Friday, February 01, 2008

Rob Lott

Since this blog began, we've been telling the stories of people God has brought to Access Church. For many of you, these stories have become the number one reason to read this blog.

Today's story has taken a little longer to craft. There is a lot of emotion behind this one, for Rob & Beth and for all of us who love them. He has carefully chosen to share his story with us, because it truly is a testimony of how God's grace and this baby church have helped him through a difficult time.

In February 2006 Rob Lott was in Tokyo, working for Disney Entertainment, when he received a phone call out of the blue from Rich Barrett, his former youth pastor in his hometown of Akron, OH. Rob was surprised by the call. He and Rich had kept in touch since Rob graduated high school and moved to Orlando to work for Disney in 2000, but it was a big deal for Rich to call Rob on the phone in Tokyo. “I knew something was up,” Rob said.

Rich told Rob that he was starting a church in Florida in partnership with North Point Ministries of Atlanta. He asked if Rob was interested in the service programming position for the new church, which would put Rob in charge of creating the adult worship environment.

Rob questioned his interest in church work. “People have always told me that I would be a good children’s or youth pastor, but I had never wanted to do that,” he said. “I wanted to work with the best of the best production-wise, and that’s why I chose Disney.”

Despite Rob’s reservations, Rich sent some North Point materials to Rob in Tokyo. As soon as Rob saw the materials, he knew that North Point was going above and beyond any church or secular production company he’d ever seen. “I really did want to use my gifts and talents for a higher purpose,” he said. “It was very exciting to think that I could be part of something like a North Point partnership church on the ground floor. I was definitely interested.”

Rob discussed the possible job change with his wife, Beth, and they agreed to move forward with the new church. Rob returned from Tokyo in May 2006, began the North Point internship in September, and moved to Jacksonville in November. He immediately jumped on board and helped plan the beginnings of Access Church.

But before long, Rob and Beth began to discover that there were some serious problems in their marriage. The two worked at their differences, but in early February, Beth left Jacksonville and soon after requested a divorce. “We both had made a lot of mistakes,” Rob said. “I resigned from my position at Access because I was in no place mentally or spiritually to be doing my job.”

Rob returned to work in Orlando, but strongly believed in Access Church and wanted to continue to have a part. Rich narrowed Rob’s position down to a volunteer creative director. “I am responsible for the overall flow of the service and the look and feel of the environment—putting on the final touches,” Rob said. “I love it because that kind of work comes naturally to me.”

Although he spends most of his time in Orlando, Rob makes the two-hour drive to Jacksonville twice a month to volunteer and take part in the services. “I get very energized about what we’re doing at Access,” he said. “There is a phenomenal team of volunteers there. Their mindset is to go for excellence and nothing less, and it shows.”

Rob continues to wait on God’s timing for him and for Access. “I’m still in strong prayer that my marriage will come back together,” he said. “Beth and I have a lot to forgive each other for. I regret how our marriage ended and how that also affected Access in its infancy stages. But I believe all that happened in my life needed to happen. Access Church is all about life change. Life change is happening for me, and I’m thankful that God had already connected me to Access Church when the crisis came along.”

I am personally so grateful for Rob's contributions over the past two years as we have imagined together how this church could bring glory to God. I'm grateful that he's willing to share his story with us and that we can all continue to love on him and Beth. Thanks, Rob!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ringo & Brenda Robles

A visitor to Access this weekend marveled at our volunteers and asked how we found such individuals.

"God," is the very serious, not-at-all-trite answer. Ringo and Brenda Robles are just one more example of how God has put together this amazing group of people we call Access Church.

Ringo and Brenda Robles met in the singles’ ministry of First Baptist Atlanta, where Andy Stanley served as the youth pastor and where they first experienced Andy’s teaching. Ringo, with many singles, would sneak in the back to enjoy the upbeat music Andy performed for the high school students as well as Andy’s teaching. Andy led the band by playing the guitar, the piano, and singing. His sermons were engaging, and Ringo could instantly apply Andy’s teaching to his life. Even some of the high school students’ parents stayed to listen to Andy.

