WHY A NEW CHURCH START? AGAPE’S STORY
I, Matt, cannot speak to why anyone else feels called to start a new church, so I will only express why I feel called to this task. Please allow me to give a bit of helpful context with my own spiritual journey.
Growing up in the United Church of Christ (from now on, UCC), I wasn’t all that passionate about my faith. The single biggest influence that my home church had on me during high school and college was an annual work camp down in West Virginia - an experience that included direct service, lively worship services, community building, and Bible study groups. The West Virginia work camp touched my life so deeply because it was an embodiment of all that I saw as good, true, and beautiful in Christianity. The people at work camp “embodied” a faith that was lived out, a faith that modeled in so many ways the essential teachings of Jesus. As a community, the West Virginia work camp incarnated love to a degree that I had never experienced before.
After graduating college, I spent time in several evangelical Christian communities. These churches were truly welcoming, friendly, and hospitable. The music in worship moved me in new dimensions I had never experienced before. Music in the church was contemporary (which I had never experienced before with my UCC background), yet sung with passion and deep devotion. Each Sunday, church sang its heart out to God.
Theologically, however, I never felt fully at home in these churches. While my heart was opened in many ways in these communities, in other ways I wasn’t able to be fully myself. At these communities, I encountered drastically different theological views on topics such as LGBT rights, the role of women in the church, salvation, God, Jesus, and the like.
When I started seminary, I had a newfound appreciation for the ways that the UCC had been on the forefront of peace and justice. I was inspired by the UCC firsts. I resonated much more with UCC theology. However, my experience of worship in the UCC was very different from worship in Belize. While the communities and people were more open-minded, I did not find the same passion and devotion in worship, music, and the common life of the church. I missed that immensely.
I’ve found that my experience is not unique. It can be summed up in one simple observation- for many people when they enter a church, they feel they have to leave either their mind or their heart at the door. Isn’t that a shame? My vision for Agape is as a place where you don’t need to leave your mind OR your heart at the door.
Serving at New England churches since 2004 has affirmed for me that there is much beauty alive in the church today. At the same time, many older New England churches today are resistant to change. The beauty of a new church start is being able to start fresh without hearing “We’ve never done it that way before.” Many pastors today are excited about new and innovative worship, but often are met with resistance in congregations that have long-standing traditions.
It is fine that churches prefer a variety of worship and music styles. The fact is, however, worship in many mainline churches does not resonate with young people and young adults. As long-standing churches slowly creep along the continuum of change, mainline churches are dying. Every year in Massachusetts, several UCC churches close, with no new churches taking their place. From 2000 to 2010 alone, the UCC as a whole encountered a net loss of 696 congregations and 318,897 members.1
The Progressive Church needs new churches because we need fresh starts. We need a clean slate to create communities of Jesus followers who feel inspired about spiritual communities that speak to them, that they can be excited about co-creating. This is the vision, hope, and prayer for the Agape new church start in Waltham!
1 UCC Center for Analytics, Data, and Research, The United Church of Christ: A Statistical Profile, (United Church of Christ, 2013), pdf p. 2.