TULSA—Tulsa, theChurch.at Downtown began as a church plant in 2014 with just 250 members from other theChurch.at campuses. Those 250 people agreed to start something new in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state of Oklahoma, which is quickly becoming a beacon of hope in what most would consider an otherwise hopeless part of Tulsa.
TheChurch.at Downtown, in the heart of Tulsa, in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood calls a church building that is nearly 100-years-old its home. Matt Philpot is their campus pastor and leader that began his journey at downtown Jan. 1, 2016.
“I’m a redneck that lives 35 minutes away on 30 acres,” Philpot said. “For God to take me and put me here as the shepard of downtown, nobody can say ‘Well God brought in a ringer.’ Nope, this is not my area in that sense, but time and time again we see God step in and do what only He could get credit for.”
A website description for theChurch.at Downtown said, “The Church at Downtown reflects the urban, unique feel of the neighborhood with a campus membership steeped in diversity. We like to think the people you’ll meet are as eclectic as the architecture you’ll see on a walk down Third Street.”
Philpot echoes that sentiment with nearly every breath when asked about the vision for theChurch.at Downtown.
On the cold winter night that he began as pastor, Philpot walked the campus grounds as God spoke vision for the campus. “God began to put on my heart a huge vision I believe for the things He was going to do,” he said, “and one of them was that He was not only going to grow the church, He was going to grow the community with it.”
That vision is becoming a reality. The community has been investing in the surrounding areas of the church like streets and neighborhoods. TheChurch.at Downtown began a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that has “taken the neighborhood by storm,” according to Philpot, restoring hundreds of homes that were previously ridden with drugs or in some form of disrepair.
“In 2017 alone, we baptized 53 people at downtown, saw 87 people profess to know Christ, and we’ve seen over 100 percent growth at this point in two years. We’ve seen community groups, quite honestly, take off where roughly half of the entire church is involved in a community group, and there is room to grow,” Philpot said.
“I believe heaven is a great picture of what God wants it to look like here on earth too, where literally every one of His houses has people of every tongue, tribe and language, and that’s what I want downtown to look like,” he continued. “I want it to be weird if we don’t have people from multiple cultures as part of the family here at downtown.”
Some of the ways the church has accomplished its goal of a strong, multi-cultural congregation is through their community involvement. TheChurch.at Downtown has a program called “Reading Partners” where members of the church go into Tulsa Public Schools, like Kendal Whittier Elementary, and read with children who are below the reading standard for their grade.
The church also hosts a program called “Jobs for Life” where those who attend have the opportunity to walk through life skills such as how to get a job, how to prepare for a job and a career and how managing the resources that God has put in their hands can help them accomplish goals. “It might be hard where you are right now, but it’s not where God wants you to stay,” Philpot would tell “Jobs for Life” participants. “We help them take that next step.”
Additionally, the entire missions team for all theChurch.at campuses now operates from the Downtown campus, “because the majority of the work for local missions is in our neighborhood,” Philpot said.
Philpot points to the pastoral leadership at theChurch.at as a big contribution to the Lord’s work at Downtown. “Pastor Alex Himaya and the leadership team just told me, ‘We want you to be led by the Holy Spirit, and we want you to do what you feel like God is calling you to do at downtown.’ So because they didn’t just follow a certain mold, it’s allowed God to move how He would at our campus.”
Philpot continued, “Jesus was phenomenal about being intimate with people and drawing them in, but at the same time, challenging them to go out. I want everyone who comes in here to feel at home and loved and like they can be themselves in the house of God, but also to feel a challenge of now that I have felt that love I can go take it to other people.”