Andy and a team of five others started North Point Community Church in 1995. “Andy’s vision was to provide environments to reach to the unchurched using creative ways to make the gospel relevant for real life today,” Ringo said. “We understood his vision and bought into it from the beginning.”

Ringo and Brenda quickly volunteered as part of North Point’s production team. “At first, North Point met only twice a month on Sunday evenings and had only one computer to run the entire service production,” Brenda said. “It’s amazing to see how technology in North Point Ministries has grown since then.”

North Point grew tremendously, making it more difficult for Ringo and Brenda and their four children to attend and serve at the same time. “Every Sunday, as we drove 45 minutes to church, we asked ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this? Why fight the traffic on Sunday morning?’” Brenda said. “Then, after experiencing the service and hearing how the kids loved the children’s environments, we said, ‘this is why.’ What North Point provided for us—the messages, the music, the kids’ environments, and our connection to our community group—were all life-changing.”

In September 2005, Ringo and Brenda left North Point to be a part of the new Watermarke Church, a North Point strategic partnership. Their 45-minute commute became a 10-minute drive, and Sunday mornings became less-stressed for their family. Ringo and Brenda lent their production experience and service to help Watermarke get off the ground. Being part of launching a new church gave them additional insight on how the creative mind of North Point works and how it uses effective strategies for reaching people.

In the summer of 2006, Ringo came across a job opportunity in Jacksonville. It seemed like a great move because they had family here and their kids loved the beach. But they had never considered leaving Atlanta because they were so plugged into Watermarke Church and North Point Ministries. While they were at Watermarke, it was announced that a strategic partnership was starting in Jacksonville. That sealed the deal, and the family moved to Jacksonville in the fall of 2006. They immediately joined the group of people starting Access Church. “Access is a church we can get behind,” Ringo said. “We believe in its mission. We’ve seen it work at North Point and at Watermarke. Now we are excited to see the impact Access Church is having on the Jacksonville community.”


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tim & Terea Stokes

In the summer of 2005, Tim Stokes helped take his church’s youth group to Big Stuff youth camp in Panama City. Big Stuff was produced by North Point Community Church and, during the camp, the youth leaders were taught some of the North Point’s ministry philosophies. The ideas were different than anything Tim had heard before, and they made perfect sense to him. “North Point had such a simplicity, such a focus on outsiders, and so much relevancy,” he said. “It was eye-opening.”

When Tim got back home to Jacksonville, he told his wife, Terea, about his experiences at camp and showed her the North Point resources he had brought home. “Tim came back from camp a different man, and he was so excited,” Terea said. “I got really excited about the new ideas for ministry, too.”

Tim and Terea sought out more opportunities to get resources from North Point to use at their church. They started traveling to Atlanta to attend North Point conferences and to attend church there whenever they could. They felt a strong connection with the ministry of North Point and began struggling with feeling content at their home church.

In August 2006, they took a group of college students from their home church to a singles’ conference in Atlanta. During the conference, they felt as if God was telling them they needed to accept their home church and make the best of their ministry there. That Sunday morning, they attended North Point and, during the service, it was announced that a North Point strategic partnership would be starting in Jacksonville.

Tim and Terea were shocked. “Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that a North Point church would be starting in Jacksonville,” Terea said. “It was totally unexpected. I didn’t hear a thing in the service after the announcement. Tears kept streaming down my face, and I kept thinking ‘where?’ and ‘how?’”

Although they were thrilled about the prospect of getting involved with the new church in Jacksonville, Tim and Terea still struggled with the decision to leave their church. But within two weeks of Tim and Terea hearing about the Jacksonville strategic partnership, God provided people to step in and fill the places where Tim and Terea served at their home church. That was all the encouragement they needed. They told their pastor that they wanted to go and help start the strategic partnership. Their pastor prayed with them, blessed them, and released them. “We stepped out in faith, and God handled it,” Tim said.

The families who were working to start Access Church welcomed Tim and Terea. “Everyone showed such passion and excitement,” Tim said. “It was great to be around others who understood what we were feeling about wanting to have a church that was an outsider-friendly place.”

“We have friends who just don’t get it, who don’t have a clue about what it means to have a personal relationship with God,” Terea said. “We can’t wait to invite them to Access to let them get a glimpse of the passion we have for them and God has for them.”

