Over 70 churches in Charlotte, North Carolina, have come together to declare in a unified sermon series what they are for, as opposed to what they are against.
"This whole thing started for us just out of relationship," said Chris Payne, the senior pastor of two vibrant churches that recently merged to become one congregation, in a phone interview with The Christian Post.
Payne, 41, leads New Charlotte Church, which he and his wife started in their living room eight years ago, and Church at Charlotte, a 50-year-old congregation in the city.
While with a pastor friend whom he goes running with on the weekends, the two ended up discussing the possibility of writing a set of sermons together and spoke of swapping pulpits in a demonstration of unity to the community. They proceeded and put together a simple four-part series and called it "For Charlotte."
"We wanted to let people know what we were for. A lot of times people know what the Church is against, but not really what we are for together."
"And we're for the Gospel, for the Church, capital-C church; we're for each other, our neighbors; and we're for our city."
Originally intended for just their two churches, they started sharing the idea with their respective circles of friends who decided they also wanted to be a part of it too. A local network of pastors and churches, which happens to be called "For Charlotte," also got on board and asked Payne if they, too, could promote the sermon series to their network.
Before long, 74 churches decided to participate and are preaching each of the messages on the first four Sundays in September.
Payne re-emphasized that he wants the whole city to know that togetherness prevails across denominational and racial lines — that despite differences, the church really is unified on common message.
"Sometimes what gets lost in the things that we do stand against is the message that 'well, the reason that we do stand against certain things is because of the things we're standing for."
"And sometimes our preferences get elevated above purpose. We kind of fall in love with our preferences and sometimes, even unintentionally, that becomes divisive and we separate because it," he replied, when asked why he believes the American church on the whole seems plagued with unnecessary divisions.
"We divide over worship styles and preaching styles, programming styles, and we sort of silo ourselves."
Pastors can fall into this trap, he added, and they do not always do a good job of building good friendships and community with other pastors who are different from us, but those relationships are where church unity starts.
"I really would want to encourage pastors [participating in] this series that if they could take anything from it that it would be to reach out to somebody in your city that is not a part of your community and take them to lunch. And just listen, with no ulterior motive than 'I want to know you, and want to be known [by you],'" he said.
Payne's church has also decided that even the community service activities they do will not be done alone; they always cooperate with other churches.
Before the sermon series began earlier this month, the participating pastors assembled just to pray. They spent about an hour-and-a-half interceding for the city and for the church together.
He looked across the room and saw an older African-American lady, who pastors a church in town, alongside a middle-aged white man, who leads another congregation, holding hands praying together.
"I just thought, 'Wow, the series itself is going to be great ... but seeing that moment, that is the fruit of it.'"