Collective Church
Grace and Peace
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Our Story

The History of Collective Church


(YEAR 1)

BY ROB CARMACK

with Caroline Carmack, Jackie Fritzel, Michelle Graham, Karen Hoag, Alyson Laurel, Viet Le, Lauren Mitchell, and the Schwedler family

(Published January 1, 2015)

In the fall of 2013 I had no idea what I was going to do next. I found myself with no job, no church, and (worst of all) no plan. At various points during that time, several friends of ours came alongside my wife and me and said, “If you started a church, we would go.”

Starting a new church was not something I set out to do. Not at first, anyway. But I thought about all of the things I would have wanted from a church, and I realized there wasn’t really anybody doing those things.

So when our friends said they would attend a church if we started it, I thought to myself, If I’m going to start a church, it’s going to feel like a different kind of conversation. It will be simple and honest and safe for people with all kinds of stories and backgrounds.

At first, I imagined that "the church" would simply be us and a few friends hanging out at our house on Sunday mornings—sitting in our living room, drinking coffee and talking about faith. But when we had an informational meeting in an airplane hangar in December 2013, it became quite clear that our house would not be big enough for this group.

That was a year ago.

Now we are at the end of our first year as a church, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the past twelve months and how meaningful they have been for my family and me.

One of the most common commands in the Old Testament to the people of Israel is to “Remember.” The people are told to remember their story because within that story they will find themselves, their calling, and their connection with God.

I believe we are still called to remember—to tell our stories and to celebrate what has happened so far on the journey. That's why I'm writing this (with a little help from my friends). If we are to remember who we are and why we do what we do, we need to tell our story.

As we begin, I just want to say that if you are part of Collective Church or have been involved in any way—from attending on a single Sunday morning to arriving an hour and-a-half early every week to prepare the children’s rooms (shout out to Daniel and Lauren Mitchell!), then you are part of this story, and I am thrilled to share it with you.

Let’s get started, shall we?

 
Caroline Carmack: "You know how when you have your first child, and you’re leaving the hospital, and the whole time they’re wheeling you to the car you’re thinking, 'They can’t be serious! They’re just going to let me LEAVE with this BABY?! Don’t they know I have NO clue what I’m doing here??”'That is sort of the same thought process I had when Rob and I, after months of feeling lost and like we had no purpose here, took the single most terrifying, exciting, difficult step we have taken together as a married couple and started a church. I don’t think even having our first child felt as insanely irresponsible as starting Collective Church did to me. Thoughts of “how will we survive?” and “don’t they know we (I) have no idea what we’re (I’m) doing?” and “what if they make me pray in front of people?” But God has been ever gracious and filled in for all the places we lack or felt in over our heads. He has sent so many extraordinary people to walk this journey with us and used their strengths in place of our weaknesses and their enthusiasm in place of our weariness. 

 

Jackie Fritzel: "When we found out that Rob was no longer working at our old church, both Nate and I said we wanted to help start a church immediately. It may have seemed like we were just trying to be positive and supportive, but from that moment Nate and I were dead set ready. I had been in a book study with some ladies reading a book called ANYTHING. The focus of the book was being ready for anything God asked of you. I had for the first time ever told God that I would do ANYTHING just a few weeks before Rob told us. I didn't realize it but God had answered my prayer. I was ready to help support this church. Nate was so 100% too that we were just waiting on Rob and Caroline to decide. We prayed and prayed constantly hoping for them to agree. After the first meeting at the hangar, I wrote a blog about New Beginnings and waited for Rob to announce that he was ready to start a church before I posted it. Nate and I have never felt more sure about a drastic decision, and Nate doesn't do drastic. We knew then and now that we are where God wants us. Sundays are our favorite days."

 

JANUARY – MARCH 

On January 19, we held a “preview service” at the DFW Marriott near Texas Motor Speedway. A "preview service" means that we weren’t really ready to start a church just yet, but we still wanted to get people together and do something fun. Phillip Brummett drove up from Houston and led music, and I preached a sermon about who exactly is invited to sit at Jesus’ table (spoiler alert: it’s everybody). We weren’t podcasting yet, so this message was  not recorded (although I have blogged about this same question).

