By Lonnie Wilkey
FRANKLIN — The Gathering at 840 would not be considered the typical new church start in Tennessee today.
Few churches start out with two staff members who are a combined 135 years old and have decades of experience as Southern Baptist ministers.
Yet, that’s exactly what The Gathering at 840 has in Pastor Gene Mims and associate/administrative pastor Phil Jones. In addition, the church has worship pastor who joined the team from Mississippi.
The two men are long-time friends and colleagues. Both began serving at Judson Baptist Church in 2006 and ministered there until about 16 months ago. Jones retired and Mims was in a period of transition, moving from pastor to co-pastor with his son Jeff. Mims and Jones had been talking about starting a church together for many years, Mims said. Judson had been considering planting a new church, so the timing came together, the two men agreed.
With the support of Judson and lead pastor Jeff Mims (Gene Mims still serves as co-pastor at Judson), The Gathering at 840 launched last September at Page Middle School. Approximately 50 people attended a “soft” launch and then the next week, 108 people came to the official opening.
Since then, the congregation is averaging between 80-90 people each Sunday. In addition to a few members who made the transition from Judson to help the new congregation, the church is reaching people from all walks of life in Williamson County and beyond. And, in just a few months, the church is continuing to grow.
And, unlike most new church plants, the Gathering has been self-supporting for the most part, Mims said. He acknowledged, however, that Judson “has been very generous with us.” He expects the new congregation to be completely on its own financially by October of this year.
“Judson is exited to once again be giving birth to another church,” said Jeff Mims of Judson.
“Throughout our church’s history we have been committed to seeing new churches start in Nashville. We can’t wait to see what God will do with the Gathering, and we hope to be planting more churches in the future.”
Though the Gathering is a contemporary church, it is multi-generational and offers Sunday School classes for all ages, Mims said.
“We never wanted to be a one, single-generation church,” Mims said. He noted how great it was at a recent church fellowship to see young kids sitting at the same table and engaging with 50 year olds. “It was awesome. It really was,” the pastor said.
Mims said the church’s mission statement is simple: “We’re a gathering of believers inviting others to join us in following Christ.”
He also noted the church is Southern Baptist to the core and will be affiliating with the Nashville Baptist Association. The church already is sending funds through the Cooperative Program to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for ministry in Tennessee and the Southern Baptist Convention. “That’s who we are.”
Both Mims and Jones praised the TBMB for their support in getting started. In addition to support from Lewis McMullen, TBMB church planting specialist, and executive director Randy C. Davis, everyone the church has talked to has been helpful, Mims said. “In every hurdle we had it seemed like someone from the TBMB was part of the solution,” he observed. In addition, Bill Gruenewald and the Tennessee Baptist Foundation has provided an office for the church to use, Jones added.
Mims wants his congregation to know that they are members of a larger family or network of churches and that they need to be Kingdom-focused. That’s important for them to know, he observed.
Meeting in a middle school has helped involve members, both men agreed. Members come to set up each week, including the pastor, Jones said. “I thought I’d get out of that, but I didn’t. They won’t let me,” Mims laughed.
He acknowledged that the Gathering needs its own building and plans are underway to purchase property and eventually build in the area, he said. But that will take some time, he added.
In the meantime, Mims is committed to helping the church get “up, running, and healthy to a point where we can bring in an associate pastor who would eventually become pastor of the church,” he said. “I’m a steward right now,” he said.
When the transition is completed in a few years and The Gathering has a new pastor, Mims and Jones wouldn’t mind starting the process over somewhere else. “That is the heart of Judson —to continually plant new churches,” Jones observed.
Mims noted his son Jeff has the same vision. “He says we’re (Judson) is going to be involved in church revitalization and church planting.”