At 11 a.m. on Sundays, the renovated gym at Matthews United Methodist Church looks nothing like itself.
A stage is set up, and chairs are arranged in a large semi-circle in front. Three big screens and backdrops come down, and lights, stage design and production change it into the church’s newest Sunday service.
“You think you’re in a normal basketball gym, and in a few hours, it’s transformed into a worship venue,” said 801South worship leader Erik Langston.
Early September marked the community launch of 801South, a worship experience that values “relationship, reproduction, connecting the unchurched, simplicity and fun,” according to the church’s description of the service. The church is led by Pastor Stephen Knopp, who delivers the sermons.
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Matthews United Methodist has been holding 801South services all summer, and about 250 people – mostly from the church – attend, Langston said. Now, 801South is officially open to the community.
Langston joined the church about a month ago as its worship leader. He recently completed a worship leadership development program at Stonecreek Church in Alpharetta, Ga.
“The reasoning behind creating this space here at Matthews was they really wanted a new space for new people and to have more of a modern worship setting for the church here,” he said.
The service is creating a new culture at MUMC, Langston said, that’s “exciting, fun, really engaging and inviting.”
“We want people to be able to come and experience Jesus and God and be able to worship him how they see fit,” he said.
That could include singing loudly, raising one’s hands or sitting quietly and contemplating the song’s words that are projected on the screens, he said.
Langston learned to play guitar as a student at UNC Wilmington, where he progressed to playing on a music team for a campus ministry. When the worship team leader for a weekend Christian retreat couldn’t make it, Langston stepped in at the last minute and found that he enjoyed the role.
“The passion kept growing and growing,” he said. After joining the worship team at Port City Community Church in Wilmington after graduation, he decided to pursue worship-leading as a full-time job.
At 801South, Langston regularly introduces new music to the congregation, and he leads songs from Hillsong, Elevation, North Point and Passion. Eventually, he said, the band would explore songwriting as well.
The service is designed to be more than a Sunday morning meeting. Participants soon can join small groups that meet outside of church, which foster relationships, and it already has participated in community service projects, Langston said.
“We are here to reach people and help them connect with the gospel and with others,” Langston said. “There’s something for everyone and for the whole family.
“We have fun worshiping Jesus, and we want to invite people into an engaging and fun atmosphere.”