The thing I will always remember about the January 19 preview service is that I was recovering from food poisoning. I remember that lots of people were catching the flu, so I started taking Vitamin-C tablets and drinking a lot of water, terrified that I would be sick on January 19. Then, on the Friday night before the service, I woke up feeling sicker than I ever had before. I ended up in the Emergency Room, diagnosed with food poisoning. I’ve actually written about this before, so I won’t revisit the whole story.  However, I will say that I was really amazed that so many people offered to make sure the service happened regardless of whether or not I was there. My friend Phil Rice was prepared to preach, and a handful of others were ready to make sure everything else went the way it was supposed to go.

I did make it to the service, and it went fine, but I felt very weak, and I was not able to enjoy the taco lunch everyone attended after the service at Aaron and Kim Druyvesteyn’s house.

On January 27, we had our first “Membership Meeting,” at Spring Creek Barbecue, which is to say that people joined our church for the very first time. All of a sudden, things are starting feel very real.

Also at this meeting, Michelle Graham volunteers to oversee all of the volunteer scheduling for the kids’ ministry, which officially makes her the very first volunteer to ever take on a leadership role in our church.

On February 16, we had our first “weekly” service.  We spent most of January and early February looking at every possible option for meeting space. We looked at schools, warehouses, old churches, and at least one restaurant. It was hard not to get discouraged when every good idea somehow went bad.

I remember one specific location we looked at that we affectionately referred to as “Pillar City.” This was a space in a little shopping strip in Keller. It would have been perfect for us—it had a large room where we could seat everybody for our adult services, and lots of smaller spaces for the kids. There was only one problem: The large room for the adults contained twelve load-bearing pillars that would make a church service pretty difficult to have. We looked at every possible way that we could make that space work—we even asked a structural engineer to come have a look and let us know if the pillars could be removed. Sadly, it was not meant to be.

Thankfully, we had found the Marriott near Texas Motor Speedway—which is where we had held the January preview service. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was our best choice for the moment.

It’s funny to think about it now in those terms, because the Marriott really has become like a home for us, and their staff has been phenomenal for us every single week. At the time, it felt like we were settling, but now I see that the Marriott was a gift from God, and I’m so glad we found it.

So on February 16, we started our church at the Marriott, and that is where we are today. If you want to hear that first sermon, you can find it on our podcast feed.

One of the things we set out to do from the very beginning was create a meaningful experience for the women in our church. My wife Caroline is passionate about women’s ministry, and she knew that there were lots of women in our community who were longing for something meaningful to be part of. So on March 3, our women’s ministry had its very first event: A Girl’s Night Out at Keller’s FnG Eats.

I remember when Caroline came home from the event. She talked about how much fun the dinner had been and how refreshing it was to sit with other women—not just moms or married women or women who stayed home or women who go to work, but all kinds of women—and share a meal with one another. Looking back on this first year, I truly believe that our women’s ministry{SHE}is one of the best things about our church.

 

Caroline Carmack: "I have felt for years that women are undervalued in most churches and are relegated to childcare duties and crafty tea parties. And I love a good tea party as much as the next gal, but I want to do so much more! I wanted to give the women of Collective Church endless opportunities to serve God with their strengths and passions, be brave and empowered to impact the world around us. The first women’s event was a dinner at FnG’s, and I was so worried that no one would show up. And almost thirty ladies did! I was so touched that so many women were there wanting the same things I did, and even a few that just wanted to support us even though they were in different churches. That is exactly what I thought the body of Christ was supposed to be. I wrote a sort of manifesto of what I wanted our women’s ministry to embody and planned to read it aloud at the dinner, but then I cried (surprise) so Jessie Fontanelli read it for me. I remember thinking with a huge wave of relief, “I’m not alone in this! We can do this together!” And thus, {SHE} was born. I came home and told Rob about the whole wonderful thing and cried some more. I knew we were on the right track.

