Special project: Where have all the churches gone?
Introduction • Where have all the churches gone?: Christian Chronicle…
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Mayfair Church of Christ — at one time a flagship congregation among Churches of Christ in the Oklahoma City area — will become the fifth campus of Crossings Community Church, which has more than 9,000 members.
Mayfair and Crossings both began in the same north Oklahoma City neighborhood known as Belle Isle in 1958 and 1959, respectively. While not a merger in the legal sense, according to Jared Chambers, minister at Mayfair, the two have entered a partnership that returns Crossings to the neighborhood where it began. The Mayfair campus will be known as Crossings-Mayfair. Chambers will remain as associate location pastor.
In addition to its worship venues, which are all instrumental, Crossings has two clinics, a community center and leads worship services in all 22 of the state’s prisons. It has 11 elders, including two women, and 11 ministry staff members with the addition of Chambers.
In the 1980s, Mayfair had 800 to 900 members, Chambers said, but over the past year the monthly average has been right at 100. He described Mayfair as “an aging congregation and largely a commuter congregation,” with many older members who now live in more distant parts of the city. The neighborhood by the church is more diverse than it was in the 1950s.
Chambers said he and the three Mayfair elders began looking at options at the first of this year.
“After we assessed last year’s financial situation it became apparent we needed to discuss all options,” he said — including merging with another Church of Christ or selling the building and finding something smaller.
After a meeting in which those present challenged one another to pray about solutions, and before the next meeting was scheduled, the church received a phone call from a commercial real estate agent.
“He said, ‘I’ve got a client interested in coming into your area. Have you thought of selling your property?’” Chambers recalled.
Chambers told him they were looking at options and would take a meeting. The agent told him, “In all transparency, the client is Crossings.”
Marty Grubbs, senior pastor at Crossings, had not planned on approaching Mayfair.
“I have friends and relatives in Churches of Christ in Oklahoma –– I felt like that could be offensive to ask those questions,” Grubbs said. Instead, Crossings was looking at a large office complex across the street. When that didn’t work, the megachurch gave up on the idea of starting a new campus in the area.
“I just said, ‘Lord, I’ll wait,’ and we dropped it,” Grubbs said. But then the real estate agent approached the leaders and told them he had made a phone call to Mayfair, and they were willing to talk.
Conversations began. In one of the first ones, “we wound up sitting around and talking about our neighborhood,” Chambers said. “They felt God had been calling them back to where they started.”
Plans were announced to the Mayfair members at a two-hour, Sunday afternoon meeting in August, with a vote scheduled the next weekend.
Gayle Reams, a longtime member, said the news was “a surprise to everybody and a shock to a few old people.”
Reams, 84, said he and and his wife, who is 82, have struggled with the issues of instrumental worship — Crossings is instrumental — and women preaching from the pulpit. But Reams said he and his wife are going to worship in the new combined congregation “at least to start out.”
Grubbs said a woman preaches at the congregation “maybe three or four times a year,” and women do serve in leadership roles in ministry and as elders. He acknowledged that “there are two really good positions that stand on solid ground, but again we’re not the kind that says you’ve got to see it our way.”
Chambers said the vote passed with 92 percent in favor of the partnership with Crossings. A few have left, and he thinks a few more will go. But he was pleased and even surprised by the level of support.
Though he doesn’t call the new relationship a merger, ownership of the debt-free property will be transferred to Crossings, which will begin some renovations in a few weeks. An official inaugural service will be planned for January. Chambers will remain on staff, preaching some at the Mayfair location and some at the main campus as well.
Crossings is affiliated with the non-Pentecostal branch of the Church of God, based in Anderson, Ind. The congregation makes communion available in every worship site every Sunday and conducts baptism Sundays quarterly, with 403 baptisms during the most recent one.
But, Grubbs said, if Chambers wants to baptize someone immediately rather than wait, that would be completely acceptable. Similarly, Crossings is open to having an a cappella worship in the chapel at the Mayfair location if some members prefer that.
“I’ve never been a guy who thought God is wrapped up in doctrine — we’re not doctrine-driven,” said Grubbs, who serves as an elder as well as the senior pastor. “You focus on core principles that are not debated.”
Both fellowships have autonomous congregations, elders and baptism by immersion. Crossings draws on Wesleyan doctrinal roots. “We focus on Jesus and the whole of Scripture,” Grubbs said.
In announcing the move to its membership, a statement on the Crossings website said, in part:
“Mayfair Church of Christ will provide a great church building, a global missions ministry, a committed staff, and a congregation that is motivated to reach the community. Crossings will also provide families that want to be a part of this new effort, a pastoral staff, spiritual oversight, and will work to renovate the church to allow for dynamic worship, discipleship, and outreach ministries.”
Among Churches of Christ, the Heritage 21 Foundation has been a resource to congregations like Mayfair that are closing, merging or reinventing themselves in response to shrinking membership or other issues.
Doug Peters, who became executive director of the foundation Sept. 1, said he was aware of the Mayfair situation but could not speak to its specifics. The foundation is not involved in Mayfair’s collaboration with Crossings.
“I trust that the church leaders involved prayerfully discerned God’s will throughout the process,” said Peters, a longtime minister.
Although he said he has not seen many recent mergers outside of the fellowship of Churches of Christ, “it depends on how far back you go.”
“Christian unity is part of our heritage going back to the early leaders of the Stone-Campbell American Restoration Movement,” Peters explained. “Since our congregations are autonomous, we encourage them to make life cycle decisions that reflect the values of their members.”
Some members from Crossings joined the Mayfair Christians at a celebration luncheon on Sept. 3. Members shared a Tex-Mex lunch and more than a few tears as they recounted the history of Mayfair and its meaning in their lives.
Honoring that history is a personal commitment for Grubbs. He said two cornerstones of the building, one with the name of the church and the other with a reference to Ephesians 2:20, will be remounted inside the building in a permanent display.
“I don’t ever want anyone coming through those doors to forget Mayfair Church of Christ.”
Associate editor Audrey Jackson contributed to this report.
CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle contributing editor who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. Contact [email protected].
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