By David Dawson
Rarely, however, does it happen in the manner in which Elevate Church experienced it.
The budding church in Milan — which is less than two years old — recently changed locations after a series of miraculous events.
Last fall, Dale Denning, pastor of Elevate, was invited to meet with the leadership team from Connect Church, a fellow church plant in the Milan area. The result of the meeting ultimately changed the direction, literally, of Elevate Church.
“When I met with them, they basically said ‘we want to give our building to Elevate Church,’ ” said Denning. “They told me that they would like for our church to start using their facility, and that their members would join with us.”
Although Connect’s building was only seven years old, the church leaders at Connect told Denning that this was a step God was leading them to take.
“Honestly, it’s a testament to Connect Church,” he said. “They told me, ‘We’ve been praying for three years that God would grow this church, and we’d be able to reach people and become a lighthouse in this community.’ ”
Denning recalled that the Connect leaders said, “We just felt very convicted that the Holy Spirit was telling us that we need to give this building — give it totally over — to you.”
Soon, the wheels were in motion for a merger of the two churches, and a partnership was formed that helped fortify the progress that Elevate Church was already making in the area. Elevate Church officially moved into the new facility last September, and has seen continual growth since.
Connect Church was launched by the Gibson Baptist Association roughly three years ago, but the church struggled to gain traction in the area, and was not seeing as much growth as hoped. Denning says he is still awed by the generosity shown by the Connect congregation and leadership.
“They literally just gave (the property) to us,” said Denning. “So, we took it, and people have just been coming — every week, new people.”
In a clever piece of marketing, the sign outside the church now reads: “Connect with Elevate Church.”
The merger of the churches is just one element of Elevate’s history. The church launched in the second week of February in 2020 — roughly three weeks before the long list of COVID protocols and precautions were put in place across the nation.
Obviously, social distancing and “shelter in place” guidelines aren’t the ideal situation for a church that is trying to get a foothold in the community. But Elevate was able to navigate through the challenges, and found ways to minister to those in the area.
Denning, in fact, said the church “hardly missed a beat” during the pandemic in terms of maintaining its momentum.
“We did some things differently during that time; some things that I don’t necessarily think anyone else was doing — or at least that I know of,” he said. “For instance, we did an online revival and had two people saved. And for Easter (in 2020), since we knew we couldn’t invite the kids to church, we went to homes (of families with children) and left Easter baskets on their porch, so there was no contact. We did a lot of things like that.”
The church also did a food drive and had numerous outreach events during the pandemic. “Even though we couldn’t gather in person for part of the time, we just wanted to make sure that we were keeping people plugged in and excited,” said Denning.
The church recently held a “Not Part of the 30” campaign, which was created by Denning in response to widely-published statistics that revealed that roughly 30 percent of churchgoers would not return after the pandemic. Denning challenged the Elevate members to prove those numbers wrong.
“My philosophy is if people hear Jesus is in the house, they’ll show up,” he said. “I believe that. I tell my folks, ‘If we worship, and if we love one another, and we care about one another, and we minister to one another.’ ”
Denning said he believes the church body at Elevate, which now includes many former members of Connect, show their love for God by showing their love for each other. He said the church body has been in harmony from Day 1 of the merger — and he knows that isn’t always the case when churches come together.
“They were so supportive, so encouraging about this,” he said. “They have totally given authority and leadership to Elevate. No question. I mean, one of the first things we did — and some people might laugh at this — but the very first week, we went in and took the pews out, and put our chairs in. Guess what? Not one (negative) word was said.”
Denning said the smooth transition is a testament to his “great staff.”
Elevate has continued to see growth, among multiple age demographics, in the past few months. Denning noted that Elevate’s children’s ministry is averaging about 25 kids on any given Sunday.
“It’s really healthy,” he said. “The atmosphere is great. (Elevate) is a little over a year old, and the things that are going on — it’s pretty phenomenal.” B&R