Even though Tim and Terea live an hour from Access, they are dedicated to the church. “The drive and the effort we put forth every time Access meets don’t feel like work at all,” Terea said. “Access is a mission for our whole family. We want to see it grow and reach the community. We want our children and their friends to be excited about it. We are so excited about helping to start this church.”


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rich & Stephanie Barrett

We've been telling stories on this blog about the families who helped Access Church get off the ground. For many of these families, it has been a two-year journey of praying, giving, inviting, and serving—all the time wondering what God might do if they submitted their plans to His.

For Stephanie and I, the road to Access Church began when we visited North Point Community Church in the summer of 2003. Our church in Ohio had just launched a second campus, and we were interested in comparing notes with the staff at North Point about the recent launch of Buckhead Church. I had the opportunity to meet with David McDaniel, and those hours proved fateful.

As we learned more about North Point, we fell in love with this simple, focused model of ministry. We had pastored at some great (but cluttered) churches, and the clear strategy of reaching people, rather than keeping people, was invigorating! David and I stayed in touch and, over the next couple of years, we met with David and other NPCC staffers whenever we passed through Atlanta.

In December 2004, David explained that North Point had just launched strategic partnerships in Dothan, Alabama, and Athens, Georgia. These churches operated much like a North Point campus, showing Andy Stanley's messages, except that they were farther from Alpharetta and were independent churches. David asked if I would be interested in leading a strategic partnership. I laughed! I had never been a senior pastor and considered myself unprepared for such a venture. But the idea began to germinate.

Over the next year, Stephanie and I met with many of the NPM staff members and discussed several possibilities of what it might look like for us to join in what God was doing through North Point. We immersed ourselves in the culture and learned all we could about this fascinating church. Finding the right fit proved to be a challenge until finally David and I found ourselves at Starbucks (again) shortly before Christmas of 2005. We discussed the strategic partnership model again, and Stephanie and I agreed that we would lead the next North Point partnership. But where?

Stephanie and I are both originally from south Florida, and immediately began to think about how exciting it would be to return to Florida and take the North Point ministry model with us. West Palm Beach was home, had all the right demographics, and seemed like a perfect opportunity. But David kept calling us and telling us about this amazing story God was writing in Jacksonville. Every time I would call David to discuss West Palm Beach or some other location, he would tell me about all the people you've previously read about on our blog. "Go meet them," he said. "They're amazing people."

David was right. By the time we'd made two trips to Jacksonville in the spring of 2006, God was convincing us that Jacksonville was the right place to move our family and begin a new ministry. The launch team here was everything you'd want from a group of people starting a church, because they understood that this wasn't about them! In fact, these people—the ones you've read about—made it clear to us that they believed the last thing Jacksonville needed was another church. Instead, they wanted to create environments where people of all backgrounds and beliefs would be encouraged to pursue a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Soon, we were packing our boxes in Ohio and saying goodbye to friends of 15 years. It was surreal. For years, we had prayed that God would return us to the South. For years, we had studied and admired the North Point model of ministry. Now we would have the opportunity to launch a North Point partnership in our home state!

In July of 2006 we moved to Alpharetta and began a four-month internship at North Point, which allowed us to meet some of the greatest people you'd ever want to know and ask a lot of questions about the philosophies and strategies of ministry at North Point, Buckhead, and Brown's Bridge. We've lived here in Jacksonville since November and are enjoying it more every day. It's home!

We are so blessed to have been given this opportunity. We're operating way beyond our level of knowledge or expertise and completely relying on God to build his church. We repeatedly say, "This was His idea, not ours, so we'll trust Him to work out all the details!"

The road to Access has proven to be an amazing ride. God's given us a great launch team, great staff, and an unbelievably exciting response in the community. Thanks to all who read this and pray, give, invite, and serve! Thanks for partnering with us to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sutton & Debbie McGehee

Several years ago, Sutton and Debbie McGehee made a trip from their home in Jacksonville to visit their daughter, Amanda, who had moved to Atlanta. Amanda had been telling Sutton and Debbie about her church, Buckhead Church, a satellite campus of North Point Community Church, and she was anxious for her parents to attend with her.

