A casual Sunday evening gathering on King Street in Autumn 2013 — with about five people in attendance who had drifted away from traditional church — has now become a weekly gathering known as King Street Church.
As a network of small worship gatherings focused on bringing people into Christian community, King Street Church is people who have never experienced it before or have grown cold to conventional styles of worship, said Pastor Luke Edwards.
That’s why he meets people where they are in life — without condemnation, judgment or expectation.
As the newest worshipping community of Boone United Methodist Church, KSC launched with church planting support from the Methodist Church, said BUMC pastor, Jason Byassee.
The idea for KSC emerged from a conversation between Edwards and Byassee, his pastor, in the spring of 2013.
Even before that conversation, Edwards said, he had been thinking about “what it would look like” to start a church service — for those that thought church wasn’t for them, he said.
“Pastor Jason asked me if I would be interested in starting a new worship service in downtown Boone,” he said. “At the time, I was the missions coordinator at Boone UMC and was already spending a great deal of my time serving those outside of the church.”
Edwards replied that he was interested, but he didn’t want it to look like other churches in Boone.
“Boone has many great churches and doesn’t need another church that looks like all the rest,” Edwards said. “It seemed to me that most church plants say they want to bring new people into the church, but then they start a service that looks the same as every other one around.”
As he started “dreaming” about what a new service in downtown Boone would look like,” Edwards said, a friend referred him to a woman named Elizabeth Reese.
“Elizabeth had been coming to Boone UMC sporadically for a few months and had an incredible love for downtown Boone and the people who spend their time there,” Edwards said. “She is one of those ladies who knows everyone and can easily be interrupted (at the local coffee shop) no less than 10 times in a half hour. I shared my ideas with Elizabeth and she was super excited.”
As it turned out, Reese told Edwards that she had been praying “for years” about starting some kind of Christian community in downtown Boone.
The duo combined forces, Edwards said, and started having cookouts once a month during the summer at various houses downtown.
After a few months, the cookouts transitioned to weekly breakfasts on Sunday mornings.
“As we sat together and ate, the conversation began shifting toward faith and spirituality,” Edwards said. “After a few months, we decided to gather on Sunday evenings for prayer and discussions about a Bible passage.”
The small Sunday evening gatherings, begun that fall, quickly began to experience growth pains.
“I asked the regulars how they wanted to grow the gathering — would it keep growing and would we eventually have 50 people gathering for a service?” said Edwards. “I didn’t know, but several of my folks said that they would stop coming if it got much bigger.”
They liked it because of the small, intimate atmosphere that allowed for greater participation, honesty and vulnerability, he said. “So I started looking for alternative models of church that maintained small gatherings.”
Finding “house church networks,” Edwards said, “seemed like a great option for KSC.”
In August 2014, KSC launched a second gathering — a group composed of college students, which meets on Tuesday nights in Edwards’ living room, a short walk from downtown Boone.
Soon afterward, Edwards and one of his Sunday night regular attendees, started going into the county detention center on Wednesday mornings.
“We are now looking at launching three more gatherings,” he said, one of which will be for single moms, led by a single mom and local small business owner.”
Another one, Edwards said, will be a gathering called Death Café, which will give people an opportunity to share their experiences with death, grief, and mourning.
“We have also begun a group that will be doing a service project once a month,” he said.
“These small gatherings are bringing lots of people into Christian community that have either never experienced it or had thought they were done with it,” Edwards said. “I’ve realized that there is a great deal of people who are intimidated by larger gatherings, especially ones in a big church building. These small gatherings have the ability to bring church to the places where people are comfortable gathering.”
Church doesn’t have to be an hour-long service with three songs, a sermon and an offering in a fancy building, Edwards said. “Church is a group of people that gathers to worship God, builds each other up and serves the world. We can do that at a house — or a bar — or anywhere.”
Additionally, Edwards said, church doesn’t have to be reserved for people with their lives neatly put together.
“From the beginning we have been aiming to start a church that looks like the banquet feast in Luke 14:15-23,” he said. “We want our church to be a place where people who don’t have it together can encounter Jesus.”
Some of the folks at KSC are “solid Christians,” Edwards said. “But a lot of them aren’t sure, and that’s OK with us. When we gather together around scripture, God transforms all of us, drawing us closer to Him every time. We have quite an eclectic group of people that make up King Street Church, most of whom you wouldn’t expect to see in church. It’s a beautiful picture of the party we have to look forward to someday in the coming Kingdom.”
Fifty people showed up for the church’s Christmas gathering — meeting around the baby grand piano and singing hymns from the Methodist Hymnals borrowed from Boone UMC and celebrating the birth of Christ.
“It wasn’t just young adults either, we had middle-aged folks, and we even celebrated the 94th birthday of one gentleman from Boone UMC who came,” he said. “Most who came weren’t planning on attending a Christmas service. We sang a dozen hymns and concluded with a candlelight version of ‘Silent Night.’ One young woman, who left the church over a decade ago, told me that she could have sung ‘Silent Night’ all night. That’s what KSC is all about.”
One of the “enigmas of King Street Church,” Edwards said, “is that we have denominational ties.”
“Most of the church planting movements in house churches and other small gatherings are non-denominational,” he acknowledged, “but King Street Church exists because of the support of the United Methodist Church.”
“A lot of church folks think people outside the church are scared of denominations,” Edwards said. “I disagree, I think folks outside the church are reluctant to agree with everything a denomination stands for. In King Street Church, there isn’t pressure to become Methodist, we just want people to meet Jesus.”
As the church pastor, Edwards brings United Methodist theology to the table, and often, folks love it, he said. “But sometimes they disagree and it’s OK. We make each other better.”
According to Edwards, the United Methodist Church, alongside every other major denomination, is in a decline in the United States.
“We need to respond by taking some risks in the way we do church,” he said. “There will be fewer and fewer traditional churches that can support expensive buildings and well-paid clergy in the coming years. Imagine if the United Methodist Church shifted its focus and resources from maintenance to innovation.”
One thing Edwards said that he has noticed in reading books about church planting is that United Methodists are mentioned in the history section.
“John Wesley’s contagious movement of small groups took England by storm in the 1700s,” he said. “Yet, when you get to the section about the future, Methodists are nowhere to be found. I want to see that change. We have to find ways to worship Christ as a church that relates to people in our changing society. I think small gatherings are a piece of that puzzle and I’m excited to be a part of a church that takes risks to reach the people that God so desperately loves.”