A Sending Church: The Summit Church

David Langston grew up attending The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., where his father, Rick, along with the other pastoral staff, spoke about the gospel and what it means to be adopted into God’s family. The ministers regularly shared the joy that comes with opening one’s heart and home to foster children. So it came as no surprise when David and his wife Kathryn adopted a 2-year-old girl from China.

“Gospel-centered teaching transforms people’s lives, and this is just one example,” says Rick Langston, lead pastor of strategic development at The Summit Church. “Everything we do [at our church] is in response to the generosity of the gospel.”

Though the church has always focused on God’s Word, years ago it suffered an identity crisis as leaders debated what the church’s primary focus should be—serving itself, others or God. “Ultimately, we determined that following Christ meant reaching out to other people,” says Langston.

With a refocused mission to help others, congregation members set out to transform the city of Durham by developing community partnerships and ministering to five populations: homeless people, orphans, prisoners, single mothers and at-risk teens.

Through the years, the congregation has grown from 300 to an average current weekly attendance of 8,500. They hold 23 weekend services across eight campuses, with plans to launch a ninth campus this fall.

Growth can be attributed to the congregation’s fervent reliance on the Holy Spirit to move them. “We have big expectations of God because we know he always exceeds those expectations,” says Langston.

Jesus says that the key to sharing the gospel message with the world is sending, not gathering. “The future belongs to churches that send,” says Langston, who notes that currently they have nearly 200 people living internationally in the mission field. “When you think of the scope of the church’s mission, it’s to make disciples here and to the ends of the earth.”

That’s why, in recent years, ministers at The Summit have ended services with the message, “You’re sent,” rather than a traditional closing directive. Working with mission boards and partnering with organizations that focus on church planting, The Summit Church hopes to fulfill the vision set forth in 2007 to plant 1,000 churches in a generation, both nationally and internationally. So far, they have planted well over 100. (One of their church plants—Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, N.C.—is ranked as one of this year’s Outreach 100 fastest-growing churches.)

For a long while, The Summit consisted primarily of Caucasians despite the fact that Durham is economically and racially diverse. Members recognized this as an issue.

“When you come into a church for the first time, you ask yourself, ‘Do I belong here?’” notes Langston. “If you don’t see anyone you identify with, that’s a pretty big barrier to overcome.”

In an effort to be more welcoming to all who enter, the church began expanding the diversity in their leadership. “We can only become one by embracing diversity,” says Langston.

David and Kathryn’s growing family certainly agrees with the sentiment. They’re currently considering adopting a second child from China.

Durham, N.C.
Senior Pastor: J.D. Greear
Twitter: @JDGreear
Website: SummitRDU.com
Founded: 1962
Affiliation: Southern Baptist
Locations: 8
Attendance: 8,275
Growth in 2014: +993 (14%)
Fastest-Growing: 28
Largest: 47

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewinghttp://christyheitger-ewing.com/

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.