Sutton and Debbie weren’t sure they would like Buckhead Church. The idea of viewing the message on a large video screen instead of seeing a live communicator didn’t appeal to them. But once they attended, they had only great things to say about Buckhead Church. “The quality of the screen was outstanding,” Sutton said. “It really seemed like Andy Stanley was right there in the building.”

The excitement at Buckhead Church drew Sutton and Debbie, and they liked Andy’s teaching. “Andy is a gifted speaker,” Sutton said. “He held my attention the entire time.”

Debbie said, “The way Andy delivered the message was relevant, pertinent, and upbeat. He was in tune with people. I took his message away with me.”

Back in Jacksonville, Sutton and Debbie got involved in North Point’s CD ministry. They listened to Andy’s messages regularly, and they attended Buckhead Church every three-to-four months, whenever they visited Amanda.

In 2005, Amanda told Sutton and Debbie that Michael and Zoie Morales were considering starting a North Point strategic partnership church in Jacksonville. Not long after, Michael emailed Sutton and Debbie to see if they would be interested in helping start a church.

Michael and Zoie had grown up with Sutton and Debbie’s daughters, so they knew each other, but Debbie was still surprised to hear from Michael. “Starting a church was an overwhelming idea,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it could happen.”

Sutton and Debbie jumped on board. They felt that there was a need in Jacksonville for a North Point church. “North Point knows how to excite youth,” Sutton said. “And there are so many unchurched youth in Jacksonville.”

Over the next several months, more couples joined the group that would later become Access Church, and the strategic partnership gained momentum. “It has been incredible to see how God has brought this idea full circle,” Debbie said. “He provided the key people—people who didn’t even know each other but were all on fire for the Lord.”

Sutton has found that, in Jacksonville, there is a lot of interest in Access Church. “Many people around here have heard good things about North Point or Buckhead Church, so they’re interested in Access,” he said. “I hope people will check it out, get a good impression, and want to come back, especially the unchurched youth in the area.”

Debbie also believes there is a lot of interest in Access. “People are excited and keep asking about it,” she said. “Jacksonville is growing quickly. We’re busting at the seams, and this new church is the best thing that could happen here.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

John & Gail Brent

In all the rush of launching Access this month, we've taken a break from meeting some of the families that helped bring Access to Jacksonville. If you are new to reading this blog, then you might want to scroll back to January, where we met Michael & Zoie Morales. It's been about two years since Michael & Chip Abernathy met with David McDaniel, North Point's Director of Campus Expansion, about the prospect of a strategic partnership in Jacksonville. Along the way, God has brought us some fantastic people to get this church started, and we try to highlight some of those stories here. Many of you reading this will recognize John & Gail Brent who serve with host team and Waumba.

John and Gail Brent have been friends with Chip and Susan Abernathy for years, and when Chip’s job took him and Susan to Atlanta, John and Gail visited them often. Besides spending time with their friends, the highlights of their trips to Atlanta were visits to North Point Community Church. “We love the music, the teaching is fabulous, and we love the vitality,” Gail said. “It is great to see the enthusiasm of all the young people there.”

In late summer of 2005, Chip and Susan told John and Gail about Michael and Zoie Morales, who were moving from Atlanta to Jacksonville and wanted to start a North Point church there. John and Gail had their own ties with Michael and Zoie. Years before, John had worked with Michael’s dad and had been in a Bible study with Zoie’s dad.

John and Gail immediately decided that they wanted to help Michael and Zoie start the new church. “The outreach North Point has to young professionals is outstanding,” said John. “We know so many young professionals in Jacksonville who grew up in church but are no longer active in church. We really want to be involved in a ministry that reaches them.”

A group of families, including Michael and Zoie and John and Gail, soon formed and started working toward what became Access Church only a year later. John and Gail have started spreading the word about Access and have seen a lot of interest in the new church.

“The people we talk to seem really interested,” John said. “For instance, I talked to my friend’s son who is in his mid-30s. He had stopped going to church, but said he’d give Access a try. Another guy brought Access up to me in the gym last week. I also got a call from a guy who grew up with Andy Stanley and wants to try Access. We are so excited about what God is doing.”

