When Maryville Vineyard Church began in September of 2004, there were two members: Aaron and Sharon McCarter.
Six and a half years later, the McCarters are joined every Sunday by a congregation of almost 400. This week they take a giant step toward even more visibility as they open the doors to a new home on William Blount Drive.
Aaron McCarter, lead pastor, and his wife, Sharon, executive pastor, organized Maryville Vineyard as a church plant from the Chattanooga Vineyard Church. For the past 3 1/2 years the Maryville congregation has called a facility on Farnum Street in Friendsville home.
“We started from scratch. It has been slow and steady growth,” Aaron McCarter said. “We’ve not had huge spikes, but it has been slowly but surely. The attendance now is around 400 people on Sunday. I’m thankful for a slow, steady growth because rapid growth gets messy.”
On Sunday, March 27, the Vineyard church family hopes to have a “soft” opening at the congregation’s new location at 713 William Blount Drive, Maryville. Their official “grand opening” is planned for Easter Sunday on April 24.
The labor of love was evident early this week as Aaron and other church members gathered at the new building, which was formerly The Jump Zone, laying flooring and working to finish the inside of their church.
Visibility of the new church home is one of the main reasons for the move, Aaron said. It is bitter-sweet because the congregation holds strong ties to the Friendsville community. “We love the Friendsville community, but the visibility and drive-by traffic are huge factors,” McCarter said.
McCarter said the congregation’s growth was the product of individuals who had meaningful worship experiences. “The key factor to our growth is people, their worship experience with the Lord and developing friendships that are lasting and meaningful. When that happens, you want to have the opportunity to share it with friends,” he said. “That has been the key.”
The lead pastor said the church aims to have a strong cross-section of members that reflect their community. “There are a lot of young families, so that’s a reality, but our target is our community. We want our congregation to reflect our community,” he said. “We feel called to our cities and called to our community.”
McCarter does admit that the congregation skews young, and there are a large number of young families and children, which he says is a real strength for the church. Having so many children also hastened the move to the new location, he said.
“Our capacity issues are founded in fact. Our children’s ministries were over-run. We had room in the sanctuary, but no room in kid’s area,” he said. “It is a huge strength to have so many young families because it makes this an exciting place to be. Sharon and I have a couple of small children as well, and we see their excitement about going to church and being with their friends. From a really early age, they value the church community.”
McCarter said he is excited to see a new generation of children growing up in the church in an atmosphere that is fun and engaging to them.
“We invest a huge amount of time and funds into our children’s ministry. We want to minister to children,” he said. “It’s a relaxed environment where kids feel comfortable.”
McCarter said there have been times after worship service when some are praying as children are running and playing in the sanctuary. “I’ve been asked why I don’t stop the kids, but it is as much their church as the adults. I think its hogwash to keep kids quiet while in worship,” he said. “We’re happy to hear them laughing and goofing off and worshiping Him. We’re happy to yield to the uniqueness of being kids. Churches have long been a place to straighten up and fly right, but we’re not going for the library feel, that is for sure.”
The lead pastor said another strong demographic at the church is 18- to 28-year-old males. “They are the most un-churched demographic in the country, and our church is flooded with them,” McCarter said.
The lead pastor said many in the congregation are adults who come in feeling uncomfortable with church or sensing that the church had lost sight of them in one way or another. “The majority of our congregation is new converts or people who gave up on church,” he said. “What that equates to is an incredible amount of energy. It is fresh to these people and exciting. They’re coming from a place of darkness and are arriving at a place that is vibrant and full of light. They are excited and grateful people.”
McCarter said the Maryville Vineyard Church embraces all of the Bible as absolutely true. “In that sense, we’re very traditional and conservative. Philosophically though, we embrace a culture of change,” he said. “Things are very fluid in our church. Things are different. We try new things and methods. We go way out of our way and devote a huge portion of budget to helping people in need and that’s where a huge amount of our growth comes from.”
McCarter said the congregation has a ministry called “The Box,” and it is a need-meeting system. “People can send messages via email, or we have a physical box people can drop off needs they have, they know of or that they can meet,” he said. “We connect needs with people who can meet those needs. It’s a huge part of our church. We put a high value on taking care of people in need. In that sense I would say we are a traditional church.”
McCarter said churches in Blount County do well at providing for those in need. “We have a good legacy of taking care of people in urgent need and the Vineyard just wants to be an integral part of that,” he said.
It is this desire to help those in the community that also played into the decision to move, McCarter said. “The building is beautiful and will be great, but in the end, it is very utilitarian. We’ve been as frugal as we possibly can. We don’t want to be building poor. We want to have funds available to help people in need,” he said. “We probably could have moved to a better location earlier if we were willing to stop investing money and assets into our community to help people, but that has not been our values. The building is a means to an end, the end itself.”
McCarter said the congregation is not traditional in how it strives to reach the community and because of that, he’s not sure what the church will look like in five, 10 and 15 years.
“Without ever compromising our message, we’re constantly changing our methods and the way we do ministry. I have no idea what that’s going to look like in the future but the foundational teachings of scripture will not change under any circumstances,” he said. “The way it is communicated will change. I think healthy things grow, and I think our church is healthy, and I expect it to grow.”
Aaron said the larger capacity building on William Blount Drive will help as the congregation grows. “We have had multiple morning worship services at 9 and 11 a.m. for a few years now. We’re going to continue that when we move, but we’ll have room for significant growth in each service,” he said. “Capacity was a factor in looking for a new home. Ownership is also a factor. Having a space unique to us with our design from the floor up is important because it reflects our priorities.”
The lead pastor said the congregation puts a high value on building meaningful relationships and creating community. “As a result, we wanted space to help facilitate and reflect that value,” he said. “We’re excited about having a floor plan we put together. We can build around creating lots of community space where people can sit down and share a cup of coffee and have a conversation on things that extend far beyond Sunday.”
McCarter said the church has developed into a seven-day-a-week ministry. There are activities and life groups or small groups meeting at the church and in members’ homes throughout each week, he said.
“We are not a big church by any means, but there is something happening all the time,” he said. “We’ll be able to add a mid-week service, which will be a different take on what folks think about as a mid-week service. We will start that at our new location on April 6.”
McCarter said The Vineyard is a church-planting movement. “We are anxious to plant and send out as many churches as we can. We were sent from the Chattanooga Vineyard. Although this is my hometown, Sharon and I were sent back to Maryville,” he said. “We have sent out one church, the Canvas Fellowship in Lenoir City.”
Both Aaron McCarter, 29, and Sharon McCarter, 32, earned pastoral ministry degrees from Lee University. They have two children, 3-year-old Bryce and 9-month-old Breonna. Aaron is on staff as full-time lead pastor, while Sharon is part-time in her role as executive pastor. Also on the full-time staff is Matt Farrand, worship and communications pastor. His wife, Teri Farrand, is part-time as ministry coordinator.
For more information on the Maryville Vineyard Church, visit www.Maryvillevineyard.com.