Florida Churches Flourish Under Cross-Denominational Merger
By Jonelle Frazier
Every church has a unique backstory. Some started in peoples’ homes, some started as outreaches to the homeless, and some grew out of larger churches. And then there’s TBA Church. TBA stands for Trusting, Believing, and Acting, and that’s exactly what this church did when it came together from separate churches that belonged to two different denominations: Epic Church, from the Church of God, and Church of the Highlands, from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Two different churches, from two different denominations, with two different leaders came together to further their one mission. “I think I would say the one lesson we learned through the whole thing was to trust God more than anything or anyone else,”said Pastor Bryan Legg.
During an extended remodel of Epic’s auditorium in 2008, the Epic congregation was invited to worship with Church of the Highlands at the local high school. In short, “Our people all loved the experience and suggested we should do that all the time,” said Legg.
Legg said that their paths merged at the perfect time, and every door was opened by God. “Church of the Highlands owned the property that we currently worship on, but couldn’t afford to build. Epic had a fair amount of equity in our building and property, but was basically landlocked and had limited growth space. At the time of the merger, we had an accumulated debt of nearly $1 million that made it difficult to do ministry in the community like we felt God calling us to do. We quickly agreed to sell the Epic property and use the money to build a similarly sized building on Church of the Highlands’ property (bigger, with room to expand) to start fresh.”
Even their leadership combined with relative ease. Because Epic Church’s lead pastor was called to Texas before the merger, Pastor Legg was the only pastoral representative from Epic. Together with the leadership from Church of the Highlands, TBA Church formed a diverse and expansive leadership team.
Pastor Legg explained their system of shared leadership between three lead pastors: Pastor Brian Stiverson, who serves as the visionary; Pastor Dave Shive, who serves as the strategist; all while he focuses on implementation. “We share the teaching load on Sunday mornings, along with a couple of lay pastors ordained along the way, so there is a fair amount of variety in our speaking each week.”
Neither church was absorbed by the other. “We literally started a new church as we merged. It was not a takeover by either church…it was the planting of a new church from [two] fairly healthy churches. I think that “re-planting” helped us to redevelop a focused vision and stop to hear clearly from God what he wanted to accomplish in the community,” said Legg.
After combining, their church grew to even larger numbers. “It has been an exciting journey with ups and downs. We’ve had as many as 700 in regular attendance at one point—significant growth from a combined attendance of about 450 when we merged. We currently are running between 500 and 600 on any given Sunday but, even as we’ve lost a few in attendance, God has increased our giving and allowed more opportunities for spiritual growth and leadership development,” said Legg.
Their growth has also expanded their ability to do ministry in the surrounding area, as well as in the world abroad. “It led us to ministry in Highland City specifically, and has now started an amazing relationship with Heart to Honduras and our sister church in El Zapote,” said Legg, “In fact, we have twenty-three men traveling to Honduras in a few months to help launch a new men’s ministry there through Heart to Honduras!” Back in Highland City, the church has focused on running a food pantry, an AA group, and a homework group for elementary school students in a house the congregation pitched in to pay for.
As with every other aspect of their ministry, TBA Church’s steps were guided in the purchase of this house. “We tried to buy the house for over a year, but could never negotiate the right price. Finally, they came into our range…We prayed about it with our leadership, asked them to commit to putting up the down payment (which they did, and more), and then went to our church family with a very bold challenge to raise $80,000 in one week to be able to buy the house. When we collected the offering the following week for the house, we had over $90,000 in that one offering, and as other gifts trickled in across the next two weeks, we ended up raising nearly $120,000 total, allowing money for repairs and starting new ministry,” said Legg.
TBA Church is continually going through change, but denominational differences fade because Jesus is the subject. The congregation is ready and willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in their community—even while the path they are called to follow is unusual.
Jonelle Frazier is a communication intern for Church of God Ministries from Austin, Texas. She is currently studying English and public relations at Anderson University. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.