John and Gail are still attending their home church, as well. “We may never leave our church,” John said. “But there is such a need in Jacksonville to have a North Point-type of church that will reach young professionals, and we want to support the church that answers that need. I have invited people to our home church and they say it is ‘heavy.’ Access will have a different approach that will be more comfortable.”

John and Gail hope that Access Church will reach many people in Jacksonville. “There are good churches in this city, but we are a million-plus people and only 300,000 of us are in churches,” said John. “I’m hopeful that young families who have not yet found a church will try Access and like it. I know a lot will.”


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Katherine Mangel

Katherine Mangel didn’t grow up in church, but when she was 16 years old, she began the journey of getting to know Christ and engaging in a relationship with Him through the high school ministry of Young Life. For the next six years, she attended many churches, but never got plugged into one. “The churches I went to as a young adult proved to be more traditional and formal,” she said. “I had a tough time grasping the meaning of living for God and partaking of community with other believers.”

In 2002, Katherine graduated from the University of Georgia and left Atlanta, but returned a year later to start graduate school at Georgia State. Her first Sunday back in town, her best friend from college invited her to Buckhead Church, a satellite campus of North Point Community Church. “I moved back to Atlanta on a Saturday and went to Buckhead Church the next day,” she said. “ I gained so much from that first service, that I rarely missed a Sunday after that for the next two years.”

Buckhead Church was different from any other church Katherine had attended. “It was so relational, welcoming, and friendly,” she said. “The people were real and transparent, and I was able to get plugged in there right away.”

Besides the people, Katherine also loved the speaking at Buckhead Church. “Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio are great communicators,” she said. “I can always relate to what they say. They challenge me, they speak on my level, and they’re great at being relevant.”

Katherine settled into Buckhead Church, joined a small group, and started volunteering on the host team and in the kids’ ministries.

In the spring of 2005, Katherine applied to six nursing schools, including the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. In July 2005, she found out that she had been accepted to UNF and, within a two-week time frame, she decided to attend the school, told friends and family of her decision, and made the move to Jacksonville.

About a week after she moved, Katherine received a call from Michael and Zoie Morales, friends she had known in Atlanta and at Buckhead Church. Michael and Zoie had also recently moved to Jacksonville and were considering starting a North Point strategic partnership church there. They wanted Katherine’s help. “Starting a church seemed like such a daunting task,” she said. “I was extremely excited about the idea, but I was unsure how it would unfold.”

Michael worked on getting other people together in Jacksonville who were interested in starting a church, and the group that would later become Access Church met for the first time in December 2005. “There were five couples plus me,” Katherine said. “I was the only single person and also the youngest, so it was really challenging and humbling to become a part of the group.”

North Point has had an impact on Katherine’s life, and she wants to work through Access Church to bring that impact to others. “All of us truly do want to make an impact in Jacksonville,” she said. “We are dedicated to the non-believer, and that’s why we’re so on-fire for this new church.”

Katherine plans to marry Zach Mitchell, pictured here, in April of 2007.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Scott Family

Lifelong residents of Atlanta, the Scotts began visiting Buckhead Church in 2002. Their kids loved it, and always wanted to go to church there on Sunday. But in the spring of 2004, after feeling drawn to move for almost five years, they moved their family to Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville. In Ponte Vedra, they immediately got into a church, but longed for the Buckhead experience they had become accustomed to in Atlanta.

Two years later, they called a friend in Atlanta who had helped start Buckhead Church, and were put him in touch with North Point’s director of strategic partnerships, David McDaniel. “We told David that we were really in need of some Andy Stanley-style preaching down here,” they said. “We asked him what we could do to get a North Point church in Jacksonville.”

David gave them the contact information of Michael and Zoie Morales, who had already started gathering names of families interested in starting a strategic partnership in Jacksonville. They called Michael, and soon were meeting with a small group of men who were talking about starting a church. “I thought the other guys had known each other, but we were all strangers at that time wanting to work toward the same goal,” he said. “It was definitely a God deal.”

From that meeting, the group grew and planned and became Access Church in September 2006. “The progression toward becoming a church was so steady,” they said. “Just like in business, growing too quickly or lagging behind can be bad. Access was a continual progression. It was like clockwork.”