 
Jackie Fritzel: "At the first women's dinner at FnG's I ended up sitting with Brianna Wischermann, Lauren Mitchell, and Ambur Allen, and I had the best time. We had such a good time chatting that I think we were some of the last people to leave. I walked into this event a little nervous because I didn't know them very well and left really glad that I sat where I did."

 

Later that same month (March 20), we had our first all-church business meeting at El Paseo Mexican Restaurant in Keller to elect a board of directors (a legal requirement for a church). That night, our church elected Kyle Seipp, Julie Le, and Nate Fritzel as our first board members.

(I’m also beginning to see how important restaurants have been during the life of our church)

On March 23, Phil Rice became Collective Church's first ever guest speaker. Phil is a friend of mine, and he has been a great source of encouragement to me ever since I have known him. Click here if you want to hear his message.

 

APRIL – JUNE

On April 6, we temporarily relocated our Sunday services to Wayne Cox Elementary School in Roanoke. One of the few drawbacks to meeting at the Marriott near Texas Motor Speedway is that twice a year, NASCAR comes to town for the weekend. Even the hotel management has told us, “Do not come here on NASCAR weekend!” In fact, this particular Sunday would be especially insane because it was Duck Commander Sunday and the entire Duck Dynasty cast would be at the Speedway in addition to the regular NASCAR events. So in anticipation of this event, we reserved the elementary school and held services there. We made the most of it by having a potluck lunch in the school cafeteria after the services.

Also, it rained really hard that day, which caused the races to be delayed. Go figure.

On April 20, we celebrated our first Easter as a church. We had an Easter Egg Hunt in the hotel courtyard near the golf course.

 

Jackie Fritzel: "The Easter egg hunt is one of my favorite memories. We had been an official church for a few short months and everyone stepped up to make sure we had lots of eggs for the kids. The kids had such a good time and it felt, for maybe the first time, like we were a church family."

 

It’s kind of funny—I’ve been working in churches for more than a decade, and Easter always felt pretty overwhelming to me. Most churches treat Easter like Super Bowl Sunday. They pull out all of the bells and whistles, they try really hard to impress first time visitors and people who have been absent for a while. During my time in ministry, almost every Easter has felt like work—like a retail store manager must feel on Black Friday. But this year, Easter felt like something altogether different.

It felt like family. It felt like church. You might say it felt the way Easter is supposed to feel.

You can listen to our Easter sermon on the podcast feed.

On May 3, we welcomed guest speaker Christina Gibson for the first time. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was. First of all, we have a lot of people in our church who, until this year, had never heard a woman preach a sermon. So for some, this felt like a big step forward. Second, it began what would become part of our church’s reputation: to bring in guest speakers from outside of our church to contribute to our ongoing conversation.

From the very beginning, I wanted to set a precedent for providing excellent content to our people. I work really hard on my sermons, and that’s part of it. But another part is to ensure that I am inviting guest speakers who will bring something new/interesting/thought-provoking to the table with them.

This was the first time our people would hear from Christina, but it certainly would not be the last.

(Click here to listen to Christina’s first message at Collective Church)

May 11 was Mother’s Day, and we celebrated our first Parent/Child Dedication. This was a fun, special event for us. I don’t really have much to say about it other than I can’t wait to do it again.

(Click here to listen to our Mother’s Day sermon—“God is Mothering Us”)

 

 

 
Alyson Laurel: "I came to Collective Church based on a blog Rob wrote called, "Can I join your church?"  For the first couple months I was sure to keep everyone a solid arms-length away. Part of me felt like I was abandoning my principles of strength and self-reliance. Or that the suburbs had finally worn me down and now I was joining the ranks. Despite my reservations, I was deeply compelled to get in the car every Sunday. Something Rob said would always ring true, like an arrow right to the heart. On Mother's Day, Rob opened the sermon with a prayer for the kidnapped Nigerian girls. His sermon softened my warrior heart. I knew then I would always come back."

