"This Is God's Church!"
A summary of the History of Gaston Community Church
By Church Planter and Pastor Mark B. Tankersley
There was a man who visited our church when it was a mission church and exclaimed on his first day with us, “This is God’s Church!” Maybe this young man said that at every church he visited, but for us it captured what we have always believed -- that God assembled us together and made it clear that this was His church. It was God’s idea, and He is the one who planned the course of events. How did God do it? There are various practical measures that God used. First, in the late 1990’s during the time of Pastors John Carson and Associate Pastor Rob Patrick, First ARP of church of Gastonia made a commitment to the ARP denominational church planting campaign fund with a donation of fifty thousand dollars, with a caveat that if First ARP planted a church someday, that she could access the donated funds for that church plant. Over the course of the years, various ideas were considered about church planting by First ARP.
In June of 2004 at First ARP in Gastonia, in some vision-casting and brainstorming meetings of some Elders and Pastor Eddie Spencer and Associate Pastor Mark Tankersley, Pastor Tankersley wrote down that we should consider planting daughter churches in the north, south, east, and west of the downtown church. Other meetings for developing new ideas for First ARP continued. In the meantime, First ARP church began to grow substantially between 2005-2007. Most of that growth came from some evangelical believers who were migrating to First ARP from First Presbyterian (PCUSA). This transfer growth to First ARP was extremely significant for the eventual origination of what became a satellite worship service of First ARP, because it was that group that originated out of First Presbyterian (PCUSA), and primarily out of the former early worship service of that congregation that became the primary core group of our church. Many of them had just joined First ARP, some of them had not.
The Session of First ARP held a meeting with the Director of Outreach North America, Alan Avera, to think through the process of planting a daughter church. Pastor Spencer proposed the idea of having a third worship service of First ARP, held off campus to see if a church mission could be formed from a worship service gathering. Pastor Spencer gathered some interested people and met on Wednesday nights in 2007 and discussed ideas of forming a worship service and putting together various set up teams. A budget was made and approved by the Session of First ARP that enabled the purchasing of Music equipment and paying the Music Director and a nursery worker and children’s ministry director. A satellite worship service with ministry teams was formed, hiring Andy Holland, the former music leader of the First Presbyterian, PCUSA morning worship.
The original praise team was comprised of Andy Holland, Music Director; David Jennings, keyboardist; Brom Sargent, bass guitar; John Cashatt, drummer; and Mitch Lewis, lead guitarist. Vocalists were Jeanne Allf, Norma Smith, Linda Older, Jeannette Kirkham, Lydia Sargent, Deric Smyre, Mark Davis, and Dave Alenduff. Several of the First ARP staff and volunteers helped in having a children’s ministry during the worship service as well, with primary and ongoing leadership provided by Debbie Hobson in the nursery. Worship services began in March of 2008, being held at Gaston Day School in the upper dining room. Pastor Mark Tankersley began preaching at the satellite worship service in April of 2008 with the goal of trying to see if this worship service gathering could eventually become a mission church. During that summer (2008) Pastor Tankersley and his wife Jan were approved by the Outreach North America Assessment Center to be church planters. The satellite worship service meeting at Gaston Day School then became declared as a mission of First Presbytery in the ARP denomination in the Fall of 2008 with Pastor Tankersley being called as the Church Planter, and the provisional Session being made up of three Elders of First ARP Church (David Smith, Ellis Fischer, and Ernie Summey) with Ernie Summey being the Clerk of the Provisional Session.
Out of the original 33 families committed to the mission, 16 originated out of the PCUSA church (though some of them had joined First ARP a year or two prior), 9 out of various other churches, and 8 out of First ARP. A leadership team of people working toward the establishment of this mission was comprised of Tom Wallace, Jesse Bone, Mark Davis, Jeff Owen (all originally from the PCUSA Church, First Presbyterian) and Mark Tankersley. First ARP committed itself to continuing to pay the salary of Pastor Mark through the end of 2009.