Access Church’s dedication to reaching unchurched people excites the entire Scott family. “In the beach area where we live, there’s a unique collection of people from all over the place, and many of them are not going to church anywhere,” they said. “We see Access as a new opportunity to bring those people into church. So many are in need of a quality place to worship and hear the truth. That is the heart of Access Church.”

The Scotts are also happy that they will have Andy Stanley’s teaching available for their beach friends and neighbors to hear. “We love Andy’s style,” they said. “He sits on a stool in a golf shirt and preaches the Word in a kind and gentle way that draws people. It’s non-threatening, and it’s not pretentious.”

They believes that Access will be a great success. “We have high expectations,” they said. “Just like in business, if you have a quality product and there’s a demand for it, it will work.”

Together, they can’t wait to see what God will do through Access Church. “It’s God’s work, and we’ll just let God do His thing."


Friday, January 26, 2007

Bill & Dianne Diffenderfer

Bill and Dianne Diffenderfer first attended North Point Community Church in Atlanta in 1995, before North Point even had a permanent location. They were quickly drawn to the church. "It was so comfortable," Dianne said. "You didn't have to know a 'secret handshake' or the words to the songs. Once we experienced that comfort level, we didn't want to leave."

Bill and Dianne were excited about North Point and continued attending. But in 1998, they moved to the community of Buckhead, 45 minutes from North Point. For a while, they drove to North Point, but soon decided that they needed to find a church closer to home. They started attending a local church, but would often take their new friends back to North Point.

During that same time, David McDaniel, a member of their local church, and two other men were talking to North Point about starting a church in Buckhead that would model North Point. Shortly thereafter, Bill and Dianne, the McDaniels, and 33 other families decided to start a new church in Buckhead.

North Point "adopted" the group of families, and the group grew to be a satellite campus of North Point, known as Buckhead Church. "Buckhead Church just exploded in attendance," Bill said. "There was a need for a North Point-type church in Buckhead."

In 2003, Bill and Dianne began considering a move to Florida for business reasons and quality of life. A year later, they started making plans for an August 2005 move to Jacksonville.

In July 2005, Bill met with David McDaniel, who had since become North Point's director of strategic partnerships, to discuss an idea for a foundation that would help churches. The conversation turned toward Michael Morales, who was also moving to Jacksonville from Atlanta and was interested in starting a North Point church in Jacksonville. "David suggested that I meet with Michael when I got to Jacksonville," Bill said.

Bill and Dianne moved to Jacksonville with no intentions of being part of a North Point church plant. They wanted to find an established, like-minded church to attend. "We visited about five churches when we first got to Jacksonville," Dianne said. "We were disappointed, though. They used some of North Point's ministry models, but watered them down."

In October, Bill and Dianne traveled back to Atlanta so that their daughter could be baptized at Buckhead Church. That Sunday, North Point's Andy Stanley preached on prayer. "Andy said that prayer was good for faith-building and that we should pray for something big so that, when it was answered, we would know that it was God," Dianne said. "We decided, as a family, that we would pray for a church in Jacksonville that we could love as much as we loved North Point and Buckhead."

The next morning, Bill got an email from Michael Morales suggesting that they meet for lunch to discuss a North Point strategic partnership church in Jacksonville. Bill was unable to attend the lunch, but forwarded the email to Dianne, asking her to attend in his absence. Dianne excitedly met with Michael, and Bill and Dianne joined the group of families that would later become Access Church. "God really answered our prayers for a church we would love," Dianne said.

Bill and Dianne are excited for what Access Church will bring to Jacksonville. "The environments are entertaining, attractive, not judgmental, and not invasive," Bill said. "You can sit in the back of the room forever, and no one will bother you. But, over time, you'll want to go deeper and get to the level of accepting Jesus."


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ren & Barbara Weise

Ren and Barbara Weise had been looking for a church to call home for several years, ever since they got married and settled near downtown Jacksonville in 2001. They wanted to find a church in their neighborhood and become part of a local body of Christian friends and neighbors. “We went to about 10 churches, and we were faithful to some for several months at a time,” Ren said. “But nothing fit.”

