Posts Tagged ‘ relevant Church ’

Relevant Reprised: Return to relevant (sic) Church, Part I – Visited on 3/18/12

Since the early weeks of Churchspotting one article in particular has attracted long-term, continuous interest.  At least once a week someone arrives at the blog looking for information on relevant Church, a group visited in Churchspotting’s fourth ever article (available here).  Our last encounter with relevant was all the way back in August of 2011.  This week, more than six months later, we return to see what’s changed.

When Churchspotting first visited relevant Church, the group hadn’t yet been an independent congregation for a full month.    Its senior pastor, Matt McGarity, had only recently separated his operation from River Hills Community Church (visited here).  Mcgarity, still relatively fresh from seminary, worked at the RHCC as a youth pastor and outreach minister; relevant began as an auxiliary program to the RHCC, a deliberately ‘contemporary’ service intended to draw in worshippers turned off by more traditional religious services.

It’s been over six months since McGarity replanted his program as an independent church, renting space each week at Oakridge Middle School.  During our first visit relevant held a single worship service at 10:30 AM each Sunday–the same time slot as its former host, the RHCC.  Now relevant has two services, an early one at 9:15 and a late one at 10:45.  In August the church had between 150 and 200 active congregants; between the roughly 100 attendees at the early service and the 190 at the later service, the church now seems to host between 250 and 300 worshippers—about the same number Rev. McGarity claimed the program drew each week as an auxiliary of the far older RHCC.

The relevant Church volunteer staff seems less prominent six months on.  Gone are the neon ‘event staff’ t-shirts; now they wear black tees emblazoned with the church’s logo across the chest, or simply their street clothes with blue ‘event sticker’ nametags on cords about their necks.

At relevant there are no strict rules of dress; some worshippers arrived today in shorts and sandals, some in collared shirts and khakis.  Its primary attendees still appear to be middle class families from the Lake Wylie area, though some new arrivals did come from the other direction, where lies far less affluent Clover.

The church’s tradition of live, contemporary music remains strong.  The house band’s equipment filled the stage that lines one end of the Oakridge Middle School’s combination cafeteria-auditorium, and its musicians played three sets over the course of the day’s second worship service.  A projector screen hung above and behind them, displaying lyrics to their songs during performances.

For other sections of the worship service the screen served to display biblical quotations, graphics to accompany the sermon, and advertisements for church programs—early in the service it displayed a brief film clip promoting a relevant Church association called ‘life groups.’

Another visual presentation preceded Rev. McGarity’s sermon, the latest in a series called ‘Simple.’  McGarity, called Pastor Matt by the congregation, read the opening verses of the second chapter of the New Testament book of James, in which the author warned early Christians against privileging wealthy members of their churches over the poor and needy.  It rebuked them for showing deference to the wealthy, saying

 1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?”

McGarity’s sermon focused on the first half of this passage.  As was the case in August he delivered his sermon as a series of anecdotes combined with biblical references.  In particular he told stories of times he’d judged others on the basis of clothing, hairstyle or piercings, and warned his flock against the error and danger in doing the same.

Though its congregation’s size has grown over the last six months, the general program at relevant appears unchanged. The church still specializes in creating a nontraditional atmosphere, supported by contemporary music and an informal, casual approach to religious worship.  Later this week Churchspotting will sit down again with Mr. McGarity, to interview him on less immediately visible changes at relevant since our last visit.

The Journey at Crowder’s Creek Elementary School – Visited on 10/23

Months ago Churchspotting visited two churches of Lake Wylie, South Carolina in rapid succession: the elder, established, wealthy and sprawling River Hills Community Church (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-u), and its offshoot relevant (sic) Church (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-r), founded by former River Hills associate pastor Matt McGarity.  During the River Hills visit Kenny Ashley, another of River Hills Community Church’s associate pastors, announced that he was leaving to establish his contemporary Christian service, “The Journey,” as an independent organization.  In this article we visit a service of The Journey, eight weeks into its life as an independent church.

