With a desire to grow but nowhere to go, pastor Aaron S. McNatt decided to take his church mobile, putting a contemporary spin on an Old Testament model.
McNatt and his wife, Dae, have been in full-time ministry together since 1999, serving initially at Faith Outreach Center in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, then as youth and worship arts pastors at Trinity Life Church in Mesquite, Texas.
In 2013, the McNatts accepted a full-time lead pastorate position back in Pennsylvania at Wrightsville Assembly of God, a church in need of revitalization. McNatt recalls being voted in by 28 members — with an even lower number of people in average weekly attendance.
“It was a hard beginning going from a healthy, contemporary church to a church that had been declining and only had a piano, an organ, and hymnals,” says McNatt, 44. But he stayed faithful, and soon the church experienced tremendous growth.
Diane Bretz, 84, a senior board member of Wrightsville Assembly of God, has attended the church for over 50 years.
“Before pastor McNatt came, there would only be a few cars in the parking lot when we got there on Sundays. but within just a few weeks, I couldn’t find a parking spot at all,” Bretz says. “We are seeing the prayers we have prayed for many years come to fruition.” Bretz has been faithfully attending a weekly prayer meeting at the church since 1967.
As the church continued to grow, two additional services were added on Sunday mornings. McNatt says the Lord brought his attention to the tabernacle carried by Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness.
“In the wilderness, God taught people how to worship him,” McNatt says. “The tabernacle was their portable worship option. It had everything the Temple, a permanent place of worship would have. It was just mobile for their needs.”
McNatt began brainstorming around the concept of such a church gathering.
“I knew we could maximize our ministry here at this property if we took this tabernacle approach, this pop-up church idea, and used it to reach surrounding neighborhoods,” McNatt says.
In November, Wrightsville Assembly of God launched its first pop-up church at a neighborhood market in Columbia, a nearby area. On Tuesdays during the month, McNatt and a team of 30 people spent late afternoons canvassing the neighborhood of the pop-up church in what he called an “old school door-to-door style” method. The group served free soup and coffee at 6:30 p.m. and half an hour later a worship band kicked in and people experienced a typical Wrightsville AG church service.
At the end of the month, the pop-up church came to an end, but Wrightsville Assembly of God experienced a harvest. Several people who came to the November gatherings are driving to Wrightsville for Sunday services. In addition, residents from the area are busing in on a church van.
“This has been such a strategic move for us and has allowed us to have a local impact on a community that is just outside our current area of reach,” McNatt says.
Tom E. Rees, church planting director for the AG’s PennDel Ministry Network, appreciates the unique ministry method.
“This approach has value for leaders who want to be missional but aren’t quite ready to plant a church yet,” Rees says. “It’s a great way to sow seed in a community.”
McNatt and his team are actively planning for the next pop-up location.