December | 1001 Worshiping Communities
A Presbyterian congregation in Tennessee discerns God’s call to support a new storefront worshiping community, breathing life into both.
By Paul Seebeck
Keith Gunter’s ministry in Hendersonville, Tennessee, began with a jarring realization. In the process of being hired by First Presbyterian Church in Nashville to start a new worshiping community, a member of the nominating committee said, “Tell us about your non-Christian friends.”
Convicted, Gunter realized he didn’t have any. “Like a good missionary, they wanted me to simply live with people in Hendersonville [25 miles north of Nashville] to see how God was at work,” he says. “To stop, listen, and name the grace already there.”
Gunter spent his first six months living in Hendersonville, meeting people and becoming part of the community. “What are your needs? What can I do? How can I volunteer?” he’d ask.
Gunter began to tell them about the church he hoped to start. “You don’t have to be a part of it,” he’d say, “but I still want to know how can we be a part your life here.”
Gunter says people were bewildered at first. “They kept waiting for an agenda, the next pitch.”
At the same time, Gunter was seeking to learn as much about First Presbyterian Church as possible. He learned of its history of planting new churches. Up until about 50 years ago, it had an active record of being a mission church. That commitment petered out, but now First Presbyterian was seeking to renew that legacy.
“Historically, we have seen our backyard as a mission field,” says ruling elder Steve Douse, who was serving as First’s new church development chair when Gunter was hired. “It’s not a lot different from any other mission field in the world.”
By the fall of 2012, Gunter began to meet with a small group of folks in his home, along with his wife, Amy, and their three children. By the spring of 2013, they were bursting at the seams and decided to move their worship services into a storefront in Hendersonville.
More than 30 adults and 10 children join them regularly for worship, and more than 60 people consider themselves part of the community (New Creation Church).
“I’m having so much fun,” says Gunter. “I have tons of non-Christian friends now. Some want to know our Lord; others don’t want to be a part of it yet. Most of them love that Jesus cared for the poor, that he loved and served his community.”
That is what has been attractive to the people in Hendersonville, Gunter says. “Doing the mission work of Jesus is how we have made our mark in this community. We hold to the idea that we live the gospel by serving in ways of justice and are clear about the relationship to Christ that goes along with that.”
WATCH ministry in action
- To see a video highlighting New Creation’s mission work and other video stories about the 1001 movement—of making disciples, changing lives, and transforming the church and world—go to youtube.com/1001NewWorshiping.
These videos are directed and produced by Marshall Nord, who has an MDiv and a master of theology in preaching. Nord is an ordained media evangelist at Reverence Pictures Media, revpicts.org, a validated ministry within the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. For Nord, videos like these give him the opportunity to draw others into deep communion with God and each other—to probe the mysteries of grace together. Nord tries to tell stories in a way that evangelizes believers as well as nonbelievers. “We [sometimes] forget and need to be reminded of the power of God’s grace and what the Holy Spirit is doing in our world and communities,” he says. “Narrative and documentary storytelling is a powerful communication tool.”
- If you are part of a new worshiping community or know of one in your area, please register it at OneThousandOne.org. This website is a great place for innovative people to connect with and support each other. Who knows how your story may inspire someone else to try a new thing? Registering is simple—just click “Register” at the top of the screen.
- Through Evangelism and Church Growth ministries, Mission Program Grants provided first- and second-level New Church Grants to the Middle Eastern Presbyterian Fellowship totaling $50,000. The most recent was in October 2012. To apply for a grant or help support a grant with a donation, go to pcusa.org/missionprogramgrants.