The mission church began to grow slowly but steadily. Pastor Mark worked with leaders at First ARP to gain status as a non-profit entity with the State of North Carolina. The opportunity to submit proposed names for the church was opened to the members of the mission. Several names were considered, and the one chosen was the one Andy Holland and Pastor Mark had arrived at in a phone conversation one day ...“Gaston Community Church.” The logo of the church was created by Brian Fischer, a website designer, and a member of the church mission. A website was developed early on (www.gastoncommunitychurch.com). The mission continued to grow, helped by the hiring of Trey McKeown as the Youth Director, the good quality of music and worship provided by Andy Holland’s team, and the diligent commitment of many volunteers of the mission. Small groups for Adults were started under the leadership of Bill Sevy. Kidswalk, a ministry for children, was developed in 2009. Also helpful in the first years was the annual Friend Day Sunday led by Randy Riley. The Women’s Ministry has been a great reason for the success of the church and has been under the able leadership of Glenna Sevy (2009), Suzanne Riley (2010), Lydia Sargent (2011) and Pam Quinn (for 2012), and the outreach to visitors ministry led by Susan Davis has been a great help in connecting people to our church.
The church was officially organized as a new ARP Church on Sunday afternoon, December 6, 2009 at a worship service and Presbytery meeting held at Gaston Day School. Including the children, there were 136 charter members. The Church Planter, Mark Tankersley, was officially installed as the Pastor of Gaston Community Church, and the first Elders of the new church were installed: Mark Davis, Jeff Owen, Luke Ellington, Gordon Quarles, Doug Stover, Deric Smyre, and Bill Sevy. The first six named originated out of that migration from the PCUSA church, and the last one, Bill Sevy, originated from a PCA church in Stanley, NC. There are no officers from First ARP Church at Gaston Community Church, but Elder Ernie Summey was an extremely important leader as Clerk of the Provisional Session in helping the church become a reality. Doug Stover became our first Clerk of the Session, and continues to serve in this capacity.
In early 2010, the corporate status of Gaston Community Church, Inc. was completed with the election of the officers of the corporation: Gordon Quarles, President; Mark Davis, Treasurer; and Doug Stover, Secretary.
With God’s grace demonstrated in the leadership, commitment, and financial giving of the people of Gaston Community Church, the church has never needed any financial assistance from First ARP since the church was organized at the end of 2009 and has never had to borrow any money from First Presbytery or the ARP Synod. The fifty thousand dollars that was accessed from the original gift to the ONA Capital Campaign Fund is still in the Gaston Community Church’s ministry expansion funds and has not been used for operating expenses. The people of the church have been involved in various local ministries, including outreaches at With Friends, Salvation Army, Hope4Gaston, Crisis Assistance Ministry, Young Life, Crisis Pregnancy Center, and others, as well as helping individuals in the church, or those that people in our church know about who are in need. Further, the church has a strong benevolence giving in its budget. Internationally, the church supports a missionary couple and their ministries in Managua, Nicaragua, and our youth leader, Trey McKeown has led two mission trips to Nicaragua.
We give praise for how God’s Spirit orchestrated the establishment of this new church. So many factors over the course of the years have led to the success of this effort. People have joined our church from various backgrounds: some were Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Catholic, and varieties of Presbyterians, as well as some who had been away from church involvement for a time. A few have professed faith in Jesus for the first time.
As that man who visited our church said, “This is God’s Church!” We agree, and we give thanks to God. We are now looking for a place with a larger room for us to worship in. The church continues to grow numerically, slowly but steadily. As of November, 2011, the church has about 160 active members, with an average worship attendance of about 125 people. We believe that we are also growing significantly in our love for Jesus and our love for one anther. And, as we continue doing mission work in our community and in our partnership with missionaries Pratt and Ashley Butler in Nicaragua, we trust God will use us to lead many people to know Jesus who will then become dedicated followers of Him. God, in His sovereign grace and love, has begun a good work in us, and we trust in Him to bring it to completion. We also hope He will enable us to plant other churches with the same goal of being ministers of God’s grace and messengers of God’s truth. This is God's church, and we hope He will do even more than we can ask or imagine. In fact, He already has.
SEE BELOW FOR CHARTER MEMBERS (Organized: December 6, 2009):