The Announcement: We have exciting news to share about Redeemer Norfolk. On Sunday, April 27, 2014, Redeemer Church Chesapeake launched a new campus in Norfolk, VA. For almost four years, a group of committed members have invested their lives in the city of Norfolk: living missionally and worshipping together in the hope that the gospel would continue to reach this city through us. We want to announce a change to our ministry in Norfolk, which has come as the result of the clear leading of the Lord through much prayer. This Sunday will be Redeemer Norfolk’s last gathering as a campus of Redeemer Church. We have decided as a congregation to unite Redeemer Norfolk together with The Mission Church.
So, here’s the story. Redeemer Church Chesapeake has had the privilege of participating in 3 church plants and 1 church revitalization over the past 30 years, sending either church planters or church planting teams to locations around our state and country. By 2014, a large community group had developed in the Ghent area of Norfolk. On one hand, Ghent is geographically close to our church in Chesapeake, but on the other hand, Ghent couldn’t be farther away. Hampton Roads is an interesting area with over 1.5 million people who make up our entire area, and yet there exists division between the 8 cities of our area. The Southside is separated from the Peninsula by the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia Beach and Norfolk are in a healthy competition with one another! And needless to say, most people from Norfolk don’t often travel to Chesapeake for – well – anything! And yet, we had a large group of members of our church that love the city of Norfolk, had moved into the city to plug their lives into their neighborhoods seeking to live missionally among the diverse demographic that makes up the city. This led us to consider the possibility of providing a Sunday gathering for this group, so they could not only invest their lives in the city of Norfolk, but could also have a place to invite neighbors and friends to worship on Sunday within their own community. So we did! Our first two meetings were in the late Spring of 2014 at a home. And then we moved into our first permanent meeting space at Knox Presbyterian Church on 37thStreet and Colonial Place. In the upstairs facilities, made available to us
through the kindness of Christ the Redeemer Church (who also rented from Knox Presbyterian), we publicly launched the Redeemer Norfolk campus, gathering at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. Redeemer Norfolk was overseen by a shared pastoral team with Chesapeake and was an extension of our ministry in Chesapeake. Whichever pastor preached in Chesapeake in the morning would travel out to Norfolk and preach the same message there. Redeemer Norfolk developed community groups that met in homes during the week, and also began a couple of outreach endeavors that included biannual progressive dinners in the homes of members as well as a yearly city-wide Christmas event at the Plot in downtown Norfolk. We would stay at Knox Presbyterian for 3 years and over those three years we saw God at work in many ways. Our Sunday attendance ranged from 30-50 adults and children. A number of families were added to the church that had never attended the Chesapeake campus.
Though folks came and went over those few years, more than 70 people (adults and children) worshipped at Redeemer Norfolk until life or the Lord (or the Navy!) moved them on. One young woman was saved while a part of the church, several of our children were baptized, and community among the believers grew very strong.
The Turn: Fast forward now to last fall. In September 2017, Redeemer Norfolk moved locations and began to meet at Park Place United Methodist Church. After a little over 3 years and with a stable average of about 40 people attending (adults and children), we all felt the Lord was leading us to a “new chapter”. Initially we thought this might just be a location change that would give us more flexibility to promote the work and hopefully grow. But what emerged instead was a reconnection with an old classmate of mine!
A few years ago, Charles Shannon and I found ourselves in the same Greek class at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary. We were both “brushing up” on the language of the New Testament and by the grace of God we both passed! At that time, Charles was also preparing to plant a church in Norfolk. Fast forward to this past fall when Charles connected with me in order to share his journey after a couple of years with this new church plant called The Mission Church. Like Redeemer Norfolk, The Mission Church was also seeking to reach the people who love and live and work and study and play in Norfolk with the gospel. It was encouraging to hear about Charles’ commitment and perseverance through the tough season of breaking ground and sowing seeds and watching a young church grow. I shared with Charles about our campus in Norfolk and I think we were both struck with the remarkable similarities between our churches: our theological framework, our gospel-centrality, and our love for Norfolk. In a subsequent lunch with a couple more of our leaders, we continued to dialogue about our visions for Norfolk and yet, as that lunch progressed, I believe the Spirit began to impress upon all of our hearts the spark of an idea. If we are so similar theologically—with a similar theological vision for gospel-centered churches that reflect the diversity that saturates our city – then might we be better together than apart?
