Relevant Church keeps focus on Jesus in a time of changing worship
A clear, compelling vision to start a life-giving church is what brought Muta and Christine Mwenya to Niles in 2014.
Both left the corporate world behind and, with free-agent status, scouted the area in June of that year. By July, the couple had planted roots in the Benton Harbor and St. Joseph areas, with a clear vision of the type of church they would start.
At 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday, gathered in a large room with bright neon lights, Relevant Church’s band performs on stage. Christine and Sarah Shirk act as vocalists, while Danae Rossman is the keyboardist. A drummer and electric guitarist round out the group as a congregation of about 100 people joins in with the upbeat tempo. Hands raised, swaying in unison, Relevant Church is a modern Christian church.
“I think religion has muddled up faith quite a bit,” said Muta, pastor and founder of the church. “When you boil it down, Christianity, it has to do with one person: Jesus. We wanted a church that just pointed people to Jesus and didn’t point people to religion.”
On a Sunday morning, people passing by Philadelphia Seventh Day Adventist Church, 33332 US-12, Niles, might notice Relevant Church members standing next to the road holding up red signs decorated with “Relevant Church.” Greeters wait in the parking lot welcoming visitors with a smile and “welcome home.”
“We also envisioned a church where people from all different backgrounds could gather together,” Muta said. “It didn’t matter if you were black or white; whether you are Republican, Democratic, Independent or other; whether you are wealthy or down and out.”
Muta wanted Relevant Church to be a space where people who walked through the doors never felt judged for who they were, what they looked like or what they had done.
The community was also a focal point for the church. Drawing ideas from Christianity in late antiquity, Muta said the religion was rooted in community service, serving people and building people up.
“We wanted to go back to the roots of what an early Christian church looked like,” he said. “One that looked outward and not inward.”
Creating a dream team
“If I am passionate about the area that I am working in, then my interactions with people are going to be very genuine and whole and not contrived,” Muta said. “The experience we want people to feel when they walk through the door is to see people who have joy.”
The church has six “dream teams,” which help parishioners get involved in the service of the church.
Ranging from guest services to marketing and communications roles, Relevant Church leaders want to intersect opportunities with individuals’ gifts and passions. Members of the church can help take photos and videos. Even a lighting operator and production operator assist with the worship group’s band and vocals.
“When you are working in your calling and serving in those areas, you can truly honor God with what you do,” Muta said. “It’s no longer work, it’s worship.”
Currently, Relevant Church also has five directors to handle various areas of the church.
Christine, the creative director at Relevant Church, also leads the worship program in vocals.
“I want people to experience Jesus the way I experience him throughout the week,” she said. “I feel good up there. I enjoy my time. I enjoy worshiping with the other bodies of Christ.”
Lewis Boyden, the church’s marketing and communications director and Next Generation director, met Muta five or six years ago when the former Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce was establishing a young professionals network.
Muta shared with Boyden the vision for Relevant Church and asked him to dedicate six months to help launch it. After six months, Boyden would return to his home church. The six months came and passed, and Boyden remained rooted at Relevant Church.
“We are in this five or six years now,” he said. “I am still here and still loving it. I am constantly in prayer and talking to God about these things. I listen to God and do what he says.”
A “welcome home”
“Whether this is your 100th time coming or your first time,” she said, “welcome home.”
The church’s welcome home service model aligns with the principles taught in the parable of the prodigal son, in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, a young man leaves his father’s farm to seek a riches in his city. He ends up spending all his fortune and eventually returns to his father, who accepts him with open arms.
Muta calls this scripture the heartbeat of the church.
Growing up in a Christian household, at the age of 14, Muta wanted nothing to do with church or faith. He walked through the doors of a church again in his late 20s. His fears were typical. He feared being judged and the congregation knowing what he had done.
“Many of us who have come to faith have recognized a piece of our lives where we have not lived in honor to God,” he said. “We’ve done our own things. We’ve gone our own way. We’ve acted in ways that are unbecoming to who God wants us to be. When we walk through those doors, many of us are scared.”
Relevant Church works to welcome people home.
“We don’t know what you’ve been through, but we want to let you know this is a safe place. You are home,” Muta said.
Establishing a teaching-church
From the church’s inception, Relevant Church aimed to equip its people with skills for both the ministry and the marketplace.
Three years ago, Muta designed a pilot program with about 10 individuals to be trained, coached and equipped to pursue full-time vocational ministry or to enter the workforce. The program spanned three sessions and focused on personal development, as well as faith development. Four people ended up successfully graduating.
In fall 2019, Relevant Leadership College officially launched. Students will go through four semesters and an internship program to receive a diploma at the end.
Muta is working to flip the script on how people view churches and roles of ministry.
“For so long, church has been seen as a place where hate and bigotry and just ill-will stems from,” he said. “We want people who say if they are going into ministry, I need to know that I need to have the father’s heart, the welcome home spirit, in front of me.”
Faithful in the future
The church celebrated its fourth anniversary in January 2020 and hoped to make a more significant impact on the Niles community, as well as raise up people who want to make a difference no matter where they are in life.
The Relevant Church community is also excited to walk into the new possibilities ahead by partnering with other churches in the area, Muta said.
“We see the network of churches as one, with all different flavors,” he said.
As Sunday service came to an end, Relevant Church’s congregation filed into the outside room to visit and chatter. Though they came from different backgrounds, different pasts, there was a common theme uniting all of them.
“If we can let people know that Jesus is relevant, then we feel like we did our job,” Muta said.