CHARLOTTE, N.C.—This town has more than 800 churches, but many of them struggle to reach the vast population of twenty- and thirty-something residents. One group seems to be figuring it out, though. On the first and third Tuesdays of the month, more than 400 young adults convene at First United Methodist Church on Tryon Street for CharlotteONE, a citywide ministry to young adults.
“CharlotteONE exists to empower local churches in Charlotte to reach twenty- and thirty-somethings together,” executive director Ross Chapman said. “We do that by facilitating a collaborative and unified gathering that connects people to Christ and the local church.”
It began in 2006, when a group of local pastors talked about the trouble they were having reaching the young adults in their churches. Each church would hold meetings, but they were usually small and a little awkward. So the pastors decided to join forces and form a citywide young adult gathering.
Eight years later CharlotteONE has 50 partner churches. Each meeting features worship and a topical message connected with Scripture.
“Tuesday night gathering with music and message is really the vehicle that we use to get what we want, which is really an opportunity to provide connections back to a local church, to get people to reconnect with Christ, that maybe grew up in church but maybe walked away and now they have questions and they’re alone in a city, they don’t really know anybody,” Chapman said.
Chapman said CharlotteONE aims not only to reach young professionals, but also to connect them with local churches. Because CharlotteONE is meant to complement the local church, not replace it. They don’t offer small groups, pastoral care, or sacraments.
The 50 partner churches include Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others. Instead of tackling an array of doctrinal questions, CharlotteONE focuses primarily on questions like: Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the Bible? Chapman refers to a now-popular phrase that may date back to the early 17th century: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
For attendee Tyler Johnson, denominational diversity attracted him most to CharlotteONE.
“It’s Methodists mixed with Baptists with Church of God mixed with Presbyterians,” Johnson said. “And it’s like all the barriers fall down.” Chapman also hopes to see CharlotteONE better reflect the city’s racial and cultural diversity. He’s reaching out to pastors of African-American and Latino churches to build relationships, and inviting different local bands to play.
CharlotteONE has worked so well that its organizers formed a spin-off ministry called CityONE to help pastors in other cities copy the CharlotteONE design. PhoenixONE in Arizona is three years old, and pastors in Denver and Indianapolis are interested.
On any given Tuesday night gathering in Charlotte, anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the young professionals attending are there for the first time. A group of volunteers park, greet, and build relationships with first-timers.
One recent Tuesday evening, the meeting featured films produced by Silent Images, a non-profit that does photography and film work for other charities. Most of their work is done overseas. But last year, they focused on telling stories of needy people who live in Charlotte.
“(We’re trying) to get them to look beyond themselves and to look up towards God, but also to look out toward the streets and say ‘What can I do besides make a lot of money at the bank?’” said David Johnson, director of Silent One. “And if you mobilize a lot of young adults to do that, you change a city, and that’s why I love C1, because that’s what it does.”
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