One (Mainline) Church. Multiple Campuses.

Lots of non-denominational congregations have multiple campuses to the point that they become their own denomination. In the city where I live, examples include Forest Hill Church and Elevation Church. There are four Forest Hill locations in Charlotte, one just over the NC border in SC, and one just outside Charlotte out “in the country.” Elevation has five locations in Charlotte plus additional locations from Florida to Canada. They all share common beliefs about their faith and have lots of pastors, programs, and people.

I am part of a denomination once known as a mainline church in that we are part of the earliest Christian groups to come to what would become the United States starting in the 1600s, helping to form this country. We are the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Disciples of Christ, and the Congregationalists. Our people hailed from northern Europe for the most part and we were mostly White.

Things have changed. Sort of. These days “Mainline Protestant Christians” and “Evangelical Christians” are often considered mutually exclusive although I would call myself a Mainline Protestant Evangelical Christian who is very progressive on some things and kind of conservative on some things. But that’s just me. People of faith are easily pegged but it’s unfair to do so. Most Black Protestants are part of Mainline denominations or denominations that are offshoots although I know lots of Evangelical Black Presbyterians.

But I digress.

I serve 93 congregations in seven counties as a “mid-council leader.” These congregations are small and large, urban and rural, “conservative” and “liberal” and also a mixture of both. Each congregation has it’s own governing board and it’s own budget and it’s own mission and ministry. Like “non-denominational churches” we have a shared set of beliefs based on scripture and historic creeds. We all love Jesus in our own ways – although some of us talk more openly about it than others.

What if we saw these 93 congregations as one Church with 93 campuses?

Seriously. Imagine this. While each congregation had it’s own location and leadership, there would be more of a sense of cross-pollination which – frankly – has been one of the blessings of COVID. During these past two years, I’ve seen:

  • Members of “East Church on the Hill” and “Church with the Red Barn” participate in Zoom Bible Studies and Book Discussion Groups over at “Third Church in the Suburbs.”
  • People worshipping with a variety of different congregations on a given Sunday via live-streaming.
  • Congregations partnering together for special worship events, small groups and youth programs.
  • Lots of pulpit exchanges and guest preachers from the variety of congregations in our Presbytery.

One of the benefits of being A Connectional Church is that we partner together to do what we cannot do as individual congregations. Over the past year, I’ve witnessed a large congregation replace the roof of a small congregation making it possible for that small congregation to return to their sanctuary for Christmas Eve. I’ve seen participants from at least six congregations join together to clear out an historic cemetery. I’ve watched multiple youth groups work together to build a Habitat House. I’ve marveled at the mass collection of supplies for victims of natural disasters and seen multiple congregations join to help new refugees from Afghanistan find homes and jobs.

Ministry is not about making a name for our particular branch of faith or our individual congregations. It’s not about competing with our neighboring congregations. It’s about serving the people God loves. (That would be all people, especially the broken ones.)

Yes, we have different campuses. The particular Church I serve has 93 of them. But all of us are on the same mission: to heal the dispirited, to make disciples, to worship the One who created us.

Imagine if we saw ourselves as One Church.

Image of just a few of the campuses of The Church known as Charlotte Presbytery. Friendly reminder: the church is not a building. We just use buildings as places for The Church to gather.

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