By Lonnie Wilkey
Baptist and Reflector
Barely two years old, Real Life Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, or Real Life Sango as it is known locally, is not the typical new church.
The church was born out of the prayers of a great many people, both in and outside of Montgomery County and not all of them were even Baptist.
One of the first pastors to have a vision and heart for the Sango community of Clarksville was David Royalty, pastor of First Baptist Church, Joelton, in a neighboring county. He dreamed of starting a new work in the community and shared the vision with his congregation.
“The opportunity to birth a church and see people saved is higher at a new congregation instead of waiting for them to come to First Baptist,” he said.
Five years ago, he prayed with three other pastors about the need for a church in Sango — his son, Chris Royalty, pastor of 24 Church in Pleasant View; Larry Riley, then pastor of First Baptist Church, Clarksville; and Willie Lyle, pastor of Sango United Methodist Church.
“Prayer was the number one reason the church came to pass,” Royalty affirmed. He noted the group prayed and developed a vision of what could happen in that community. “I would drive through the area and talk with people,” he recalled.
Others in the area took hold of the vision including Rick Stevens, director of missions for Cumberland Baptist Association. “I was part of a group that met for over a year planning and praying for the start of a new work in the Sango area, a fast growing section of Clarksville that stretches from the expanding edges of Clarksville toward the community of Pleasant View,” Stevens recalled.
The association was one of eight or nine other entities that arranged for some of the funding sources for the new church, did demographic work, prayerwalked (drove) the area and pursued a church planter, he noted.
They thought they had the right person for the position, but the planter withdrew at the last minute. “We were discouraged at first and called a meeting of the group. When we gathered, we prayed and then entertained a discussion about any other names. Nobody really had a good lead, it seemed,” Stevens said.
Then, Larry Riley spoke up and suggested the name of Freddy T. Wyatt, a local boy who grew up in First Baptist, had been a church planter in New York and was then pastor of a church in Arizona, the DOM recalled.
He noted that most of the pastors knew Wyatt and were interested in pursuing him. Wyatt expressed an interest and arranged a trip in the fall of 2017 to his hometown to meet with the group.
“Freddy showed us early on that he had a vision for this new work,” Stevens said.
Wyatt noted that he drove by Carmel Elementary School in the Sango area (which would house the new work) and past new neighborhoods that did not exist when he lived in Clarksville. “God began to stir my heart for my hometown,” he recalled.
Wyatt listened to the group of ministers and heard their vision and heart, and they prayed together. “Almost immediately I felt I needed to come and plant the church,” he said.
On his return flight to Arizona, Wyatt said “the Lord gave me the name Real Life Church and that mantra — “Keep it Real. Keep it Jesus.”
Having been a church planter before, Wyatt knew that normally a church planter has to recruit a coalition of churches to help and raise funds. “Planters dream to have that kind of coalition already on the ground. They were looking for a planter.”
Though both he and his wife are Clarksville natives, neither had aspired to return to their hometown, Wyatt acknowledged, but “that was what God had in store for us and we are thrilled.’ ”
The couple and their children moved back to Tennessee in December of 2017 and began meeting with a core team of about 60 adults supplied by the churches that joined to help start the new church. Wyatt said the group met for six months for prayer and training.
“In part I was deprogramming over-programmed church people and equipping them to think simply and strategically about Jesus’ mission,” he said.
Wyatt recalled that about 400 people attended Launch Sunday on Sept. 9, 2018, at the elementary school. The core group allowed Real Life to have ministry teams and leadership in place when the church began, Wyatt said. “That’s a testimony to the pastors who both prayed and sent people to be a part of the work,” he affirmed.
The church began to average around 230 in worship after the launch and has seen steady growth since, Wyatt said, noting the church has baptized 59 people in its two years of existence. The church added a second service last fall and growth continued. Between January and March 2020, before COVID-19, the church was averaging around 425 each week, the pastor said.
Then COVID-19 shut it all down, Wyatt said. He noted the church did not have online services at the time and did not have the equipment to record them. But another Sango-area church, Living Hope Baptist and Pastor Derek Smith, allowed Real Life to use their facilities and equipment to film services.
Along with the online services, they did a month of “drive-in” services. But as churches began to regather, Real Life could not return to the elementary school. Then, a family in the community who owns an old warehouse that was repurposed for several businesses including an event venue, offered that facility to the church.
Real Life is now meeting in The Madison Room of the old warehouse which will accommodate 550 people. Wyatt said the church has regained about 70 percent of its pre-COVID attendance but is still holding two services to allow for social distancing.
Though only two years old, the church already is reproducing, In September the church announced plans to start Real Life Downtown in Yada, a restaurant on historic Franklin Street in downtown Clarksville. “We believe planting new churches is the best way to reach lost people,” Wyatt affirmed.
He added that while a lot of people might not “step foot in a church building they might attend a worship service in a restaurant in the downtown strip.” The church hopes to launch the new work in mid- to late January 2021 with a core group.
Lewis McMullen, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and others from the TBMB have worked with Real Life and the TBMB has provided funding support through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. “I am excited that Real Life Sango is planting a new congregation in the Clarksville area,” he said.
“This is a picture of multiple churches joining together to plant a church that will plant churches,” McMullen added.
Wyatt is grateful for the group that had the foresight to begin planning and praying for a new work in the Sango area years ago.
“We are thankful for what God has called us to do and the many evidences of His grace,” Wyatt said. He also expressed appreciation to two other partners from outside the area.
“Our growth and multiplication couldn’t have been possible without the strategic partnership of Brentwood Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, Hendersonville,” he noted.
“Our vision is to become a flourishing people and a multiplying movement.”
Stevens is appreciative of what the church has done in a short time.
“Real Life has consistently connected with unchurched, de-churched and new residents of Clarksville in a powerful way,” he said. “We have seen people come to faith and connected with this new church despite the challenges of not having a permanent building, COVID and even some growing pains of needed additional structure to assist with the growth.
“We have seen God’s provision and blessing in this new work, while watching people with life-changing stories of very ‘real’ encounters with Jesus. They have connected with our association and with the community to see God plant a needed new work in a growing area.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by the Baptist and Reflector. To read more articles like this on Tennessee Baptists, visit baptistandreflector.org. This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit tabonline.org/TAB-News-app.