You can find First Christian Church Naples, better known now as The Current, in a Naples, Florida strip mall. Despite being sandwiched between a nail salon and a Greek restaurant, Reverend Michael Junkroski serves a congregation with a thriving social media presence and successful food pantry.
But in 2009, FCC Naples wasn’t doing too well.
The coastal city that shares the church’s name lies near the Everglades, boasts pristine beaches, and is the self-titled “Golf Capital of the World.” It’s a perfect landing spot for snowbirds and tourists alike. And therein lies FCC’s problem.
Ten years ago, the area surrounding the church’s original location changed from a residential neighborhood to one largely populated by vacation homes. Many of their homeowners didn’t stay in town too long, nor were they attending worship services at First Christian Church. In fact, back then only a small number of the church’s congregation still lived nearby.
Despite these challenges, FCC and its members knew that they could keep the church’s ministry going, just in a different place. This is when former pastor Bruce Frogge reached out to Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) and Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation.
At that time, Pastor Michael was a musician in the Praise band. Raised in the Jewish faith, he was attracted to FCC’s understanding of Christianity’s Jewish heritage. He was there when the church started working with DCEF to sell the building. He was there when FCC went through the Relocation Assessment with Rick Morse, VP of both DCEF and Hope. And, he was there when it held “cottage meetings” to talk about Rick’s report. DCEF helped FCC view potential locations while Hope guided its members to look deeply at what their church was at the time.
“If we hadn’t worked with DCEF to sell the building,” says Pastor Michael, “this church would have been gone a decade ago.”
After the sale members of the church wandered for a while, giving them the opportunity to examine their identity. By then, Pastor Michael had attended seminary, become a commissioned reverend, and was called to serve as FCC’s Senior Pastor. Since they didn’t have a permanent space, church members held their meetings at someone’s home. It was at their new pastor’s mother’s house that the congregants decided FCC needed a different name — one without the word “church” in it. They believed that removing this word would speak to the under 40 crowd; to “people who understand the scientific present, who ask questions and expect honest answers.” The creative process took some time and various names were considered. What it boiled down to, though, was not how individuals identified their church, but how they identified God.
“In my theology, I consider God a disembodied conscious energy; a current of energy that we can tap into. We can be in that flow and swim with it, or swim against it,” says Pastor Michael.
“When you’re with the movement of God, amazing things can happen,” he notes, “Jesus was the perfect embodiment of being at one with the current.”
FCC and its members followed this current of energy to a school gym and, then, to a ballet studio.
“When we were sitting around one night,” Pastor Michael recalls, “I said that it was time to do something radical because the old ways weren’t working anymore. I introduced a more post-modern theology that took off. I wanted to experiment with decentralizing power from the pulpit.”
With that in mind, the members of The Current worked hard to create something new and focus on ministry in the community.
The Current/FCC Naples had always been called to do a feeding ministry, so it started a backpack program with another church for ‘food at-risk’ youth. With that goal in mind, The Current got in touch with DCEF again to discuss purchasing a dedicated space for itself. After consultation on this, and on money management, the church bought several spots in a strip mall. This new location allowed it to make room for Food Angels, the church’s food bank.
You’d think that at this point, the church would have finally settled for good. But the current wasn’t done with it yet.
The housing market that compelled FCC Naples to move in the first place had affected the strip mall’s condominium association, too. (In the state of Florida, strip malls are run by condo associations.) The association tripled rates, making the space unaffordable. The Current sold their spots in the mall to the local Holocaust Museum. With the capital from that sale, it decided to rent its current space, which is in a neighborhood that DCEF had suggested would be the best fit for them. Its food pantry, which is supported by three other local congregations, is now able to feed 2,500 individuals (and rescue 22,000 pounds of food) every month because most of its clients live within walking distance.
Describing The Current’s present location, Pastor Michael says,
“It’s a great center of operations, worship, and spiritual connection. We’re 7-years old and feel that over the past 6-7 months, we’ve formed a foundation to serve the community. We’ve found a home.”