When Pastor Drake Cromer-Moore became pastor of First Christian Church of Gainesville, FL in 2021, he faced a daunting challenge.
The church, founded in 1921, was down to eight active members – average age 75 – trying to support a costly campus in Gainesville. Still, Pastor Drake knew that God was not quite finished with the congregation. He hired musicians to replace the canned YouTube music on offer during worship, and membership increased to 30 people. And yet this was not substantial enough to save the church.
Enter Meizon Mission, an independent congregation founded by Pastor Kevin Bruchert in late 2020 to intentionally welcome people who had historically been marginalized by churches. Initially an online-only faith community, Meizon’s leaders searched for a long-term place for in-person worship as more young families began participating.
Understanding Pastor Drake’s dilemma with an aging population and Pastor Kevin’s need for more space as his congregation grew, mutual friends of both pastors introduced the two. As they began exploring ministry possibilities, they found that they spoke the same theological language.
Pastor Drake was raised in a religiously conservative context. But as an adult, he found that the freedom of theological interpretation within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) provided a more inclusive space for him and his husband to worship Jesus together with others of various Christian backgrounds. And while Pastor Kevin knew of the denomination, he didn’t realize how much his congregation’s theology mirrored that of the Disciples until he met his counterpart.
“They were Disciples,” chuckles Pastor Drake, “without knowing they were Disciples.”
Meizon, which roughly translates to “greater” in Greek, sought to provide a more loving and graceful space where people could hear the good news of Jesus.
“People are looking for something greater with others, with God, and with their community,” reflects Pastor Kevin, “We want to do more than ‘business as usual’ church. We don’t want to just talk about racial issues and empowering women in church leadership. We want to lead by example.”
Meizon’s approach appealed to many Millennials, Gen Xers, and young adults who felt disenfranchised by the events of 2020. By the time the pastors met, Meizon had grown to more than 60 people.
Pastor Drake was eager to work with Pastor Kevin and his flock. The invitation to Meizon to move into FCC’s building was formalized Easter of 2022.
But both pastors saw promise in more than just sharing space. Late 2022, FCC and Meizon began working toward a merger. Leaders of both communities felt the congregations would be stronger together.
Meizon started the process to become a Disciples “congregation in formation” in the Florida region with the help of Regional Minister Rev. Sandy Messick.
Meanwhile, Pastor Drake sat down with his members, having hard conversations about governance and structural shifts.
“In a perfect world, everyone would start working together on the next steps,” Pastor Drake recalls. “But there was a misunderstanding of what our bylaws actually said and what tradition dictated, so a re-education process had to happen.”
Both communities have learned from one another and grown in their journey together, the pastors report. Meizon is flourishing with the stability of a permanent location. And FCC has become stronger in its identity, gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Disciples congregation.
“Everything that has happened feels like such a good fit,” says Pastor Kevin. “This relationship with FCC has allowed Meizon to do all the things we have visioned for since we started.”
The bond touches the community as well.
“Some of the most impressive things about what we’re doing are the relationships we’ve built with a lot of local evangelical pastors,” Pastor Drake says. “They’re grateful to have a place where queer people can go to ask questions.”
In mid-April, FCC voted to adopt the plan to merge with Meizon, which is slated to take place Jan. 9, 2024.
In opening its doors and its heart to a new partnership, FCC and Meizon say God is doing a new thing in Gainesville.
Emerging and affiliating congregations like Meizon Mission can get the support that they need to thrive when you make a gift to the Pentecost Offering, received this year in most congregations on Sundays, May 21 and 28. Half of the gifts go to regional new churches, and the other half goes to New Church Ministry which trains, equips, and empowers new church leaders. Please give generously.
3 thoughts on “Aging Florida Congregation Reignites with Merger”
God is so good! I know that with God’s grace and love these two amazing men will continue to spread the gospel as it was meant to be! So proud of my amazing nephew Drake!!!
Great article, and captures the scene completely. God is good all the time. And all the time God is good!
Thank you Ted, it was such a pleasure to hear this congregation’s story and to share it with the wider church!