By Jessica Brodie
CHARLESTON—They started Two Rivers Church to reach the lost and lonely, the “misfits,” the people who didn’t necessarily feel welcome or wanted in church.
A year after their launch, it seems the lost and lonely—not to mention lots of new residents and young families—are finding their new church home in droves.
Two Rivers is a United Methodist new church start led by the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby and her team of ministry leaders. In March 2018, they began meeting weekly, and their first church home was in a pub outside the MUSC Health Stadium on Daniel Island—an ideal casual gathering space for the eclectic new congregation.
But, said Hudson-Jacoby, “In the first nine months of worshiping together, we realized that we were quickly outgrowing our Sunday morning home at the Three Lions Pub!”
They began looking for a new space with more room and soon discovered their current home: Philip Simmons High School.
“The principal and school leaders welcomed us with open arms,” Hudson-Jacoby said.
And the space turned out to be ideal, enabling their congregation to grow even faster than before.
The new space offered Two Rivers large classrooms to set up learning environments for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary-aged children, as young families are a big chunk of their membership.
“Our children use a Montessori approach to learning about God, and their work and creations are the focal point of our prayer space,” Hudson-Jacoby said. “Children are bringing their families to worship because they are so excited about their projects.”
Stanton Adams, director of communications for Two Rivers Church, called the community around the high school “the definition of suburbia,” with lots of sprawling neighborhoods, lots of industry and tons of people moving into area—a lot of them young parents in mid-range jobs who are new to Charleston and don’t have a well-established church home.
With their “everybody’s welcome” mission, Two Rivers has attracted those families and others who are seeking diverse, inclusive church experiences.
“A lot of people honestly have never been in a church setting at all,” Adams said. “We have a lot of people in our context who are still a little bit skeptical and cautious about church, and we’ve cultivated an environment where we’ve acknowledged it’s OK to have those feelings.
“We meet people where they are.”
They meet in the cafeteria, but the school allows them a children’s space, two classrooms, storage space and more.
Hudson-Jacoby and Adams said what has been key to their growth and what they believe will help their sustainability is that they have never strayed from the five core values they established up front: being inclusive, vulnerable, authentic, creative and beautiful—plus keeping a focus on Jesus-centered, service-oriented ministry.
That has attracted a diverse group of worshippers, older people, young families, gay and straight, racial and economic diversity, diversity of ability, etc.
“We’re a church rooted in those values,” Adams said. “But we’re also a church that needs to adapt for a world that needs the church. We can’t have the mindset people will come and meet us where we are—we have to meet them where they are. We have to get up from our table and go meet people there.”
One place they have been meeting people in a big way is on social media, particularly on Instagram and on their Two Rivers Conversations Facebook group, which they said has been a valuable outreach tool.
“Sunday morning as our sole point of contact is a bit of an antiquated concept,” Adams said, noting there are far more ways to do church than at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
They livestream every Sunday morning, and they said a large number of their young families—whether unchurched, de-churched or church-adverse—experiemented with them online first, then reached out to Hudson-Jacoby with questions.
“We are rooting ourselves deeply throughout the Charleston region, offering a wide and open welcome to people—with LGBTQIA+ folks, people who experienced spiritual trauma, unchurched folks and residents to the Charleston area,” Hudson-Jacoby said. “At our heart, we are a people who seek to follow and be formed by the radical, counter-cultural and beautiful Jesus Christ.
“We are truly creating a place for new people, younger people and more diverse people.”
For more on Two Rivers, connect with them on social media or visit https://tworiverschs.org.