LAKE WYLIE — In three years, Relevant Church has made several places home. Now, the church is holding services at a bowling alley.
“It’s refreshing,” said Keith Trimble of Lake Wylie, who joined the church about four months ago, hoping to put his music talents to use. “Christ came to the people right where they were.”
Relevant host team member Jeannie Purvis of Lake Wylie says it’s her mission to make the church a warm and inviting place.
“Not everyone wants to worship under a steeple,” she said. The bowling alley “presents its challenges, but once you get them in the door, you can reach them.”
Relevant Church, led by Pastor Matt McGarity of Lake Wylie, started as a service at River Hills Community Church. McGarity and about 65 members left with Relevant in 2011 to plant a church, meeting at the Oakridge Middle School auditorium. The first service there saw more than 175 in attendance, McGarity said.
Six months later, there were two services on Sunday mornings at the school. By summer 2012, McGarity had started a second campus, meeting on Lake Wylie near T-Bones at the Lake. Last fall, that lakeside service moved indoors to Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce at Lakeside West shopping center.
Last spring, the church moved from the school and began holding a second service at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, across the Buster Boyd Bridge in North Carolina.
Today, all Relevant Church campuses are combined and meet at Bowl N’ Bounce. The first combined service there on Jan. 12 filled the bowling alley with 162 members.
McGarity’s goal is “to plant a church outside a box to reach people where they are.”
Once warmer weather returns, likely in May, Relevant plans to hold a second service at 9 a.m. on the lake at the Buster Boyd Access Area.
“Ski, fish, fly to church,” McGarity said. “We want you to jump on board. Every church should be a reflection of their community.”
Fred and Lindy Wetherell of Lake Wylie did just that. Having sampled Relevant services at the school and bowling alley, they now have joined the church, leaving Pleasant Hill after 25 years.
“We enjoy Matt’s style of worship,” said Fred Wetherell, who had grown tired of traditional church services. “It’s the people, not the building.
“His message is really relevant, and he’s a good teacher.”
Lindy Wetherell put it simply: “I just felt like we were home.”
With traditional Catholic roots, she admits having had trepidations about this “alternative” style of worship under the neon glow of bowling alley lights.
“But we now know what it’s really like to worship,” she said. “If people can get excited about coming to church again, this world sure needs it.”
McGarity, a Charlotte native, is a North Carolina State alum, a Marine veteran and a former construction industry executive whose singing and songwriting earned him a place on the country music charts. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte.
Two years into his studies in 2008, he became associate minister at River Hill Community Church. In that role, he and his wife, Elizabeth, who have five kids ages 3 to 13, created a ministry focused on children.
“The kind of worship where the kids are waking the parents up every Sunday morning and begging them to go to church,” he said. At the bowling center, the children’s service is held in the bounce house area.
When McGarity is away, as he was last week on a mission in Mexico, intern Pastor Drew Anderson fills in.
“It’s just so neat what God’s doing in our church,” McGarity said.
Beyond the box
McGarity says his mission to plant Relevant Church extends beyond Lake Wylie.
“We have strategic partners in South Africa, France, Honduras and Mexico,” he said. “A family from Lake Wylie will be going to Costa Rica as missionaries in April. It’s been really neat to watch this new church expand globally through missions.”
McGarity recently visited Mexico, where Pete and Carole Borgman of Lake Wylie annually take a three-month mission to provide shoes, Bibles and other items collected by Relevant Church members to poor communities there.
“We have supported them every year since we became a church,” McGarity said.
His weeklong mission there was to “teach and build a bridge so Relevant Church can connect directly to a church and pastor, and possibly plant a church in Mexico.”
McGarity and his wife also are in the “very early stages” of creating a nonprofit called Hope for Harvest that will help with drilling wells throughout the world, starting with Africa.
“We’re not trying to re-create what’s already being done by other organizations,” he said. “We’re trying to partner with those folks and see if we can take it a little further to irrigate crops and sustain a community.”
McGarity and his family might visit Africa to help build those relations.
“From a faith perspective, it’s about harvesting of souls,” he said. “Just like with providing shoes for their soles and give them Bible for their other souls.
“Our vision for ministry is always bigger than what we could ever expect to be doing on our own.”
Catherine Muccigrosso • 803-831-8166