 

On June 5, our men’s ministry went bowling. Sure, this isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it was fun. So I included it.

On the weekend of June 21 & 22, we welcomed guest speaker “Science Mike” McHargue to Collective Church. This is one of my favorite things we did this year. I met Mike at the Rob Bell event I mentioned above, and he has been a big source of encouragement to me over the past year and a half. I knew there were lots of people who attend our church who could benefit from hearing him speak, so I was so excited when he agreed to spend a weekend with us.

First of all, to welcome Mike to Texas, we invited everyone to join us at LinkUp International in Roanoke that Saturday night, and we catered the event with Babe’s Chicken, which Mike described as the best fried chicken he has ever tasted. The next morning (June 22), Mike spoke about how faith affects the human brain. He also provided a very thought-provoking Q&A session.

Click here to listen to Mike’s talk at Collective Church

Click here to listen to the Q&A

 

Alyson Laurel: "Sunday after Sunday, I struggled with God. I sat there arguing with myself about my intentions for being there; feeling like an impostor; hoping no one would ask me what I really thought. Then, "Science Mike" McHargue came and turned my world upside down...or right side up perhaps?  I asked him if it was okay to be an atheist in church and how does one step of the end of a pier? Among the many fascinating and inspirational things he said that day, one thing hit home for me in regards to faith....'Go full Santa Clause mode with it.'  He said, to pray and read the gospel and watch your life change. So I did. Many members of the church came to me after with open, sincere hearts. I was overwhelmed.  I read the gospels. I read every Rob Bell book in a week. I listened to podcasts and previous sermons. I embraced my doubt and chose love. This was the Jesus I was seeking."

 

Lauren Mitchell: "My family was overwhelmed by the love and support from our church this summer when I spent a week in the hospital with one of our foster babies```. Almost every day I spent away from my husband and our other five children, meals were delivered to them and friends from church came to give care packages and company to my baby and me."

 

JULY – SEPTEMBER

On July 16, Matt Wamsley started our youth ministry. It was nothing big, but that's not really our style anyway. Matt--along with Steven and Cambria Haley, Stewart Stoll, and myself spent some time with our teenagers (all four of them!) at Blue Cherry Yogurt in Keller. It was an epic game night.

 

Jackson & Trevor Schwedler (middle school students): "We loved hanging out with the youth group at Blue Cherry. We played board games, ate fro-yo, and got to know some new friends. Mr. Matt and Steven are fun and they teach us good stuff about life and God."

 

On August 16, we held our first {SHE} Women’s Conference. Like I said before, our women’s ministry is one of the best things we do as a church, and the {SHE} Conference is one of the reasons why. Christina Gibson returned to speak as did Jessica Zan, who had been a Collective Church guest speaker two weeks earlier.

KC Clifford led the music.

 

Michelle Graham: "One of the most memorable things for me this year has been our women's ministry {She}. Specifically, the women's conference. I felt like it solidified already-made friendships and helped start new friendships! It's a really cool thing to be a part of a group of women that are all different. We don't all think the same way. But we have the most important thing in common, and that's Christ. It's very much the same reason why I love Collective Church so much."
 
Caroline Carmack:  "I planned the {She} Conference in very short amount of time. I chose the theme “A Courageous Calling” because I felt like there are women who haven’t realized their God-given calling, and even if they had they might be fearful or feel inadequate to answer that call. And really, that is what this whole year was for me. We had fantastic speakers who talked about identity in Christ and how amazing it is to feel God’s calling on your life. We had Jennifer from Noonday talk about how buying handmade jewelry empowers women all over the world to be able to care for their families. I think is so important in women’s ministry – to be conscious of the impact you can have on the globe as well as the community around you. I could go on and on about the conference, but it was exactly what I’d hoped it would be and I was (again) brought to tears at the realization of God’s goodness and ability to take us through situations in which we wouldn’t normally feel confident. 

