KCBD Investigates: Experience Life closes church properties, leaving some members feeling misled

by on February 7, 2019

By Shaley Sanders

PLAINS, TX (KCBD) – A group of residents in Yoakum County is without a church after Experience Life’s satellite campus unexpectedly closed its doors. As it turns out, the Plains campus is not the only location to close.

Experience Life’s website lists a number of locations including a South Lubbock campus, a Plains campus, and an Abernathy campus. The KCBD Investigates Team has confirmed those campuses are no longer having traditional Sunday services.

While the doors remain locked, an executive pastor at Experience Life, also known as eLife, said the churches are active but they are having members meet in homes. It is part of the church’s new strategy discussed in Executive Pastor Chris Galanos’ new book called From Megachurch to Multiplication.

It is a vision one group said was not made clear when they agreed to give their church and property to Experience Life.

“We have no animosity toward eLife at all. We just want our church back; we just want our church back,” said Macky McWhirter.

McWhirter said he watched Alive Plains Church grow from just a couple of families to roughly 100 members.

“We had a very strong ministry going. We had 40 or 50 people come to Christ and be baptized. We baptized in a horse trough, a cow trough,” McWhirter said.

“A new one,” added his wife.

“Yeah, it was a new one,” McWhirter said with a smile.

Alive Plains Church became the only non-denominational church in Plains.

“We had people from Brownfield, Morton, Seagraves, Seminole, Denver City; this was not just Plains,” said Jarret Corn, whose family founded Alive Plains Church in 2012.

Corn said he and his family had been making the roughly 70 mile drive to eLife’s Lubbock campus every Sunday.

Eventually, they purchased a building and property in Plains, and asked for permission to stream eLife’s sermon, so Yoakum County residents didn’t have to make the hour drive to Lubbock.

“We just asked to borrow their sermon and as far as the rest of the logistics of church, the worship leaders and all of that, Alive Plains took care of it themselves,” Corn said.

Corn said that changed when eLife announced a vision to have 10 campuses in 10 years.

“We thought man, we are getting to the size that maybe we need more resources, maybe we need more youth directors, maybe we need more help with our worship. So, that is when we became affiliated in 2016 with Experience Life,” Corn said.

Corn said Alive Plains entrusted the church and property to eLife, and said while there were small changes at first, the dramatic change came in 2018 when eLife stopped sending over its sermons. Corn said instead, eLife elected a campus pastor to led the congregation in a Disciple-Making Movement training. The training focused on going out in the community instead of having a traditional Sunday service.

“It was supposed to be a 14-week training. It was on Sundays at 10:00 a.m., same thing as our scheduled time. It wasn’t services, no worship music. It wasn’t the atmosphere we set out to do,” Corn said.

Corn said 60 to 80 people were attending church consistently, but when the training began, attendance dwindled.

“We literally got down to two to three, some days three to five would be stretching it,” Corn said.

In December, Plains members were sent an email from Lubbock’s eLife pastors that read in part, “Long-term with this new vision, we didn’t know if we’d need a building, since disciple-making doesn’t require a facility, but we figured we’d keep it for the time being to see if the Lord revealed a strategic purpose it could serve in reaching all of Plains & the surrounding areas.”

The e-mail went on to say, “We knew that as the Plains group finished the training, teams would form that would begin to gather in homes for church…”

However, Corn said the home church idea never took off.

Now he and the few members left are working to gain back the congregation they once had with Alive Plains Church. In the meantime, they are asking eLife for access to the church and property they gave them back in 2016.

“We felt like that it was appropriate and reasonable to ask them if we could have the controls back to our property and church. The dialogue has been, ‘We want to keep it fallow for six to 12 months, and we don’t know what we are going to with the building.’ In the meantime, we’ve got a lot of people out here would would like to have church,” Corn said.

Over the past couple of weeks, Corn has worked to find various places around Plains for people meet for a traditional Sunday service. He said they have also found another Lubbock church who has offered to let them stream services. Corn said they are now renting a facility on Sundays and dozens of people have returned. His hope is that eLife will hand over the keys to the property that once housed Alive Plains Church.

“We just want to talk to them,” McWhirter said.

The KCBD Investigates Team contacted eLife for an interview, and Executive Pastor Tyler Dipprey said, “we would like any further discussion about the campus to take place directly between the involved parties.”

Dipprey did send us this copy of the e-mail he said the Plains members received:

“eLife is so excited about all God is doing in Plains! Plains has been one of the campuses at eLife that has been on the frontlines of the amazing work that God is doing in this region.

When the Plains campus decided to do the DMM trainings on the weekend, our staff and leadership were so inspired by your desire to “go all in” to make disciples in Plains! It seemed that there were a significant number of people who really wanted to get serious about making disciples & seeing many new churches planted which would reach all of Plains & the surrounding areas.

We got weekly updates about how powerful the DMM trainings were & how the church was beginning to go out among the people that wouldn’t likely ever step foot in any of the churches in town.Each week the church was hearing from God about what it would look like to truly “go out among the lost” and make disciples. They would often even symbolize this by not meeting in the building on Sunday mornings but meeting out in the community where they knew the “harvest was plentiful” but the “workers were few.”

Over time, as the training powerfully impacted people, the Plains campus stopped having regular traditional worship services with a band & a message delivered on video in the Plains building. Instead, they were breaking up into smaller groups and really talking about what it would be like to reach all of Plains for Jesus. The Plains building & traditional weekend services were no longer the focus & the building was now just being used to support the disciple-making efforts of the groups going out among the lost.

Long-term with this new vision, we didn’t know if we’d need a building, since disciple-making doesn’t require a facility, but we figured we’d keep it for the time being to see if the Lord revealed a strategic purpose it could serve in reaching all of Plains & the surrounding areas.

We knew that as the Plains group finished the training, teams would form that would begin to gather in homes for “church” to pray, worship, encourage one another, and strategically plan how to reach the whole city of Plains! Just like at our other campuses, we knew that as some people went through the training and experienced this “new way” of doing church in Plains, they would move on to other great churches in the area if they still wanted a traditional church experience.

We celebrated that & Once the training ended & the leadership began to talk to people about forming teams, some people began to express that they’d rather not continue with the direction of the past several months & go back to the way it used to be. We totally understood that & would bless, support & send anyone who wanted to find another church since there are many great churches in Plains.

But we wanted to make sure to be clear that eLife in Plains is not shutting down. Quite the contrary. It’s just getting started! And now it’s employing a strategy that can reach many more people. We want to leave the building available now for however God might lead as these teams begin to go out & make disciples.

Who knows what God might use the building to do in the days to come. As a result, we want to keep it freed up for now to support the disciple-making efforts of the teams that are going out.We are more excited than ever about all that God is doing in Plains, TX & we are praying that Plains would be a major catalyst for a great move of God that touches millions of people all across our nation & around the world.

Stay tuned because we really believe the best is yet to come! God Bless,

-eLife Leadership Chris, John, and Tyler

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