In the summer of 1988, my parents packed up their possessions and with my siblings and I, left everyone and everything they knew in Orlando, Florida and moved to Atlanta to plant a church. That congregation, Northside Church, was part of a national movement whose primary focus was on evangelism and church planting. Families were strengthened and relationships were forged that last to this day.
Then, in 1994, things changed.
The movement we had been connected to had a shift in their core values and ministry practice that didn’t resonate with the leadership of our church. After a prayerful deliberation, my father pulled our church out of that association. Many people left our church, budgets were strained, employees were laid off and a long rebuilding process began.
For several years, our church enjoyed a wonderful move of the Spirit and became a conference center that welcomed thousands from all over our city and nation. The church’s name was changed to NorthGate in response to several prophetic words. Lives were changed and the course of many was forever altered for the Kingdom of God. In fact, I was one of them, it was in one of those meetings that I met the Lord.
Then, in 2000, things changed.
As the intensity of the move of the Spirit began to wane, our leadership team desired to return to our roots as a community church. Lines were drawn and a decision was made to pursue becoming something more of an equipping and training center. Many people left our church, budgets were strained, employees were laid off and a long rebuilding process began.
During that time, we grabbed hold of a vision to equip believers to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and preach the Gospel with power. We invested ourselves into the inner city, prisons, and nursing homes. In fact we averaged 4 outreaches a week for over 10 years. Some remarkable things occurred as we saw God’s power touch ‘the least of these.’ It was a rewarding but costly time for our congregation.
During this season I, and many others, zealously poured ourselves out for the Northgate congregation and in these outreaches. Without realizing it, we also sacrificed our health and neglected our responsibility to our families to serve others in ministry. It was well intended, but misguided.
Then in 2009, things changed.
While on a ministry trip, the Lord began speaking to me about His priorities and values. He showed me that He cared as much for my family as those I had poured myself into serving through the last several years of outreaches. He encouraged me to invest as much into my marriage, kids, relationships and friendships as I had into strangers. As I began to do this, my marriage and my relationship with my kids was strengthened, broken friendships with family and friends were restored and I got healthy, losing more than 50 pounds while completing multiple marathons.
Then in 2013, things changed.
I was given the opportunity and honor to lead our congregation. With the help and wisdom of both a financial and strategic board, we addressed complex challenges with creative solutions. The financial board created a generous financial transition for our outgoing Pastor to honor his service over the previous decades and decided on Antioch as our new name. The strategic board assisted with the development of new vision, mission and values.
A long term vision with corresponding values were implemented with success. We helped many find a renewed and healthier vision just as I had personally. We encouraged everyone to develop a holistic, sustainable walk with the Lord, celebrating marriages, families, careers, education and the fruit of the spirit in everyday life. Many became involved in their workplaces and communities. Others went back to school to get their degrees. People gained a long term vision for impacting the world through succeeding in their lives, not sacrificing them short term for outreach and ministry. That our vision and values had become healthy and positive was proven by the new families who have joined us over the past 18 months.
During this time, as a natural next step in pursuing their long term vision, many left our church and were celebrated for doing so. They left healed, restored and with passion to do something different, unlike any past transition. It was personally gratifying to watch healing come to so many, even though they moved out of our congregation and into their future. No pastor or congregation should feel like a failure when people grow and step forward in faith. Helping people moving forward is the goal of our ministry to them.
Then last year, things changed.
Our board felt that our congregation needed to move out of our current facility which was hidden away from our community. The goal was to obtain a facility more accessible to our community where we could serve it long term. When our building went under contract in September, I was genuinely excited. We had been looking at possibilities for new facilities for 18 months. When an option became available in mid November, we brought it before the church and asked for a “vote of confidence” by December 3rd.
We did not receive that.
We believe that it is time for another change. The goal in obtaining a new facility was being more accessible to our community to better serve it. Without the resources to sufficiently do this corporately in a new facility, we will instead approach this vision in a different way. We will formally close Antioch Church as a congregation and encourage all our members to join other congregations in our community and serve there. We will take this next step and serve our community individually as believers, just not corporately as a separate congregation.
It’s time to celebrate our corporate journey over the last three decades and move confidently into our futures. While Antioch will cease as a congregation, we all continue together as members of the body of Christ in the Woodstock area.
To all who signed up to serve, pledged to give and who gave towards the buildout, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. (We’ve already communicated with everyone who gave specifically towards the buildout and offered to return their funds.) For those who love what we have at Antioch, this will be difficult, but God is our Source, not a specific congregation. I’d like to personally offer myself to you to help you process this decision and transition to another great church in the area (there are many).
Ryan T. Lawson