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On a mission: Cabot church with unique name puts focus on local community

By Jeanni Brosius

This article was originally published October 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. Updated October 3, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.

from-the-left-scott-harness-keith-medlock-and-russell-stewart-pastors-at-thatchurchcom

From the left, Scott Harness, Keith Medlock and Russell Stewart, pastors at ThatChurch.com.

— Thatchurch.com is a church that not only has a unique name, but also has a unique approach to spirituality and mission work — putting the focus on local mission work first.

Thatchurch.com’s Cabot campus, which opened on Sept. 9 at 602 E. Main St., comprises four churches that recently merged: CrossPointe, Bethel Baptist, The Gathering and ThatChurch.com. The new campus has been averaging an attendance of more than 200 people.

Russell Stewart and Keith Medlock are pastors for the Cabot campus, which is the former home of Bethel Baptist. They were with CrossPoint and Bethel, respectively, before they decided to merge with ThatChurch.com in Sherwood.

“We believe that we are on our mission field,” Stewart said about the church’s local mission work. “We believe our mission is here, and the bulk of our resources are spent here. … We do missions locally as an outreach for people’s needs.”

Some of the plans for the Cabot campus’s local mission work include a learning center that will provide after-school tutoring and coaching to prepare students to take the ACT.

“We really feel like the church itself is a mission, and the church is supposed to answer tough questions from the community, such as, ‘How do I stay married? [How do I deal with] financial responsibility that comes out of a broken economy? How do I deal with loneliness? How does my life matter?’” said Scott Harness, senior direction leader at ThatChurch.com in Sherwood. “We have good, practical answers that people need in everyday life. … We provide free counseling, and we have trained, certified counselors.”

The church also has an

iserveOthers team that is one of the first teams on the scene of a natural disaster or to aid in another kind of cleanup or repair.

Harness also said he believes that anyone should be welcomed into ThatChurch.com, and that no one is perfect, not even the pastors.

Harness founded ThatChurch.com on the basis that he believes that most communities are very religious, but there are a lot of people missing out on a relationship with God.

“God first and then people, and we believe people matter,” he said. “We’re broken, too, so let’s figure this out together. We want to change the perception of church. … There’s the idea out there that there are perfect people, good people and bad people. We believe everybody is broken, but God loves us.”

Recalling a negative religious experience, Harness said the church he grew up in was an “oppressive environment where religion was phony,” and he has met other people who have had similar experiences.

“It appeared no one else had problems, but everyone wore masks,” he said. “ThatChurch.com was birthed out of a heart that said, ‘Let’s be real.’ There’s so much freedom in not having to pretend.”

Harness said he was working as a photographer and a pastor when he realized that he was dissatisfied with the direction of the church where he was pastoring at the time.

“My wife said, ‘Maybe God is asking us to start something,’” Harness said. “The more I prayed about it, I saw there was a need for a new perspective. We needed a way to be able to love people for who they are.”

So Harness started a Bible study in his photography studio with six people, including himself. Two moves later, the church in Sherwood now averages more than 1,200 people, and that number grows each year. He said pastors from other churches come to him to see what he’s doing that they can implement in their churches.

“We didn’t take up an offering for a year, and I didn’t draw a salary for 3 1/2 years,” he said. “Then this thing got out of hand and went crazy.”

ThatChurch.com also has a campus in Medina, Tenn., and Harness is willing to talk to any other churches that would like to merge. Harness said ThatChurch.com also trains pastors and staff of other churches.

“We want to help any churches in communities that need help,” he said. “We share anything we’ve got. … We didn’t intend on transitioning churches, but there seems to be some real value in that. We had originally planned on just planting churches.”

Another unique aspect of ThatChurch.com is the children’s ministry.

Parents may be greeted by someone dressed in costume, and there is a bounce house, a rock-climbing wall and a slide in the play area near the children’s classrooms.

“We have these kids 52 times a year, and we have very little time, and we honor that time and want to make a difference,” he said. “If we can keep a child’s attention five minutes longer by having someone dressed as a pirate, we’ll do it.”

The church’s name was chosen to stand out and to direct people to the website to see what it’s all about. Although ThatChurch.com may sound like an online church, there are lively worship services at each campus every Sunday. Podcasts are also available online.

“We think the service should be a celebration,” Harness said with a smile.

For more information, visit ThatChurch.com.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

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