Members of The Quest, a new nontraditional church that meets weekly in small groups, gather at Sunrise Grill before a trip to Atlanta to attend 7:22, a worship service with the Ministry of Northpoint Community Church. Church members present are: Becca Pitts (from left), David Leo Jackson, the Rev. John Kenney, Chris Thomas, Stephen Towns and Meredith McKnight.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
A combination of coffee and something called "cell groups" is the vision the Rev. John Kenney had when he felt called to enter seminary five years ago.
Since then, he has graduated and become the pastor of a nontraditional church.
The Quest, a new church parented by Aldersgate United Methodist Church, meets weekly as small groups, or cells, in members' homes or coffee shops. A large monthly service, or worship gathering, is held at the Sunrise Grill in West Town Shopping Center on Washington Road.
"Churches today have names that reflect their vision and mission,'' the Rev. Kenney said. "I could've named it 'St. Whatever,' but today's people identify with image and symbolism."
The name of the church has two connotations, the Rev. Kenney said. First, he said he believes every person is on a quest to find out what life is about. Second, he said he believes God is on a quest for people.
"The goal of our church is to bring those two quests together; to help people discover God, that there is no meaning or purpose in life without him," he said.
The Rev. Kenney was a youth minister and associate pastor at Aldersgate for 10 years before he said he felt a call from God to attend seminary and pastor a nontraditional church. When he graduated from Erskine Theological Seminary a year ago, he returned to Aldersgate with his idea. Through support from Aldersgate, The Quest was appointed as a church on July 1.
Through The Quest, the Rev. Kenney said he is trying to reach "the emerging generation," those he describes as younger than 40. He said the United Methodist Church has conducted a demographic study that shows that of the people who attend church on "any given Sunday, less than 10 percent are under the age of 30."
The idea of meeting in small groups is not a new one, the pastor said. When John Wesley started the Methodist Church 300 years ago, he started "by getting people into small groups to talk." The Quest has about 55 adult members who are divided into eight cell groups that meet weekly at various times and places.
The Rev. Kenney said cell groups are different from the typical Bible study, because the discussion comes out of issues that individuals in the group are facing.
"It's a community, a group of people living life together, focusing on each other and our faith, rather than on a curriculum," he said. "It's scary to some people because it's more than a set of doctrines. It's a living, breathing relationship that you have with God. ...
"We are people gathering together, not a building. It's not songs, drama, or lighting that we focus on. We want people to experience God in their worship."
Although they might have a building in the future, the Rev. Kenney said that meeting in the Sunrise Grill is an ideal situation because the grill closes at 2 p.m. each day. The Quest worship gathering is at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. A children's service is held simultaneously at Eve's Garden, a gym in the West Town Shopping center.
The Sunrise Grill opens at 6 p.m. to serve supper to the people attending the worship gathering. The Rev. Kenney said he got the idea of using the restaurant for worship because he eats there with other pastors every Monday.
Because the service centers on discussion, the order of service sometimes gets confusing. The Rev. Kenney said the leaders have to be ready to discuss what they are struggling with. Many times, he said, the services begin in total darkness, then candles are added to create an atmosphere of mystery, because "it makes you think, and embracing God's mystery is good."
"I love a traditional service, and I love a contemporary service,'' he said. "I'm not saying this is the way to do it. But I am saying it's one way to do it.''
For more information about The Quest, contact the Rev. Kenney at 833-6170, or visit the Web site at www.thequestonline.com.
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