'Progressive' LGBT Stance Dooms 'Evangelical Megachurch': GracePointe Now Selling Property

Christian cross on an LGBT rainbow flag.

GracePointe Church, a self-described "progressive" church that rejected the "evangelical" label, is selling its property in Franklin, Tenn., and moving to nearby Nashville. The church has been hemorrhaging members and funds since pastor Stan Mitchell announced an "affirming" stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage in January 2015.

"Full privileges are extended now to you [openly homosexual members] with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness," Mitchell declared. "Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage."

With this statement, GracePointe became one of the few "evangelical megachurches" to embrace homosexuality, TIME magazine's Elizabeth Dias reported in a lengthy profile at the time. Even then, the telltale signs of collapse had emerged.

"January giving usually is about $100,000 — so far this month the church has brought in an estimated $52,000," Dias reported. The decision to embrace homosexuality came after a three-year "listening" process that began in 2012, when GracePointe member and country music star Carrie Underwood endorsed same-sex marriage. "When GracePointe began the listening process in 2012, Sunday attendance averaged 800-1000. The Sunday he preached the inclusion sermon, attendance was 673, and two weeks later, it was down to 482," Dias noted.

"It's a gut punch," Mitchell told TIME. "I know a year from now, I'm going to feel a whole lot better, but right now it is just hard."

More than two years later, that gut punch has turned into a roundhouse kick.

In June, the Franklin Patch reported that the church's 22.- acre property was listed for sale, and that the church would be leaving Franklin and moving across the county line to Nashville. In the two years since the inclusion decision, GracePointe's membership has been cut in half, even though new members have been coming in from Davidson County.

The congregation went through a radical shift, according to Mitchell. The pastor estimated that in January 2015 90 percent of the members were from Williamson County, a very conservative county Donald Trump won with 63 percent of the vote last November. In June 2017, 50 percent of GracePointe members came from Nashville, one of the few liberal bastions in deep-red Tennessee.

As Jeffrey Walton pointed out over at Juicy Ecumenism, GracePointe had between 700 and 800 weekly attendees at its height, far short of a megachurch, which is typically defined as a congregation with worship attendance greater than 2,000 people.

GracePointe hasn't just moved out of its old location, according to Walton. The congregation moved to share space with Unity Nashville in its building, as reported by the Tennessee Star. Unity Nashville may describe itself as "a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus and the power of prayer," but it also has embraced the "interfaith" label — "unapologetically." In fact, its Facebook page explains, "Unity honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual's right to choose a spiritual path."