 

On August 20, a few of our people served dinner at Fort Worth's Ronald McDonald House. Jackie Fritzel oversees our service projects, and this was one that seemed to mean a lot to the people who participated.

 
Jackie Fritzel: "I was a little nervous organizing the Ronald McDonald House meal because of the amount of food we would be cooking. Caroline and I rode together in my car with all the food and supplies. It took a while for us to get everything onto the cart and into the kitchen, so we were a bit late. When we walked into the kitchen everyone was there waiting on us. It was so awesome to see everyone so ready and willing. Shon and Wendy Cavett cooked up the beans, Cheri Wamsley and Jared and Laurie Land were on those dishes and setup, and Paul Fontanelli, Caroline, and I heated up the meat. Everyone worked so hard, had fun together, and were able to spend some time with the residents at Ronald McDonald House." 
 

On September 14, author/blogger Elizabeth Esther was our guest speaker. Like with Mike McHargue, I knew that there were people at our church who could benefit from hearing Elizabeth’s story and point of view. Her book Girl at the End of the World is about how she escaped from a toxic/abusive religious environment. If you haven’t read it, you totally should.

 

Viet Le: "This church is unique. Where else can you go to hear from someone that survived an actual cult? Where else can you go to hear from someone that has doubts about their religion?"

 

Also, Elizabeth had never tasted queso. So naturally we held a Queso Cook-Off and allowed her to determine who makes the best queso. The winners? It was a tie between Ambur Allen and Daniel Mitchell.

 

Lauren Mitchell: "Daniel Mitchell and Ambur Allen tied for best queso. Daniel was very happy to see Elizabeth go back for seconds. She told him that she loves olives."

 

OCTOBER - DECEMBER

On November 2, we returned to Wayne Cox Elementary School to once again avoid NASCAR traffic. This time, our children’s ministry had an idea: Let’s have a kids’ carnival while we’re at the school. I didn’t mention this before, but the space we had for the children’s ministry at the elementary school is one giant gymnasium. We are accustomed to having separate rooms for different ages, so we have to get creative to make the school space work. So thanks to Chandra Yeschenko and Lauren Mitchell, that is exactly what we did, and the result was a fun, unique experience for our kids.

We also had a potluck soup/chili lunch, where everyone freaked out over how good Stacy Levie’s enchilada soup was.

On December 6, our kids ministry went Christmas caroling at Bishop Davies Nursing Center. I really have to give credit where credit is due on this one. Lauren Mitchell and Lindsey Wamsley set this whole thing up, and I had no idea how great it would be. For one thing, all of the kids had a lot of fun singing in front of an audience. However, the truly touching part was how much this seemed to impact the residents of the nursing center. They were so touched and grateful that we were there, and I’m so glad we did this. That tells you how great it can be when a church is filled with people who care about their community and are always looking for new ways to serve others.

 

Lauren Mitchell: "I am deeply moved by the impressive number of service projects our small church has completed in its short existence.... It had never been a part of our church involvement, except at Christmastime. Since the first service project at Collective Church, my kids have regularly helped me gather items to send to women, babies, and children in other countries and in our own community. They have even delivered goodies and cheer to elderly residents of a nursing home. I am delighted to have found a church family that puts action to words and makes meeting the needs of others a priority."

 

Sylvia & Molly Schwedler (elementary students): "We really loved caroling at Christmas. It was fun and we got to make people happy by singing for them."

 

On December 14, we held our annual business meeting and elected Paul Fontanelli to fill Kyle Seipp’s upcoming vacated seat on the board of directors. This doesn’t sound like much of an event, but it shows that we are developing processes and learning how to be a healthy, functional church.

On December 24, we held our first ever Christmas Eve service. The kids sang a few Christmas songs, Matt Bay and Alyson Vandiver led us in some Christmas carols, and I gave a very short talk. What made the evening special was that it was ours--it was truly a reflection of who we have become as a church family. It was over so fast, but I was so grateful that it happened. 

