Recently I was contacted by the ministerial team of a fellowship known as The Gathering, and asked to tell their story. Having the opportunity to fellowship with other believers and learning what makes them tick is always a joy, and to hear stories of brokenness, grace, and triumph is invariably edifying. This night was no exception, and I headed back home feeling refreshed.
One of the things that impressed me about this group was their desire to reach out to other fellowships for the purpose of strengthening them, and there was no spirit of competition, no feeling of either insulation or isolation.
By way of demographics, there is a phenomenon occurring in American Christianity that some find disturbing, and to others it is a welcome breeze. It is the growth of the non-denominational church or fellowship. In June of 2015, Christianity Today published a piece written by Ed Stetzer called The Rapid Rise Of Non-Denominational Christianity. Mr. Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research, an evangelical research organization. His article discussed the growth of “non-denoms,” as they are sometimes called, and had the following to say:
“Using a baseline average from 1972–1976, over the last four decades, there has been more than a 400 percent growth in Protestants who identify as nondenominational.”
Stetzer additionally noted in a companion article featured on CNN.com, that from his perspective:
The sky still isn’t falling on American Christianity or evangelicalism. Rather, there is a stunning growth in nondenominational evangelicalism that is reshaping the religious landscape today. More and more churchgoing Christians, when asked about denomination, are saying, “none.” American Christianity is becoming more nondenominational and more evangelical at the same time.
Stetzer believes that very soon non-denominationalism will account for a full third of American Christianity, and it is precisely that trend that brought The Gathering into being.
The Gathering’s leadership team, which consists of Guy and Wanda Fry, Steve and Sherry Heinzleman, and Greg and Pam Kiyak, have all walked with God for decades. They have been active church members, have occupied a number of church government positions, have a solid understanding of God’s Word, and Greg and Pam are seasoned worship leaders. Each of them would tell you that there came a time when they felt strongly led by the Holy Spirit to start a fellowship, and were supernaturally brought together to do so.
I asked them about their vision for The Gathering, and who would be a good fit for that style of fellowship. They replied that their desire was to have it be “a safe place, and a place where people who would not necessarily feel comfortable in a regular church could come.” Collectively they have decades of experience in ministering to people from any number of backgrounds—the homeless, people with substance issues, who are struggling with gender issues, who have been badly hurt by religious abuse, who feel judged and hopeless, or who have felt like “just a number” and not a member.
They all agreed that they had “had it up to here” with religion and legalism, and “just don’t want to be religious.” By contrast, they want The Gathering to be “a fellowship of believers who come together to praise God, and allow the Holy Spirit to come, move, and be in charge.” They do not have a bulletin, and there is no pre-determined order to the service. It was also their desire to have The Gathering be administered by a leadership team, and not just a head minister and an elder board. They feel that approach would make for more accountability, and more closeness all the way around.
“We want to help people go from dead works to a living relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Guy, and they all felt that going through their various struggles with religion had made them stronger. Wanda mentioned that one of the most important things to her was that The Gathering “feels like a family,” and the rest agreed. They wanted people to understand that because of the New Covenant, when God sees you, He sees you in Christ, period.
Greg had some thoughts about the vision of The Gathering, and said: “We are excited about seeing people set free from the legalism that arises from the toxic mixture of Old Covenant Law and the New Covenant of forgiveness. We long to see God’s people moving again in the unconditional (Agape) love and power of the Holy Spirit as ambassadors of His Kingdom. We are reminded in Hebrews 8:13 that ‘By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.’ Our prayer is that all will come to know and experience the true Father heart of God.”
If this describes what you are looking for in a Christian fellowship, then come visit The Gathering. They meet on Sunday mornings at 10 am, and are located at 100 Beaty Street (at the Visitors Center). You can also contact them at 256-230-8080 or 256-874-0090.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner