Despite a few bumps along the road from the Atlantic coast in southern Florida to the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, church planters Dylan and Sharia Mckneely are delighted to be in Huntington, West Virginia.
“We know we were called here,” says Dylan, 31, pastor of The Refinery. “We’re here to serve the amazing Tri-State Area and love the perceived unlovable.”
With an emphasis on reaching young professionals and young families, The Refinery, an Appalachian Ministry Network church plant, will hold its launch service in the downtown area Oct. 3.
The Mckneelys spent the past six years as young adult pastors at Bethel Assembly of God in Lake Worth, Florida, where Sharia’s parents — Michael and Christi Brummitt — are lead pastors.
After considerable prayer, Dylan and Sharia felt the call to church planting in West Virginia. Initially, they sensed more of an attraction to Charleston, but after further prayer believed God pointed them to Huntington. On a visit to the region, the Brummitts also identified a strong pull to Huntington and told the Mckneelys they should start The Refinery in the state’s second-largest city.
Although they recognized God’s lure as well, the Mckneelys resisted.
“We were like Jonah,” Mckneely says. “We went into prayer again, then we were in agreement.”
Initially, the Mckneelys will receive guidance from the AG’s Appalachian Ministry Network and Ohio Ministry Network members, who will serve as The Refinery’s advisory board. The couple attended a Church Multiplication Network Launch training in June in Columbus. The Refinery is a CMN Matching Fund church.
The Refinery will be one of the few AG churches in the Tri-State Area, where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky converge along two rivers. The region has problems: lately, it has seen a steady loss of population and been plagued by a drug addiction crisis.
In addition, the Barna Group ranks Huntington among the 100 most post-Christian cities in the U.S., based on factors such as a dearth of Bible reading, low church attendance, lack of prayer, and no belief in God.
Mckneely says among positives often overlooked are enrollment at Marshall University holding steady and continuing formation of small businesses in the community of 46,000.
In 2014, an Appalachian Ministry Network church plant started in Blacksburg, Virginia, another college town. Fireplace Church currently has an average of 100 weekly attendees. Alvin Thomas, pastor of Fireplace Church, is CMN director for the Appalachian Ministry Network.
The cross-district flavor of The Refinery pleases Thomas, because the Potomac Ministry Network planted Fireplace — even though it is part of the Appalachian Ministry Network.
“With that being part of our narrative, I’m excited for Dylan and Sharia,” Thomas says. “It will be beneficial for all three networks.” The Mckneelys have a daughter, Zola, 3.
Mckneely prepared for church planting in Florida. A point guard on the basketball team at North Central University, the AG school in Minneapolis, after graduating in 2014 he arrived in Lake Worth self-centered and assurance of his talents.
“My pride and being a know-it-all made it hard to build a ministry in south Florida,” Mckneely says. “I went there with the mindset that the people didn’t know what they needed, only I did.”
But Mckneely says the Lord quickly humbled him.
“My giftings were meaningless,” he says. “The Father helped me understand things are always better being left in His hands than being built on my own.”
Appalachian Ministry Network Superintendent David W. Dillon says the new church symbolizes a focus on succession and preparing for a greater future.
“What’s underway with The Refinery in Huntington is part of something that is much bigger than the mere start of a new church,” Dillon says. “It’s another step in the direction of what God has promised for our network.”
Photo: Dylan Mckneely and his wife, Sharia, have a daughter, Zola.