Also, Nate and Jackie Fritzel invited everybody over to their house for a Christmas Eve Service After-Party, which was tons of fun.

 

Even in this timeline, there are things that I didn’t get a chance to mention. Back in March, Chandra Yeschenko took over our kids’ ministry, which was a huge step forward for us. Then in September, Lauren Mitchell joined our staff and became our Elementary Children’s Pastor. At that point, we divided the children’s ministry into two parts: Pre-K, which Chandra would continue to lead, and Elementary. I had no idea how quickly we would need to set up a structure and systems for our children’s ministry, but thanks to our amazing people, we did it. I am so proud of our children’s ministry, and I am really excited about what they are doing.

 

Jackie Fritzel: "I remember sitting at the Carmacks' kitchen table and brainstorming about child care. We had only done two weeks of church, and the children's ministry wasn't going super well. Later that same day, Chandra offered to take it on, and I was so relieved. We needed someone to have the vision to make the children's ministry great, and Chandra and Brian definitely took it to a level that I was not equipped for. The kids love church and I am so thankful to the Yeschenkos--and now Lauren Mitchell and Matt Wamsley--for all of the work they do throughout the week."

 

There are also other service projects not even mentioned here, such as collecting backpacks as well as chaperoning a dance for The Arc of Greater Tarrant County. I say this not to be self-congratulatory, but to say thank you to Jackie Fritzel and all of the people who helped with any of these projects.

I know that’s a lot of stuff, and I could talk about so much more.

 

Karen Hoag: "Since my first visit to Collective Church, I have had the immense pleasure of getting to know people from all walks of life, both with similar and with very different stories; all of whom reached out to make me feel welcome and included and a part of the story of Collective Church. I have had the pleasure of spending many a Sunday not just in worship with these magnificent people, but working along side them in the nursery and getting to know them and the sweet children of Collective Church. I have watched and seen God's love in action, with church members stepping up to assist a mom who ended up on the “injured reserved” list,  eagerly involving themselves in service projects,  and donating time and resources to help others in need.  I've also had the enjoyment of fellowship with women's events, as well as church-wide opportunities. This group of people are the most supportive and caring people I've ever been in worship with. There may still be an unfamiliar face or two for me as of yet , but there is a whole assemblage of faces that I look forward to seeing each Sunday; a group of people who may be very diverse, but all have one common goal: sharing God's love here and now, and that is what this first year at Collective Church has been “collectively” about.
 
Viet Le: "When folks ask me about my church, I sum it up this way: "It's the world's smallest Mega-church." Seriously, it is a church that ultimately loves all.  It is a church that is accepting of all. It is a church that gives all.  When I think of the world I want Andrew to grow up in and what I want to teach him, I know want him to be kind and to have a good heart and to be loving of all people and accepting of all views. Collective Church definitely embodies those same values, because ultimately, Love wins. It always wins."
 
Andy & Leah Schwedler: "We love Collective Church. After attending church forever, being pastors kids and all, we have often felt like there's rarely anything new on Sunday morning. Rob has changed that perspective entirely. We are seeing the bible with new eyes and finding Jesus in places we have never  found him before.  We have found a community of Jesus followers who are truly committed to engaging in this place with these people and making a difference in authentic ways.  Rob's messages may not end with "3 life application points" yet they are the most life applicable sermons we have heard. We can't wait to see what lies ahead in the life of this amazing little church."

 

The whole point here is that I really want to say thank you to everyone who has made Collective Church their home. When this whole thing began, we had no idea what it would become or what it would look like by this point in the journey. Thanks to everyone who has poured a part of themselves into our church, it has become a family. I never could have imagined that pastoring a church could be so rewarding and fun.

I’m excited to see where 2015 will take us, and I’m glad you are along for the ride.

We’re just getting started.

Grace and peace.

(see YEAR 2)