During 1993 when about twelve us met for a year to study the Bible in planning for the start of Uptown Church we were moved by Jesus’ assertion of his essential purpose in coming to redeem a people for his Father from among the world, wherein he promised:
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)
This concept of Jesus coming to give life became a theme for us and serves today as the theme verse for Uptown Church as we hear on Sunday mornings. We were then struck by our Lord’s parable of the mustard seed.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31-32)
Here Jesus likens the growth of the kingdom of heaven to the growth of a mustard seed, which though an extremely small ends up being one of the largest trees in a garden, becoming a home for many birds. His point, as in most parables, is singular and clear: The Kingdom of God starts small but in the end, it has a big impact. We were excited to see what God would do were we to plant a seed of the Kingdom in downtown Charlotte.
Although we were distinctly small in numbers, our vision, for such a small group was big by any standards:
Our vision is to exalt Christ by sharing the life of Christ with people in Uptown Charlotte, across the US and around the world through being a transforming community, a loving witness, and a helping neighbor and by reproducing similar churches worldwide.
In each area, we prayed that Jesus would be pleased to work such that our church would change the lives of individuals and impact their communities, friends, and family for Christ. We wanted to build a church community that would change lives and help to touch our city and other cities with biblical community. We said in original vision statement that we wanted Uptown to become:
A transforming community, changed by Jesus Christ. The body of Christ is meant to be a community of faith that share their lives together deeply. Uptown will encourage people to open their hearts and lives to one another in honest and loving biblical community as we grow in discipleship.
We wanted to see people coming to know Christ through a biblical witness that reaches out to those who do not yet know the hope of forgiveness and life in Christ, so we hoped that Uptown would be:
A loving witness to life in Jesus Christ. Jesus left his church on earth with a mission: the great commission. We are called to consistently and joyfully extend His grace and rule into the lives of those who do not know Him.
We felt convicted that the calling of Christ on the lives of Christians was such that we should love our neighbors not only in Word but in deed as well so that we prayed Uptown would become:
A helping neighbor, empowered by Jesus Christ. Jesus called his followers to be good neighbors to those in need physically and socially. We believe that the love of God compels and equips us to meet these needs as we live out the gospel in word and deed.
Finally, we had a passion not only to drop one seed of the Kingdom into Uptown Charlotte but to drop them around the city and around the world, that is, to plant new church communities, that, while not identical to Uptown Church, would contain many of the same biblical values.
Reproducing Churches. Uptown will seek to plant other like-minded churches in Charlotte, across the US, and around the world. We will intentionally develop the organization, ideas, and procedures that can be reproduced, with modification, in other cities and countries.
How has that mustard seed grown?
Now, nearly 22 years after the start of Uptown Church on Oct. 9, 1994, we have seen God’s Word proven true. As Christ has enabled us to know and share the full life found in him, as he has enabled us to plant mustard seeds here in Charlotte and around the world, we have seen the small seed turn into a giant plant where many birds from many places find a home and find life.
In addition to helping dozens of churches start in the US and globally, Uptown has specifically daughtered five church plants, four in Charlotte and one in Prague. In addition to the over 1000 members who have been part of Uptown over the 22 years, more than another 1000 have been in her plants. As a leadership greenhouse Uptown has sent out something over 90 full-time missionaries, pastors, church planters, and campus ministers and countless scores of lay leaders to serve Jesus in other places. Our ministries of mercy touch scores each year, we have seen many professions of faith among our own children and adults coming to join us. We have known the deep and lasting community that Jesus offers.
What is next?
Today we are planning to launch church plants in Kuala Lumpur, Prague, and Charlotte, Lord willing, all within the next 18 months or so. Our hopes are for raising up more lay and ministry leaders through mentoring and internships programs, to go deeper in community as our Life Groups kick off for the fall with many new leaders, to reach even more people who do not know Christ, as though our Community Picnic, later in August, and to offer mercy ministry to a city filled with people in need, such as through our partnership with the Brookstone School.
Jesus’ promise that the Kingdom would start small and grow large and impact many has been realized and continues to be a marvel to all of us who saw those small beginnings. His promise to bring abundant life, starting here and culminating with the great wedding feast of the lamb, has proven true in our midst.
Thank the Lord that his church is built on his promise and continues to thrive by his power.
Author: Dr. Thomas D. Hawkes