Less than a year after an Assemblies of God (AG) church embraced “full affirmation” of same-sex relationships and subsequently separated from the denomination, it has also separated from its church campus.
Pastor Dan Matlock of Eikon Church in Kyle, Texas preached in 2020 that Biblical teaching on sexuality “is not a matter of salvation”. The former AG pastor led his congregation out of the 1.8 million member Pentecostal denomination and presided over the change of policy in his local church on same-sex practices.
The Austin-area congregation declared itself open to LGBTQ persons on staff and that the church building would be available to host same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“Next week I want to encourage you to come back to hear some of that encouragement that may show us that this journey, though it may be hard, Church it’s gonna be worth it,” Matlock preached in a three sermon series structured around the change.
It appears a significant portion of the congregation did not come back.
One year later, there are signs that the church has taken a significant loss, but to what degree that is attributable to change in teaching or to COVID-19 restrictions is unclear [Editor’s note: see update below]. Eikon Church lists four staff, including Matlock and his wife Kelly, down from six in 2020. It now meets virtually.
Matlock’s LinkedIn account indicates that he concluded full-time at Eikon Church in October 2020 and now has secular employment in the private sector as a fractional sales associate. The church held an estate sale in September at its former campus that once hosted hundreds of worshippers across two Sunday services. That campus is now owned by another evangelical congregation, and Eikon lists a post office box as an address.
The Eikon Church congregation first refurbished and moved into the building in 2016. At one point it sought to expand a 75-space parking lot that church officials found to be insufficient for Sunday traffic.
In October of 2020 the congregation of Vertical Chapel purchased the campus. Vertical Chapel’s congregation holds to an orthodox understanding of Christian marriage, noting on the beliefs page of its website that “Marriage is sanctioned by God—joining one man and one woman.”
We are so THANKFUL that God has gifted us this land and building to be good stewards of. We whole heartedly realize this is not OUR building, it’s the Kingdom’s.— Vertical Chapel (@VerticalChapel) October 5, 2020
And guess what, get excited?!…padded chairs!
It’s the small blessings!!!!#wearevertical#blessings pic.twitter.com/qlinY8mwrj
In the case of Eikon Church, changes in teaching were not limited to blessing same-sex unions. In the past year, the former AG church hosted a speaker series on “deconstructing faith” in which “lived experience” displaced the authority of scripture. The series featured those questioning what Pastor Kelly Matlock termed “a very fundamentalist evangelical environment.”
“We just want to normalize this idea of bringing questions and doubts and really deeply interrogating the things – especially the things that we’ve believed for a really long time. Sometimes when we stop and think about them we start to realize that maybe those things aren’t necessarily serving us well or serving others in the world well,” Kelly Matlock said introducing the series. “It can cause us sometimes to have just these deeply rooted questions about things maybe we have believed one way for our whole life and then all of a sudden maybe our lived experience doesn’t so much line up with that anymore and it can start to feel like things are unraveling.”
Few former Evangelical congregations have embraced same-sex marriage, but almost all that have done so saw congregants – and their tithes – quickly diminish.
In 2015, GracePointe Church outside of Nashville was named in Time magazine as “one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand for full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community.”
The categorization of GracePointe as a megachurch was a stretch, but LGBTQ activists sought to spotlight it as an inroad for those seeking to change Evangelicals’ views on marriage and sexuality. Members of the church Board of Elders and half of the congregation’s 2,200-person membership quickly decamped following the LGBT announcement.
In 2017, the church, trimmed by staff layoffs, sold its building in suburban Williamson County to a growing multi-site Evangelical congregation and relocated to rented space in Nashville. In 2018, Out & About Nashville reported the pastor stepped down to pursue outside ministry.
GracePointe’s collapse remains a cautionary tale to liberal clergy who seek to quickly lead a congregation in a revisionist direction. Eikon Church’s recent experience appears to offer a further point of reference.
Update [4/1/2021]: I was able to speak with Kelly Matlock who now serves as Lead Pastor for Eikon Church. Matlock shares that Eikon drew an average Sunday attendance of approximately 400 prior to the Clarity series, decreasing to between 300-350 the following weeks before switching to virtual worship due to COVID-19. Some congregants did depart Eikon because of the Clarity series, while others came to the church due to its LGBT-affirming position. Since that time it has been unclear if additional persons chose to depart.
Eikon exited its church campus, the owner of which sought to conclude the lease agreement due to financial changes in the congregation attributed to COVID. Matlock shares that the congregation plans to continue ministry in the Kyle, Texas area and resumes in-person worship at an outdoor space this Easter Sunday.