Grace Presbyterian Church in Jasper, TN entered a new season of growth with help from the presbytery’s revitalization program. Erik McDaniel came to Grace before the presbytery had established the current revitalization plan, but he and the church joined the program and helped put the plan into action.
A Faithful Few
The story of Grace centers on a core group of faithful believers. In Erik’s words, “There weren’t a lot of people, but they all deeply loved Jesus.” In the spring of 2015, Grace only had about eleven people each Sunday, but they had the same faithful eleven week after week. The church had existed for more than a decade, and that decade bore fruit – just not the fruit of growth in numbers.
Jasper, TN has a predominantly Southern Baptist influence, so Reformed teachings like TULIP and paedobaptism were foreign and a bit off-putting to many in the community. With the additional small town culture of families attending the same church for generations, Grace had an uphill battle to gain critical mass. They entered discussions with the presbytery about hiring a full-time pastor (after years of having a part-time pastor) and how to survive as a body of believers.
Erik and Maggie McDaniel
Right at the time that Grace needed a pastor, Erik McDaniel and his wife, Maggie, sensed a call to church revitalization in a rural setting. Erik, Maggie, and their six children moved from their church in Anniston, AL to Jasper at the end of 2015. Erik says, “It was clear that the church didn’t need ‘soul work.’ They knew Jesus, had humility, and came with hands open. Grace just needed ‘body work’ – growing the body of this church.”
Because of the humility and faith of Grace’s members, Erik feels no pressure from expectations. “The core group of eleven created an ethos where I don’t feel like I can fail. They don’t have expectations that I can let down because their hands are open and willing to see how God will work. From the beginning, they were my cheerleaders.”
Beginning to Grow
Grace Presbyterian began thinking with the mentality that the church exists for the community. They asked, “How can we bless the community?” With time, Erik and the core eleven members have gotten to know more of their neighbors.
One significant boost for them is a retirement community on Jasper Mountain. Still fairly recent, the development draws people from all around the nation. Most of these people are searching for community in their new home, and Grace is only about ten minutes away. One couple from the retirement community visited the church and brought more neighbors. With many backgrounds from around the U.S. at Jasper Highlands mingling with the small town culture of Jasper, Grace Presbyterian is a place of unity. Erik says, “We would love for Grace to be the place where the mountain and the valley meet, where unity in Christ is expressed even as worlds collide.”
Scott Wells talks with a student at Chatt State.
Chattanooga State’s Kimball campus is also just down the road from Grace, offering another community to reach with the gospel. With the help of former RUF pastor Scott Wells, Grace made inroads at the college starting in 2019, and they hope to continue reaching and ministering to students.
Growing in the Gospel
To provide benchmarks for church plants, the PCA uses three markers: 50 adult members, 90% of the budget comes from the local church, and the church is capable of governance and leadership (by providing its own elders and deacons). These markers are also helpful for revitalization, although they are not the only indicators of true church health. Grace is approaching the 50 member mark, but even so, Erik says, “If no one ever comes to our church because of our labors but Jesus is being glorified through our work, can I be okay with that? Yes, absolutely. My job is to equip the saints for ministry in the community. The people here are loving each other and growing in the gospel, and the retired folks are laboring in their community. As we aim for those three markers, we first aim to live out the gospel.”