In 2014, First Christian Church of Odessa, Tex., was not in a good place – figuratively or literally.
Membership was down. The building had significant accessibility issues, including a shortage of parking the lack of a clear front entrance, a second story with no elevator, and an odd location – behind another church building.
Without radical transformation, the congregation would perish.
But First Christian Church still had a few things going for it. Leaders who recognized the remaining spark of life in this struggling congregation took a big step. They called a clergy couple, Pastors Dawn and Joe Weaks, and – with the support of Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) – welcomed some radical ideas that turned things around.
The Weakses have literally “written the book” on the spiritual transformation required to fuel such a significant shift.
In 2022, Chalice Press published Breakthrough: Trusting God for Big Change in Your Church. It’s a testimony to accessing the courage, faith, and ingenuity needed to respond to God’s call in a changing world.
The Weakses accepted the call on the condition the congregation would make way for significant change; then they set about building trust in preparation for leading the congregation toward a new day.
Dawn and Joe had worked with DCEF before to help a congregation make a bold new decision. So, in 2015, they reached out to then-DCEF Vice President Rick Morse.
Though the church faithfully followed the process Rick laid out, leaders still struggled with continued indecision. But the property chair, a quiet man who understood the unsustainable cost of the building ultimately, spoke up. He reminded them that the congregation had placed them in positions of leadership to choose a direction.
Following his lead, the board decided to put the church on the market and trust God to see what would happen. The Sunday after Easter in 2017, the congregation voted to both sell their building and buy a medical office and dialysis building across town.
“The Resurrection season was particularly palpable” that year, Dawn said.
Partners in Progress
FCC purchased a centrally located medical center that proved more accessible and had a parking lot. They turned back to DCEF again, this time for a renovation loan to repurpose the building.
“Taking out loan from DCEF allowed us to borrow money that we felt good about, money that is invested for ministry,” she said. “It helped us feel connected to our denomination and that we weren’t doing this crazy thing alone. We knew that someone had our back.”
On Palm Sunday of 2019, they moved into their new home.
With so much change in the air, the Weakses made one more push: they asked the faith community to continue its transformation by changing their name. First Christian Church became Connection Christian Church (CCC), with the motto “connecting you to Christ and community.”
The move came just in time to be an effective presence in a world shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking advantage of their state’s warm climate and their property’s parking lot, they offered outdoor “parking lot church.”
CCC set up a radio station frequency to broadcast their worship service. Drivers tuned in from their car radios. This “low-risk” style of worship – and the obvious welcome of the faith community – grew CCC’s membership, especially amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
The growth has continued as worship returned indoors. CCC provides two in-person services on Sundays, which they also stream online.
In addition, the church connected with local nonprofits by offering them space in their building at a low cost, expanding the ministry, and providing a modest additional income stream to augment offerings.
When a water main broke in the summer of 2022, Odessa was without water for four days. So, the city manager asked CCC to distribute water to homebound residents and others without transportation.
“We felt honored that the city came to us,” said Pastor Dawn. “We’re hopeful that we can continue to live up to people’s expectations.”
Today, it’s hard to imagine this faith community started its latest chapter of faithful ministry, hidden behind a neighboring building. Because these days, Connection Christian Church is in a very good place.
Does your church long to be more faithful, effective, and innovative in response to God’s call in a changing world? DCEF can help.
Story courtesy of by Nadine Compton