Providence Church began as a dream in the heart of Knoxville native Lance Robinson while he attended Seminary in North Carolina. He saw the need for a church that was both committed to God’s word and engaged the culture. Providence began in February 1993 as a small group of six or eight people. After much preparation, prayer, and canvassing the community, this small group mailed out invitations to hundreds in West Knoxville to consider being a part of a new kind of church. Only 54 people showed up at an office building for the first official service on Easter Sunday, 1993. Attendance leveled off to about 30 people, about half of whom were kids! Providence Church was born. The first three years were hard and growth was slow. Lance almost even decided to give up the effort but lives were being changed and the little group pressed on. After meeting at a couple of different places, Providence settled at Cedar Bluff Middle School. In 1996, the elders encouraged Lance to approach his friend Chad Sparks about coming to Providence to help get it off the ground. After initially declining, Chad, who was the pastor of a church in Johnson City, sensed that God wanted him at Providence and moved his family to his hometown of Knoxville.
During these beginning years, Providence determined not to affiliate with any denomination in order that no preconceived or negative stereotypes would hinder unchurched people from visiting. Providence also made critical adjustments in worship style, teaching philosophy, and small group strategy that would facilitate making disciples of people who weren’t familiar with Christianity. Providence’s mission to “glorify God by making, being, and unleashing fully devoted followers of Christ” was articulated and adopted.
A New Facility
Providence grew steadily the next three years at Cedar Bluff until space became an issue. Attendance had quadrupled. The gym was becoming crowded for worship, and finding places for children’s ministry was particularly difficult. Our growing nursery was forced to move into the hallways! It was time to find another place for the church to meet. In 1999, a “Vision Team” was appointed and much work was done to consider God’s will for the future. The church gathered for two vision nights over the course of a year and it was decided the time had come to make a move. The elders and other leaders searched all over West Knoxville. Leasing opportunities were investigated. Several existing structures were examined for suitability. Many pieces of property were considered, including an undeveloped 11-acre lot on the corner of Pellissippi Pkwy and Lovell Rd. Through some amazing circumstances, which included the offer of a local foundation to buy property for the church’s use, the land was secured. A building was built and leased to Providence for $1 a year until the church was able to take on ownership. Providence moved in February 2002. A sacred assembly was held that same year for the following reasons: To “seek God’s purity, power, and passion. [A]cknowledge our incompetence and our sinfulness. [P]roclaim his sovereignty and ability. [S]eek God’s face and ask him to be our strength and to do great things in this generation, bringing fame to his name. [And ask God] to prepare us, protect us, and guide us as we attempt to best accomplish the mission that he has given us.”
Keeping our Core Values
After moving in the new facility, Providence immediately doubled in size. This caused the elders to evaluate whether we were staying true to the God-given values that guided us from our start. After much prayer and consideration, Providence adopted seven core values in order to keep us focused on those attributes that made us unique. First and most important is the “absolute authority of the Bible” which we felt God wanted us to teach, live out, and use as our guidebook for the church. All our other values flow from this. Providence lost a few people after recommitting ourselves to these values, but God continued to make disciples.
Providence grew briskly and added staff and ministries to grow spiritually and reach the community as God raised up leaders from within. Providence also began a strategy of planting churches both locally and internationally for the sake of God’s kingdom. In 2005 the church united around the theme, Missio Dei (Mission of God) and focused on 5 aspects of God’s mission for us: to pray, belong, serve, give, and tell. In 2007 Providence focused on having “beautiful feet” in response to Romans 10:13-15, by sharing Christ both personally and around the world on mission. Over 200 people in our church went on mission and another 200 sponsored poor children in poverty areas of the world. As a result of growth and growing complexity, in 2009 Providence evaluated everything in light of Simplify, an emphasis designed to focus the church on her mission. In 2010 Providence was asked to help a struggling church that we had planted in Jefferson City in 2003. We brought them in as a Providence campus, helped them refocus, and hired a pastor that the church might soon be independent again. For the year 2012 the whole church journeyed through the entire Bible chronologically, focused on journeying together in community, prayer, giving missionally, and going on mission for a week. Journey 2012 was a significant growth season for our church that affected every age group. In 2013 a consultant was hired to research, survey, and help us understand how to best accomplish our mission moving forward and hone our strategies. We reaffirmed that disciple-making and church planting are the ways forward for us (rather than becoming a program-oriented mega-church, or other forms of church). In 2014 we completed a year-and-a-half study of Romans that deepened us and solidified our determination to make disciples.
Presently Providence Church is reaching more people than ever in her history. We have had close to 1400 attend some Sundays and have had an average weekend attendance of around 1000, but more importantly, hundreds are committed to growing as disciples, reproducing, and being unleashed to change the world. As we continue to grow we face many challenges and opportunities, yet our original vision is alive and thriving. Space continues to be a challenge. Although Providence took over ownership of our facility in 2006, it required us to acquire a loan. We are aggressively trying to pay down this debt so that we can address the need for some physical expansion and plant churches more aggressively. We are also understaffed by comparison to other churches our size and depend on scores of committed volunteers who lead small groups, ministries, and serve in many other ways. This “everybody-pitch-in-and-lend-a-hand” mindset is very much a part of our church-plant DNA. Another aspect of our DNA is a “come as you are” culture of acceptance and grace. Unchanged is our commitment to the Bible and our desire to share God’s love with people! Unchanged is our determination to see Christ impact the culture of Knox and the surrounding counties of East Tennessee. Unchanged is our laser-like focus on the mission of “glorifying God by making, being, and unleashing” disciples! This is Providence Church. And you can be a part of God’s work in our area and grow with us in the process. You’re invited to join our family!