Two North Carolina congregations — First Wesleyan Church in High Point and C4 of the Carolinas Church Greensboro — have merged into a single congregation called One Church, located in High Point. The churches officially merged in November 2020 and launched this past February, fueled by the need to shift a ministry model to better serve the community, post-pandemic. (C4 was displaced as a church plant, post-COVID-19, because it was unable to meet at its facility [a local school] due to restrictions.)

Rev. Ryan Sims, lead pastor, and his family have quite the journey that led to this moment.

Years ago, Sims and his wife, Felicia, visited Christ Wesleyan Church in Greensboro for their children’s Upward soccer games. As they left the parking lot one Saturday, their two felt impressed that God might eventually call them to minister within that congregation.

That initial inkling was correct. Sometime later, Sims began his five-year tenure as associate pastor alongside then Christ Wesleyan Church senior pastor, Rev. Jonathan Lewis. Lewis then transitioned into the role of North Carolina East District superintendent.

Sims began to pray about where he and his family would go next, even as he searched for other ministry placements. Soon after he started his search, Sims felt led to change course.

“God told me to stop applying to churches — to withdraw my name from consideration wherever I had submitted an application and to plant a church,” said Sims. “That’s how we started C4 Church.”

C4 is shorthand for four values (capture, connect, call and commission) set by the congregation’s leadership team early in their process of listening prayer within the community. C4 planted in September 2019 and began growing quickly. As COVID-19 set in and George Floyd’s death sparked fresh conversations about racial inequality, C4 was able to be a crucial voice in its community.

“We went to downtown Greensboro and took our launch team to a rally, handed out water, loved on people and prayed with people,” said Sims. “We reminded people that Jesus knows what it is to face loss and that we can stand with the community as people of color lose their lives — even as we stand firm on these issues in a biblical way that’s true to our Wesleyan theology.”

That theological richness blends well with the history of First Wesleyan Church — a congregation founded on June 30, 1901, and deeply rooted in the earliest expressions of Wesleyan theology and ministry to the surrounding community.

This solidarity and emphasis on Wesleyan theology carries over into the culture of One Church, including its name. In the 1968 merger conference between the Wesleyan Methodists and Pilgrim Holiness churches that created The Wesleyan Church (TWC), the new denomination adopted a slogan from John 17: “One that the world may believe.” One Church’s name emerges from that same verse, central to TWC’s denominational history.

John 17 has also been central in their approach to hiring staff.

“We grew up praying the Lord’s prayer, but then I began to get convicted when we say, ‘On earth as it is in heaven,’” said Sims. “I began to wonder — do we really want heaven to be reflected here on earth? And what does that look like? When I get to walk one day in heaven and see my brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be people that folks will be shocked to see. There will be black, white, Asian, Latino, Cambodian and so many more there in heaven, and we wanted our church and our team to reflect that.”

To that end, One Church staff and volunteers are from various cultural, economic and generational backgrounds. Worshipers from various cultures are present in services, and each service’s worship occurs simultaneously in English and Spanish.

That diversity has been a beautiful part of One Church’s story so far, and yet diverse congregations rarely come together without difficulty. Humility, kindness and empathy have all been crucial in navigating the merger effectively.

“We’ve had to ask ourselves — can we forgo some of our preferences to mobilize the gospel?” said Sims. One Church’s leadership continues to faithfully steward those conversations, even as they cultivate fruitful ministry alongside people in their community.

When Sims reflected on how readers might pray for One Church, he returns to John 17. “Pray that we might be one,” Sims said. “Why did Jesus pray that as one of his last prayers? He knew the world would be faced with trials and that we would need to unite as one body of believers. We see in our churches and communities that churches are segregated, but if our church can be one, our churches can reflect the way the gospel calls us together.”

Rev. Ethan Linder is the hospitality, college and young adult pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana.