When Rev. Rich McCullen worked with teenagers at a parachurch organization, he noticed that bringing students to an institutional church was always challenging because there seemed to be a prejudice against those without any religious background.
So, McCullen decided to start his own student service. “We wanted to connect ancient Christian spirituality with a modern approach that felt safe for these kids,” McCullen says.
As the group started meeting, they researched denominations whose values might fit what they were already doing. Eventually, their research led them to the Disciples of Christ, which was the perfect fit, McCullen says, because “we were drawn to the idea that all should be welcome at the table.”
“We discovered the Disciples because we already were Disciples.”
As his group grew, McCullen knew they needed support from a wider community. He contacted the Pacific Southwest region to say, “I think we have a church here.”
The region took McCullen’s church, which he called Missiongathering, under care, and the group was nested in an existing congregation.
Soon, McCullen felt called to open their own space in an urban area. Missiongathering San Diego was born. Launched in 2006, this church plant has been thriving ever since.
Still, the Missiongathering team believed that “God is calling us as a movement to do more,” McCullen said.
While in Charlotte, NC, attending the 2003 General Assembly, McCullen felt called to plant a church there. He spent a few years planning, but soon the Great Recession put those plans on hold.
In 2015, McCullen revisited the idea with North Carolina regional staff, and once again, God stepped in. The same building they’d considered in 2007 was still available for the same price, and a nearby church had dissolved and left a large grant for church planting with Disciples Church Extension Fund. And so Missiongathering Charlotte was born, officially launched in January 2016.
Still, the call to share the Missiongathering vision moved McCullen forward. In the last two years, two new churches were planted, and are in early stages of growth: Missiongathering Issaquah (outside Seattle), and Missiongathering Thornton (outside Denver).
With more than a decade of church planting experience, McCullen believes that the Disciples’ vision is what has made the Missiongathering movement so appealing to people who, “for whatever reason, felt, or were, pushed out of another denomination or church home.”
What people find at Missiongathering churches is often different from their previous experiences in church, McCullen says. These churches provide a “missional-focused, Gospel-centered” community that welcomes everyone to participate.
As McCullen and Missiongathering look towards the future of their movement within the Disciples, they feel tied to the history of the denomination.
“We have an amazing history, and an even better future,” McCullen says. “We should be proud of who we are. We’ve done that quietly, but now it’s time to shout it from the rooftops.”
To support church planters like Rev. McCullen in your region, and across our Church through Hope Partnership’s New Church Ministry, you’re invited to give to the 2018 Pentecost special offering, received in many congregations on May 27.