As both leadership teams began to consider and pray (and even dream) of what that might look like down the road, we both thought at the very least we wanted a relationship between our two churches. So, this past November and December we gathered our two churches together for two unity services. We were able to gather together, worship together, sit under the preaching of God’s word together (Charles can sure preach!), and fellowship with one another. These meetings were held at our space in Park Place United Methodist Church, which was providential for The Mission Church because they were coming to the end of their agreement at their meeting space. One thing led to another, and by January 1, 2018, The Mission Church moved over to the same building we were using, Park Place United Methodist. The Mission Church arranged to meet at 10:30 a.m., while Redeemer Norfolk continued meeting downstairs at 3:00 p.m.
Another piece of this puzzle came into view as we communicated to both the Norfolk and Chesapeake campuses of Redeemer Church our desire to re-pursue affiliation with a group of like-minded churches. Our desire has never been to be independent and the time has come for us to look for like-minded churches we can partner with in the cause of Christ through church planting and church strengthening. Our initial prayer and research has led our pastoral team to explore a partnership with Sojourn Network, which is the network of churches that The Mission Church formally entered into partnership with in 2017.
So, I wonder what you’re thinking right now as you read this? Maybe you’re sensing what we were sensing? By the beginning of 2018, we found ourselves loving a church plant that looked strikingly similar to what we had hoped Redeemer Norfolk would become: The Mission Church was meeting in the building we were in, is aligned with our church theologically and practically, has a full time pastor and a dedicated pastoral team looking to build a diverse, community-reaching, gospel-centered church, and is a part of the network of churches we are pursuing! The question “would we be better together?” only grew louder in our ears! All of this converged with the final piece of the puzzle, which was to ask the members of Redeemer Norfolk the same question. We met as a church to consider the possibility that the “coincidences” were too many. We took a month to pray and fast about the direction the Lord was leading us in. Was it His will to unite us to this church plant and continue stronger together rather than apart? Or was it His will to continue as a campus of Redeemer Church and consider ways to grow alongside all the churches in Norfolk, including The Mission Church?
Our members recently had a meeting with Charles and his leadership team where Charles had a chance to fully share the progress and vision of The Mission Church as well as his vision for the two becoming one. After our members had a chance to ask a number of very good questions both theologically and practically, we unanimously believe that the Lord is calling us to unite together and bring a formal end to Redeemer Norfolk. We met last Sunday right after our service and made this decision together. Our folks at Redeemer Norfolk feel called to invest in this new work and we trust that God is going to unite the hearts of these two congregations as each is yoked together in the mission of the church in Norfolk.
Norfolk is racially and culturally diverse, has two major universities (Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University), hosts the world’s largest Naval Base, has a large medical school, and has a downtown that supports both a growing business district and an emerging food / culture / nightlife vibe…but Norfolk is also a city that is far from being fully saturated by gospel-preaching churches. It is with joy that we join our campus with a church plant that is on the road to making a gospel-difference in one of the great cities of Hampton Roads!
It is because of the abundant clarity that the Lord has given to all of us—both sets of leaders and congregations—that makes us comfortable (and excited!) to make this transition immediately. We believe we have prayed for clarity and direction, and that we have overwhelmingly received both from the Lord. The members of Redeemer Norfolk who feel led will pursue membership at The Mission Church beginning April 22. And the possibility exists that if the Lord leads Redeemer Chesapeake to join Sojourn Network, our two churches might become sister churches, formally partnered together!
Change always presents an interesting challenge. Many love change. Others hate it. But for us all, it gives us a chance to simultaneously look back and ahead. We look back to all that God has done in the various seasons of life that He has faithfully led us through; we look ahead with joy and confidence that He is on the move, building His church, ordering our steps, and leading us in His perfect will. I will remain grateful and in awe of the many families who made so many sacrifices to serve and build a new work in Norfolk because of their love for Jesus and their city over the last 4 years. These saints are dear friends and faithful colaborers in the gospel and are to be honored for the work and commitment. Together we will forever be grateful for all that God has done through Redeemer Norfolk and trust that the story will only grow more and more rich as we now partner together with like-minded believers at The Mission Church to see this gospel-centered church and others continue to saturate Hampton Roads for the glory of God!