In 2006, Ren and Barbara read Waking the Dead by John Eldridge, and it changed their lives. “The book talked about how much God cares about hearts—that He sent Jesus to mend broken hearts and that Satan constantly works to steal the things that give us passion,” Ren said. “We realized that, even though we had a great house in a great neighborhood, everything we loved and were passionate about was at the beach, so we decided to move.”

Ren and Barbara moved to the beach and started looking for a church in their new neighborhood, but still were unable to find a church that “fit.” “We were starving here,” Barbara said. “We could not find a place where we could hear biblically-based sermons and put what we heard into everyday life.”

Ren’s sister, Debra, lived in Atlanta and happily attended Buckhead Church, a satellite campus of North Point Community Church. Ren often shared with her the frustration he and Barbara were experiencing in looking for a church. “Debra was passionate about Buckhead Church and was always raving about it,” Ren said. “She would call on Mondays and talk about what a great service she had been to, and she would send us CDs of Andy Stanley’s sermons.”

Ren and Barbara listened to the CDs, and Andy’s sermons fed them spiritually as they took a break from church hopping. About two months after they moved, Ren’s sister called to tell them that a couple from Buckhead Church, Michael and Zoie Morales, were moving to Jacksonville and considering starting a North Point strategic partnership church. She gave Michael Ren’s contact information.

Ren and Michael met for lunch. “We talked about church and life,” Ren said. “Both of us were so dissatisfied with the churches available to us, and we talked about starting a church. But the idea quickly got so big and seemed so impossible, that we just decided to pray.”

As they prayed, people started hearing about the idea of a North Point church in Jacksonville, and there were soon about six families who had formed the group that would later become Access Church. “Access Church is a God thing,” Ren said. “It came together so easily and with lightning speed. No one is tired or burnt out. God brought the right people at the right time.”

Ren and Barbara are excited about the mission of Access Church: to reach the unchurched people in Jacksonville. “Everyone in our core group really has a heart for the unchurched,” Barbara said. “Yes, we are excited about Andy’s teaching and the great North Point children’s programs for our daughter, but the driving force behind Access is to reach the unchurched.”

Access Church has already impacted Ren and Barbara’s lives. “It’s amazing what God has done in us through our small group,” Barbara said. “We’ve been on such a spiritual journey, and He’s been so faithful with our lives. Access will be a daily reminder of His faithfulness.”


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chip & Susan Abernathy

Continuing in the "Who is Access?" series, today's post focuses on Chip and Susan Abernathy.

Chip Abernathy is too young to retire, but after seven years in Atlanta he and Susan were considering moving back home to Jacksonville. Susan’s parents were in Jacksonville, and Chip had a great job opportunity there. But their son and his wife were in Atlanta, and so was their church, North Point Community Church.

Chip and Susan loved worshipping at North Point. For starters, they were personally impacted there. “Andy Stanley’s teaching Sunday after Sunday was life-changing,” Susan said. “He really taught me how to live out my faith.”

They also found the environment exciting. “It was fun to see all the creative talent we’re used to seeing in the working world turned loose in the church,” Chip said. “The videos, drama, and graphics were excellent.”

And the focus of the services made it easy for them to invite their friends and neighbors. “The whole service is purposefully designed to appeal to folks who don’t go to church,” Chip said. “I had never encountered a church that was intentional about being a place for folks who had been away from church, had been hurt by church, or had never been to church. Andy has a way of making people feel welcome even if they don’t agree with what he’s teaching.”

Susan felt like North Point wanted to partner with her and Chip to bring people to Christ. “We lived in a really young neighborhood, and I never thought twice about asking our neighbors to go to North Point,” Susan said. “It was great when we saw our neighbors getting involved and bringing their friends. North Point did the hard part, and that made it easy to bring people.”

Chip and Susan knew they’d be giving up a lot if they left North Point, and they wrestled with the decision to move back to Jacksonville.

In the spring of 2005, Michael Morales, a good friend of theirs who knew that Chip and Susan were considering a move back to Jacksonville, asked Chip if he would be interested in starting a North Point strategic partnership church in Jacksonville. Michael and his wife, Zoie, planned to move from Atlanta to Jacksonville later that summer. Chip thought it was a good idea, but still wasn’t sure he and Susan would be moving.

By October 2005, Michael had moved to Jacksonville and assembled a group of families who were also interested in starting a North Point church in Jacksonville. The group began meeting regularly and included Chip and Susan “in absentia,” knowing that Chip and Susan were still considering a move.

In July 2006, Chip and Susan made the move to Jacksonville and joined the group that became Access Church only two months later. “The group had a life of its own before we got here,” Susan said. “I couldn’t believe how quickly it gathered momentum.”

Chip and Susan have many hopes for Access Church. “Our best hope is that, not too far down the road, thousands of people will be attending Access,” Chip said. “We would love to see that kind of response and enthusiasm. I hope that when we invite friends, we’ll have to tell them to get there early so they can get a seat.”

Susan said, “There are great churches in Jacksonville, but North Point has a particular mission and a particular way of reaching those who don’t go to church. It’s exciting to see this happening in Jacksonville, and it’s a privilege to be a part of Access Church."


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Michael & Zoie Morales

This is the first in a series of posts intended to answer the question, "Who is Access Church?"

The stories you're about to read are from brave folks who have stepped out in faith to see what God might do in Jacksonville should they make themselves available. Allow me to introduce Michael and Zoie Morales.

Michael and Zoie went to high school together in Jacksonville and cultivated a friendship that led to two years of long-distance dating during college. After college, they decided to move to the same city to see if their relationship was “the real thing.” In 2000, they both got jobs with banks and moved to Atlanta.

Michael and Zoie were ready to take their relationship to the next level, but they kept tripping over religion. Michael was raised Catholic, and Zoie grew up in a non-denominational Bible church. Their ideas about what a relationship with God should look like were very different. “It came to the point that we needed to find a church that made us both happy, or we were going to have to stop dating,” Michael said.

The two were visiting churches together in December 2000, when a friend at Zoie’s office invited her to North Point Community Church. Zoie loved North Point right away and couldn't wait to hear Michael’s reaction. “I was immediately attracted to the music, Andy Stanley’s teaching, and the idea of a personal relationship with Christ,” Michael said. “I had never seen so much effort put into a church service to make people feel comfortable and want to come back. Everything was excellent.”

Each week, Michael and Zoie grew more and more excited about North Point and about growing in their personal relationships with Christ. They found it easy to invite friends. “The service is very welcoming to the unchurched,” Michael said. “North Point's attitude every Sunday is that they have people coming for the first time. I knew that when I brought friends in the door, the music would be good, Andy would say something relevant to my visitor, and the environment would be comfortable.”

In 2002, Michael and Zoie married and, a year later, Michael started graduate school, knowing that, when he finished, he would return to Jacksonville to work for his father. He had heard that North Point had started several churches in other parts of the country called strategic partnerships. As graduate school drew to a close in April 2005, Michael and Chip Abernathy, a friend who was also considering a move to Jacksonville, met with David McDaniel, North Point’s director of strategic partnerships.

David suggested that Michael to go to Jacksonville and see what other churches were doing there. He gave Michael a list of churches that used some of North Point’s ministry models. In late summer 2005, Michael and Zoie moved and started looking for a Jacksonville church to call home. “I didn't want to be part of a group starting a church,” Michael said. “We were under a lot of stress from moving, starting a new job, and having a baby on the way. We really just wanted to find a church like North Point.”

After visiting 12 churches, they stopped trying to find a church to call home. “We have so many friends in Jacksonville who don't know that a relationship with Christ can be intimate, and we didn't feel like we could have invited them to the churches we tried,” Zoie said. “We probably knew 50 people we wanted to reach, and we really needed a comfortable, non-threatening place like North Point where we can invite them.”

In September 2005, Michael started making contact with others in Jacksonville who were also interested in starting a North Point strategic partnership. Only one month later, 12 people had joined the effort, and the project steadily gained momentum to become Access Church in September 2006. “It was amazing how God brought people together to make this happen,” Michael said. “Now it’s about to explode.”

“I have been wowed so much in the past year,” Zoie said. “We are excited about what’s coming and what Access Church is going to be.”

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