Last night, a waiter in a restaurant asked me what has been a pretty common question: "Why did you guys decide to start a church in the BIble belt?" It's reasonable; there's about a million churches here, and most people have some connection to one of one of them. More than a little bit of ministry difficulty here at Illumine has come because of the power that the "matriarchal church" (the church your mom goes to) has in southern culture.
So why would we do this? Illumine's existed for 2.5 years now, but the question is still relevant, especially because (God-willing) in the very near future we'll be doubling-down on our commitment to doing ministry in Rock Hill by purchasing the Center.
Here's a few reasons.
There are things we offer that aren't offered by other churches. Certainly every church in Rock Hill or York County can say that, but for us it is true in a couple of ways. We are the only church that is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (our national church body) in York County...for now. This connection means that we have two top-of-the-line ministerial education high schools to offer kids. We have one of the best pastoral training programs, which means we can come close to guaranteeing that Illumine will always have a pastor who teaches what the Bible says.
But it's more than just "affiliation" or "denomination" that lets us offer something unique. Illumine is (along with having a super-unique name) is the only church in Rock Hill that emphasizes a discipleship cycle of Worship, Education, and Community Service the way we do, in that we prioritize all three of those methods of being a disciple equally. We show this to be true in a few ways. We don't act like Worship is the most important thing - in fact, for 3 non-consecutive months of the year we replace worship with education. We don't act like Education is more important than Community Service - in fact, for 6 months of each year we bring Community Service to the forefront on Sunday mornings.
We seek to serve the de-churched and the un-churched. Yes, pretty much everyone who grew up around here can claim a church in one way or another. Some people can claim multiple (I went to VBS there, got married there, my mom went there...) That's a cool thing, and it binds our community together in a unique way. There are many, though, who currently don't attend church. Drive in Rock Hill on a Sunday morning and you'll see - the roads are pretty clear. So Illumine people are always talking about how we "make decisions based not on those who have been here the longest, but on those who aren't here yet." It's always going to be part of our DNA to think about what we do in that way.
There are a lot of churches in this county, but there aren't "enough." One of the most encouraging things about starting Illumine is that whenever I (Kent) meet other pastors who serve various congregations in the area they are excited for Illumine, because they realize that the 75,000 residents of Rock Hill aren't all going to be able to come to or be served by just their church. Rock Hill has real, lost, hurting people - and some of them are going to be reached (or already have been!) through Illumine.
New movers need a place to meet people. Rock Hill continues to grow very quickly, especially in this northeast corner of town (where the Center is located.) Illumine helps people connect to their community in very powerful ways - through fellowship at a church that really cares about individuals, through our regular featuring of local organizations so that you can know what's up in your community, and through our third-party and community based events. We were able to host a local power-lifting competition in April that brought in hundreds of people from all over the Charlotte Metro Area and allowed them to connect over something about which they were passionate. Our Mornings with Mommy program usually has 25-30 moms with their children, the majority of whom have moved to Rock Hill in the last 3 years.
Why start a church in the Bible belt? In Charlotte? In York County, SC? In Rock Hill? Mostly, it's because Jesus loved the people in this place so much that he was willing to die for their sake, and he's called all believers to share that with the people around them.
- Pastor Kent Reeder