these essentials:
- Outreach—flows through everything
- Worship—people feel welcome and loved, even in the parking lot
- Next generation—priority on children from birth through high school
- Small groups—it is here where powerful connections for life take place
The target of the church is young people. That is apparent from the very youth-oriented Christian music used in worship. At Connection Church, the older, more established Christians may not personally prefer this style, but they support it. They get joy from seeing their children and grandchildren and other young people experience life-change.
Small groups are not closed. They are “almost required” to get out and serve others. The principle is Up-In-Out: Up to God, In for spiritual growth, and Out to serve in the community. They pack food bags for needy kids to take home from school on otherwise hungry weekends. They work in a recovery house. They hold cookouts, inviting new people that they can include in the circle of love in their group. The small groups don’t just meet; they do life together. Over half of the congregation is engaged in regular serving of some kind.
Each church is united behind an idea of their mission that is biblical and inspiring.
Connection Church is intentionally generous— over 25 percent of income is given away. But they find they can’t out-give God. He is entrusting people and resources with the church. In the last year there were 138 first-time salvations and 134 baptisms. They have been meeting in a school. But they are breaking ground in August on a new 36-acre campus, and with God’s help they hope to move into a paid-for facility in 2015.
Scott is quick to say, “This is not me. This whole church—staff and volunteers—has united behind a God-given vision. God is doing this. We are constantly adapting to try to keep up with what he is doing!
Bagley Swamp Wesleyan Church is a colorful name. It was constructed on some donated swamp land 100 years ago. The church is located in Hertford, N.C., a town of about 3,000 people in the northeast corner of the state (NCE District). In most of its history the little church served a group of 50-70 people.
Rev. James and Amy Spaugh went there to pastor the church fifteen years ago, and they stayed. At first they just had a few workers, who had been overworked. So they decided to try to do fewer things, but do them well. Everyone agreed to emphasize a solid ministry for children on Sunday mornings. They developed a more accepting atmosphere for teens of different backgrounds in their youth group, and contributed to racial reconciliation in the community.
Bagley Swamp’s mission is: “Connecting people with God and each other, and serving both.” The church gradually began to do more things for the community. Last year in July, seventy volunteers from the church gave 700 hours of service in one week, painting school classrooms, doing renovations for people’s homes, etc. In the spring when there was tornado damage, the official word was, “If you need help, call Bagley Swamp Wesleyan Church.” The church provided food to many people and even housing for a displaced family. They love to build relationships by serving. This gives natural opportunities to speak into lives about Jesus Christ.
Today, Bagley Swamp’s attendance of sixty in the youth group is about as large as the whole church used to be, and about a third of these are minorities. On Sunday mornings they are seeing well over two hundred people in church and they had nearly three hundred on Easter. That beat their record attendance by about a hundred. Pastor Spaugh has had offers to be a candidate at larger churches, but he has never felt released by God from Bagley Swamp. He believes their best days are ahead.
On March 2, 2014, they moved into their totally new and larger church a few hundred yards down the road on a new 25-acre campus. The old church is now used for student ministries. James is eager to have the whole town see the new building as theirs, and the church constantly invites others to hold events there. He said, “We don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘That’s a wonderful building you have built for yourselves, there.’” Even a hundred-year-old declining church can get new life.
Vintage Church is a five-year-old church plant in Randleman, N.C. (NCE District). It is pastored by Rev. Matthew and Ashley Smith. Matthew is a Southern Wesleyan graduate who grew up in a Wesleyan parsonage. He had about eight years’ experience on staff at other churches before he took the challenge of planting a new church.
The mission of Vintage Church is to “inspire people to live and love like Jesus.” From the very first Sunday any new person attends the church, they hear about the mission. Matthew is deeply committed to Wesleyan holiness, but believes that some churches fail to emphasize the “serving and loving side of holiness.” Matthew is strongly influenced by the book of Acts and seeks to capture the best things about the early church and put them into practice at Vintage Church. Some of those values include personal sacrifice, prayer, a deep commitment to taking care of one another, being Spirit-led, a boldness to speak about salvation, and an apostolic vision.
Mission: to live and love like Jesus
Randleman is a community of about 3,500 people that has a low average income and Matthew noted that too many people seemed to have a lowered expectation for themselves and their families. There are a lot of broken people and many unreached people. As a starting point, people have practical needs that can be addressed, so the church provides things like a free clothing store, food backpacks, Thanksgiving meals, etc.
An original group of twelve families that launched Vintage Church with Matthew and Ashley has grown to several hundred people. Since Easter, 2014 they have averaged about 500. The middle school has been their meeting place since 2012, which has been good since so much of their service in the community is to and through the schools. At first they developed the reputation of being the “youth church” because their music is very modern and the volume is up. Often, the first person they reach in a family is a teenager, then families follow when they see the transformed lives.
The church has been praying about a potential move to a main corner of the town into a large facility that can be remodeled. Having their own facility can save hundreds of hours of volunteer time every month that is currently spent setting up and tearing down their church services in the school. Matthew sees the importance of freeing up many of their key volunteers to engage in more outreach ministry. What he is most passionate about is seeing people fall in love with Jesus Christ and his church. Already God is transforming lives and beginning to give greater hope to a whole community.
Wendover Hills Wesleyan Church in Greensboro (NCW District) was a 10-year-old church plant in the west district that had fallen on hard times. By January 2011, when Rev. Tom and Sherri (Bickert) Raven arrived, there was a committed core of about forty people left.
Tom was a seminary graduate with ministry experience and he was also a professional baseball coach. He had been coaching and teaching at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., when God prodded him to return to pastoral ministry. The folks at Wendover Hills liked the idea of a pastor with a coaching style.
There are many people in a Bible-belt state like North Carolina who have some prior church experience but have been de-churched. Many have been wounded by life and are trying to recover from something. Wendover Hills Church sees its mission clearly: “Helping one more person find their way back to God.”
At Wendover Hills, Tom seeks to empower God’s people to do ministry that they feel called to do. This results in some creative ministries. For example, “Pierced Ministries” is a recovery center, a home for men. Members of Wendover Hills felt led to start it up and Tom got behind it. Other members offered their time and finances to help. Men in recovery now are paired with men in the church for mentoring.
Another example is a store which recycles and sells used building supplies. It turns a modest profit, but then uses that to support a “free” store that helps needy people in a variety of ways. These ministries don’t have to be owned by the church, but the church can encourage and assist them.
This year, the church’s theme is “Outward.” Social media are used for sharing photos of their members wearing “Outward” T-shirts and serving others. On “service Saturdays” they mobilize, team up, and help people in practical ways.
All of this service and loving their community is not primarily a growth strategy. It is simply a way of witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ in the context of doing service to which they feel called. But the joy of serving, the fellowship, and the new people that are touched also tend to bring growth. In just a couple years, they have quadrupled from 40 to an average of 160, with a high Sunday of 232 on Easter. More importantly, lives are being transformed and made new.
We are grateful for the leadership of district superintendents Rev. Jerry Lumston (NCW) and Rev. Dan LeRoy (NCE). They have the role of developing and encouraging these pastors and churches in their quest to see lives, churches, and communities transformed by the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ!