Bringing the Community Back to Church
Despite a roundabout church-planting journey, Renewing Life Church has a straightforward goal: ministering to the community.
Switching gears partway through a planning process can be a deal breaker. But for a recent RCA church plant, collaboration between a persistent pastor and a supportive RCA congregation helped the pieces fall into place.
The new church is Renewing Life Church and Empowerment Center in Ferguson, Missouri—yes, that Ferguson. This urban, ethnically diverse congregation launched in August 2018 as a satellite campus of Christ’s Church (RCA) in nearby St. Peters, Missouri.
Fifty or more worshipers gather on Sunday mornings at a rented commercial space a few blocks from city hall. Senior pastor T. Darnell “Terry” Tyson’s goal is for the church to serve and reflect Ferguson’s diverse community, which is two-thirds African American. The congregation’s leadership team is close to a match for the demographics of the small city ten miles northwest of St. Louis.
“One of my passions is to bring the community back to church,” Tyson says.
“We live in a generation—across the board, not just in the African American community—where according to the Barna Group, 80 percent of Christians who believe that the Bible is the Word of God don’t even read it. That is staggering to me, that illiteracy in the Christian world. I want to bridge that gap. I think that everyday Christians should have a seminarian’s education.”
Tyson started an evening Bible study at Renewing Life a few weeks after its launch service. His other ministries include mentoring for recovering substance abusers at facilities in the area.
He’s new to the RCA but has been a lay preacher since 2004 while working in the mortgage industry. Three years ago, when he was renting a church in St. Louis one Friday night a month to hold nondenominational services, an RCA staffer recruited him for a three-year pilot program to lay solid groundwork for new, fully commissioned urban RCA churches.
After two years, though, the denomination returned to its traditional church-planting process with the classis in a leading role. The program Tyson was involved in ended.
That’s when his persistence really kicked in. “My team and I infused ourselves to become part of the local church, to work within the RCA,” he says.
Tyson and members of his leadership team began driving half an hour to St. Peters to worship at Christ’s Church. He became a member, then an elder. Others on the leadership team joined and became deacons. Christ’s Church pastors helped Tyson navigate denominational channels to bring his two years of planning to fruition, and the congregation considered it a blessing to welcome half a dozen African Americans into fellowship, says Stephen Schwander, Christ’s Church’s pastor at large.
Members of Christ’s Church helped renovate the rented facility in Ferguson, and Schwander now is pastor at large for both congregations.
Tyson, who is not ordained, continues to work with RCA staff to fine-tune his status and congregational plan, and he meets bi-weekly with Christ’s Church pastors. The congregations collaborate on events such as a joint men’s retreat. And most Sundays, a few folks from the St. Peters congregation drive to Ferguson to worship at Renewing Life Church.
When Americans hear “Ferguson,” their thoughts go to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American shot by a Ferguson police officer. Tyson found reporting on the incident to be accurate, but he thinks the media blew the aftermath out of proportion. “Yes, there’s always been some racial profiling,” he says, “but for the most part, everyone gets along.”
“Ferguson will always be a flashpoint because it’s now symbolic,” Schwander says. “But the church’s purpose is not to be political. It’s really just to minister to the community.”