Like its fellow RHCC offshoot relevant Church, The Journey meets each week in an area school–in this case Crowder’s Creek Elementary.  The morning’s congregation gathers in a sort of carpeted gymnasium space with a small stage.  The corridor outside is set with tables of homemade cookies, supermarket pastries, and decanters of coffee for the gathering’s use.  Inside the carpeted floor is covered with over two hundred and fifty chairs, with the stage before them and tables for the service’s sound crew behind.

Like other meetings styled as “contemporary worship services” visited by Churchspotting, The Journey makes much of its focus on live music.  That morning’s performance was a lone singer and guitarist crooning gospel-pop to the soft accompaniment of The Journey’s congregation, somewhere between 180 and 200 souls.  There was a certain shyness to the congregation’s musical participation—only when the singer put the group on the spot and had them sing a verse with only  his guitar to assist did they begin to truly raise their voices in song.

There was an undercurrent of reliance on community throughout the morning’s worship at The Journey.  That day’s offering, when the congregation was prompted to donate money to the church, was turned into a social affair at Mr. Ashley’s insistence.  The offering bowls were set behind the main seating, and congregants were encouraged to greet each other, to hug and introduce themselves on their way.  “You can’t do the journey by yourself,” he said as the service got underway.  “Our job is to connect you with Jesus and one another.”

The morning’s sermon concerned itself with the “the God-Ordained Life,” and Ashley focused on describing what it meant for his congregation to live their lives based on Christian principles.  He emphasized the importance of having and showing love for everyone, even enemies and those who do you harm, and of showing integrity in business and relationships.

Yet he also made a point of saying that living virtuously is not a matter of simply “trying to do better.”  He equated his congregation’s daily spiritual struggle with being adrift in the ocean.  Living by rules and codes was likened to clinging to a life preserver—in Ashley’s description it might keep you afloat, but it ultimately still left you in the water.  Spiritual peace, in his view, came from accepting God’s love—in his allegory such constituted the hand reaching down from the lifeboat, offering to pull those adrift out of the water entirely.

After the service I conducted a brief interview with Kenny Ashley.  Before becoming a pastor Mr. Ashley spent twelve years as a high school athletic coach and chemistry teacher.  For the last five years of that time he ran his school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and eventually he felt it was time to pursue that calling full-time.  After two years at Erskine College and more at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned his degree and became a full-time pastor in 1983, and has served as such ever since.

On his relationship with River Hills Community Church, relevant Church, and the circumstances of The Journey’s departure, Ashley referred to “differences of vision” that precipitated the splits.  In his own words “He (Matt McGarity) wants to reach people, I (Kenny Ashley) want to disciple them after they’re reached.”  Though both relevant and Journey are independent organizations now, Ashley mentioned that all three churches have mission groups working together on a project to prepare Thanksgiving dinners.

In both the interview and preceding sermon Ashley emphasized the importance of personal freedom in his church’s beliefs.  “You’re free to do anything you want on your Journey,” he said, just before the congregation broke up to make their offerings, “so long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s Journey.”  When asked how that stance pertained to modern American Christianity’s hot-button social issues, like homosexuality and abortion, Ashley’s thoughts were concise.  “We love people and tell them the truth as we see it.  I don’t have the option not to love you.  I don’t think God was ever into rules.”

The Journey itself is a loose conglomeration of worshippers without fixed membership.  Ashley himself was resistant to the idea of any sort of premium or advanced memberships in the church, or a fixed register of attendees.

Though it does not have charitable programs of its own, The Journey transfers 5% of each week’s donations to Mayday, a local charitable organization that assists people in immediate, sudden need, such as families who’ve lost homes to accidents or natural disasters, and connects with other organizations for more long-term support.

Finally, on the relationship of Church and State, Ashley said that he didn’t believe God or Thomas Jefferson ever intended a national American church like the Anglican Church of Britain.  He repeated his belief that people ought to be free to live their lives as long as they do not impose their lifestyle on others without consent.