Marvin Rankin, an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazerene, had been living in Alexandria for 22 years as the pastor of a church before moving to Crozet two years ago with a new vision of church in mind. Now he’s something of a maverick pastor.
“We went into a dying, stuck-in-the-mud church and then we started getting more Spanish-speaking families and it took off in the fourth or fifth year,” he said. “God gave me a vision of our sanctuary filled with all kinds of people. In 15 years, we had three services and two congregations, one Spanish. We had an Eritrean congregation, too, so we would be singing in three languages.
“We wanted to do something else—start a church. We looked into how new churches start and none of it appealed to me. We wanted to connect with people who have no connection to a church anywhere.
“New churches attract Christians from other churches. We didn’t want to do that.”
About 45 percent of Americans go to church and attendance is going down, said Rankin, who supports himself, now, as a driver for the University Transit Service. “Among millennials it’s 38 percent,” he said. “It’s crazy.
“We wanted to be a mission to these people. Sometimes they have been hurt or ostracized, or they drifted away. They are hard to minister to.
“Now I’m the pastor of about 30 unchurched people. We build the relationships for the sake of the relationships. The whole movement is called ‘organic church, or house church or cell church or simple church.’”
People meet at Rankin’s house on Saturday nights. “They’re already believers,” he explained. “They’re being trained to lead small groups.” Some meetings are for religious purposes and some are music nights. A guitar player, Rankin has been joining in at the ‘jamming at the depot’ nights, too.
Rankin is also doing weddings and premarital counseling, as well as filling in for other area Nazerene ministers when they need substitutes.
“We’re a church without walls,” he said. “It’s real and it’s down to Earth. It meets people where they are and helps them build a relationship with Christ. It’s not us. It’s a movement in the U.S. and Europe. It’s a new way of doing church. It’s what you read about in the Book of Acts.
“I think it’s the church of the future in the U.S. We’ve been working in an ‘attractional model’ that stresses who does the best entertainment. The millennials are sort of done with this. They are largely missing from the Protestant churches. This house church model has always been used for missions. We in the U.S. are in a post-church but not a post-Christian time. People don’t want to give money for buildings. They want to give it for another purpose. I think it’s the salvation [for the decline in attendance]. There’s a call for change that’s happening by leaving the established church.
“The attractional church model used to work, but now it’s dying and the Christian leaders are not paying attention. The status quo was comfortable.
“One of people’s chief complaints is that their churches are constantly asking them for money. I think God is saying, ‘Fix my people.’ We’ve lost sight of it and we need to get back to it. You have to cast a vision and touch someone’s heart,” said Rankin, who said he was raised as a Catholic and once wanted to be a priest. He was born again in a Protestant sense after having left the Catholic Church as a teenager.
“We’re trying to get a Spanish cell going. I don’t plan to ever build a building. It will be a network of house churches.”
“We didn’t know a soul when we moved to Crozet and now we know lots of people. House church is real and it’s New Testament. That’s what we are going to do. We are under pressure to rent and have a worship band, but that’s not what we are going to do.”