Local groups offer alternative to ‘church world’

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Window decals are pretty popular nowadays, from mud-spattered trucks depicting the Browning hunting logo on their back glass to pristine new minivans with stick figure depictions of the whole family (pets included).
But the windows of “Porkchop” Falkner’s forest green Xterra carry a particularly grabbing message: “Religion Stinks, Follow Jesus.”
Not Like Church
Falkner helps lead a church that’s, well, not like church with the Rev. Mike Price. The two met in 2006 when Price overheard Falkner leading a youth Bible study in Starbuck’s.
The group is very small, numbering around 40 on Saturday and Sunday night gatherings.
“It’s more like a big Sunday school class,” Falkner said. “Everyone takes part and has input. Our messages aren’t as take-it-or-leave-it as mainstream churches.”
A typical service, he said, begins with a meal and fellowship, then turns to a free-flowing discussion led by Falkner and Price. Those present are encouraged to share their opinions candidly and openly.
“Life isn’t a sitcom, where a person has a problem, finds an answer, and solves it in a neat 30-minute segment,” Falkner said. “Answers to life’s problems can be fuzzy, and usually lead to more questions.”
Falkner said the group was just as likely to meet at a coffee shop or a restaurant as their home base, the Garden at Gun Club, which lies just past the Tupelo Regional Airport.
The group does not seek to break tradition for the pure sake of it, said Price, but seeks to get to the essence of what church truly is.
“And that requires a constant re-examination of priorities, what’s important,” Price said.
For instance, when the group’s praise band disbanded, they realized it wasn’t as crucial as they had thought.
“We came to the conclusion ‘maybe this isn’t what God wants for us right now,’” Falkner said. “So we put the idea down and we’ll leave it until God leads us to pick it back up again.”
Falkner said the most distinguishing characteristic of their idea was to evangelize on the basis of personal relationships.
“The church should be where the people are, be it houses, stores, or saloon,” Falkner said. “Lots of people who go to church together don’t know each other. We want to meet people where they hang out, connect with them on a personal level, get to know them, and hopefully they will want to know what we’re about.”
This approach, Price said, imitates Christ’s willingness to get his hands dirty.
“We’re all messed up people,” Price said. “But hope isn’t reserved just for clergy, and hope doesn’t only come from a religious education. Hope comes from life.”
None of this is to say Price and Falkner do not like church just because they are not like church. They just hope to cast another net to reach those who are disenfranchised or intimidated by “church world.”
“People at other churches are my brothers and sisters too,” Falkner said. “We aren’t trying to find enemies in anyone. Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where the food is.”
Koinonia Church
Pastored by the Rev. Brett McKee, the Koinonia Church seeks to emulate what a first-century church would look like.
McKee said a discomfort grew in his heart over the past few years, ultimately leading him to leave his position at Saltillo’s First Baptist Church last July. A few families felt similarly, and followed him.
“Church can’t be a thing we add to the weekly agenda and check it off after the service each Sunday. What determines a success isn’t the number of people in the pews, it’s about growing spiritually and making disciples,” McKee said.
In the months following his departure, the group met at members’ homes, deciding what they wanted to be. Slowly, their group expanded to around 30. They began worshiping at empty gymnasiums around town. Sunday night youth studies were hosted at Chick-Fil-A. All the while, they meticulously and prayerfully wrote their own constitution and documents needed to become an official church, and were incorporated into the Southern Baptist Convention last month. Their name comes from the Greek word for “fellowship,” according to McKee.
Chris McCormick, who met McKee in Kroger, said the Koinonia experience is quite different from the norm.
“I knew something was wrong when I realized that if I was having trouble in my life, the last place I would want to share it would be church,” McCormick said. “We want people to be open. It’s OK to ask questions and admit fears and try to understand, because saying ‘that’s just the way it is’ is not good enough.”
McKee said Koinonia is an active church that seeks to make Christ’s message into a lifestyle.
“This group isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. It really relies on the people in it to buy into the concept of being genuine and truly trying to live up to the role of a disciple,” he said. “We love people how they are, but love them too much to stay that way.”
riley.manning@jounalinc.com