Three Churches That Can: Missionally-Focused Sacred Partners

NOTE: We are eager to tell the stories of Christian faith communities who are living into 21st century expressions of church. The following story describes a missionally-focused sacred partnership of three churches.

They were a vocal and enthusiastic group at a Making The Shift Event last Fall. Church Of The Cross (Episcopal) was represented by their lay leadership team, plus some other disciples from their congregation. I could tell by their comments, interaction, and high morale they were from a vitalized congregation. At one point, they told some of their story, influencing me to follow up later. Late this Spring I was able to visit them, observing their missional movement in their community. The following is their story, as distilled from my visit and an interview with Genevieve Alert, Director of Monday School and former Senior Warden (lay leadership team chair).

Three churches, all starting around the same time in their part of our city (Columbia, SC), saw great numerical decline as their community demographics changed. Each declined to the point where survival issues were their focus. Genevieve, a young adult who grew up in Church Of The Cross, says that back in early 2000s they were trying to invigorate their attractional model church; trying to entice others to join them. She says they gained nothing in spite of all their reorganizing; improving their processes and organization. Spiritual and numerical decline was the state of their church, until…

Around 2009, a family group of three children knocked on the fellowship hall door of Christ The King Lutheran Church, across the street from Church Of The Cross. “What are you doing in here? We’ve never been in a church before.” The disciple who opened the door invited these children from a different ethnic background than most of the congregation, in for a tour. Over time, this led to an afterschool program which has transformed into Monday School. Now three churches combine their efforts to run Monday School: Christ The King Lutheran, Church Of The Cross Episcopal, and Trinity Presbyterian. Genevieve serves as Monday School Director, organizing an engaging experience each Monday after school with children in their community.
Now, there are children who have aged out of the program (high schoolers and beyond), who remain involved as Scholars. They are hired to work in the program, learning responsibility and leadership skills. Many of these high schoolers would be unable to travel to another kind of job, given transportation limitations. They enjoy making significant contributions back to Monday School which was transformational for them.

Out of this experience, each of these three churches is shifting perspectives. “Bloom Where You Are Planted,” is a strong theme at Church Of The Cross. Previously they considered moving out of the community while now they are interconnected in their community in many ways. I wish I could communicate to you the enthusiasm for God’s mission I observed at Monday School among the disciples serving and in the interview with Genevieve. Her friends ask her why she and her young family drive all the way across the city to Church Of The Cross now that they live outside that community. “We are partners in giving hope to this next generation of children. These kids just want to be loved; want to matter to somebody. We can be Christ to them.” A driving sense of call and mission pushes Genevieve and Church Of The Cross to pursue this calling. Here are some additional outcomes experienced by this missionally-focused sacred partnership:

• “Three Churches That Can,” (TCTC) is emerging as their way to describe the sacred partnering of these three congregations from different denominations
• Monday School is now an internship site for nursing students from a local college
• Church Of The Cross Sunday School ministry moved from zero children to over twenty
• Church Of The Cross is growing more ethnically diverse as it embraces its community context
• Disciples can look back, recognizing God’s movement among them; preparing them with the fitting gift-mix for this missional engagement
• Reluctant or hesitant disciples in their congregation are being drawn into the experience, stepping out of their comfort zones to engage others unlike them
• This Fall new activities are emerging; Tuesday school, Music program, Community Garden on campus of Church Of The Cross
• Joy and energy are rising in Church Of The Cross

“Summing up, I think what's changed for us is that we are now living out the true definition of a Mission church, whereas before it was merely a title describing us as a small church. I can remember times over the years where we would adopt a family and collect donations, etc., but it didn't carry the magnitude that we currently have at the helm, mainly because our focus resided inward, despite good acts here and there. There's no doubt the Holy Spirit led those children to us and we are forever changed because of it. The increase in collaboration with this one ministry has manifest itself in other initiatives the 3 churches share, such as Family Promise, therefore allowing the TCTC partnership to find success. The ripple effect that the 3 churches have created extends to the greater community indeed.”
-----Genevieve Alert, Director Monday School and Disciple at Church Of The Cross

Thanks be to God for congregations who are following the Holy Spirit’s lead, joining God’s world reclamation project (kingdom of God), combining resources through sacred partnering.

Mark Tidsworth
President, PLA