The EFCA, Evangelical Free Church of America, is not that common of a denomination in the Southeast, so while you’re probably familiar with other denominations and traditions such as Baptist and Presbyterian, the fact we’re a part of a somewhat lesser-known organization may be a little disconcerting, but let me share how I ended up from being rather noncommittal towards any denomination to being an advocate for this movement.
Just a bit of personal background might help. My parents are both first-generation Christians and immigrants to the U.S., so when they came to know Jesus, they didn’t have any longstanding family history with a particular church tradition or denomination, they just wanted more of Jesus. So they were a bit “adventurous” in trying out various churches and worship services while at the same time trying to “test them” while reading the Word. My father was called by God to be a pastor and was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention back when I was 9 years old or so. And as he planted churches in Stillwater, Oklahoma and Fort Pierce, Florida, he had no problems being Baptist. Later, he retired after pastoring a church in Jacksonville, but then was asked to shepherd a group of people who were United Methodist. And he did. When I asked him about the “team change,” he simply responded, “I’m a shepherd and I’m called to be with sheep.” The denomination didn’t seem to matter to him that much and while he knew there were some doctrinal differences, as long as growing in Christ was the focus of the people, my dad served them.
This “kingdom first” mentality really made a huge impression on me. And my suspicion was that all denominations were more “denomination-first.” But then I discovered the EFCA. I came to Open Table back in 2007 and figured it was just another denomination. But as I met more and more people in the denomination, they didn’t use the word, denomination – they used the word, movement. “Free Church” people are obsessed with planting churches and people coming to know Christ, and they know that it doesn’t just happen because of gifted people who have a great strategy, they understand that it is a movement – of both people and the Spirit.
The “free” in EFCA originally meant freedom from the national government (Sweden, to be specific); but what it means effectively today is that each church is autonomous and free to follow the leading of the Lord without being dictated to by a national organization. What the national office does is form an alliance between the free churches and help to encourage each church not to be too exclusive or navel-gazing. And as the notion of ‘movement’ – the national office makes sure that the movement keeps moving, moving to face the giants we face together as a country and as a people. The national office also reinforces credentialing of ministers and helps ensure that local leaders have a support system and that the districts have a say in where the movement goes forward in the future. But each church is free to decide, free to contribute, and/or free not to. It’s about as loose as a national organization can get and still remain an organization.
Now what do they believe? I’ll write more on that soon…