Belong before you believe – The Carltons' Story

When Mike and Lisa Carlton moved to Jacksonville from Atlanta a little over a year ago, they were excited to have found a great place to live and raise their kids – and all near the beach! While living in Atlanta, they had attended North Point Community Church, and when they learned there was a North Point partnership church in Jacksonville, they felt it was another piece falling into place for their move.

14550803_10210355851069475_111159099_oAs exciting as it can be, change also means challenges. After the boxes were unpacked in Jacksonville and the initial excitement died down, the Carlton family felt the relational ripple effect of the move. The everyday reality of being far from long-time friends and being “new” to every community they encountered was difficult. Mike was adjusting to a new job, and the kids, then 8-year-old Katie and 3-year-old Charlie, were adjusting to a new neighborhood and school. Lisa had recently transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom, and though she was enjoying it, she missed not being a part of a work community.

The Carltons were in transition in their faith as well. At North Point Mike and Lisa had begun taking a fresh look at their beliefs. Until a friend invited them to North Point, church had not been a part of Mike’s life for a long time. Lisa is Jewish and had little experience with church or Christianity. At North Point the Carltons were attracted to the freedom they felt to be a part of the community regardless of where they were with their beliefs. They took the next step in the investigation process and joined a Starting Point Group at North Point. It was a safe place for them to ask questions about what it means to have a growing relationship with Jesus while experiencing transparent community. At Access they hoped to continue the process they had started at North Point.

At first the Carltons weren’t sure about the video communicator aspect of Access, and they tried another church. But they were soon back at Access, deciding to adjust to the screens because the teaching was so relevant and helpful. But what really made the difference was the acceptance they felt regardless of their beliefs. “We heard over and over that Access is a place where you can belong before you believe, and we found that to be true,” said Lisa. “It made all the difference for us and for me being new to Christianity.”

Having had a great Starting Point Group experience at North Point, the Carltons decided to join a Community Group at Access. “The people in our group cover the spectrum on where they are in their faith, but the acceptance of each other is total,” Lisa said. “I get to see things through the eyes of people who are at different places in their faith journey. When something comes up I want to process through, I can call others and ask their perspective.”

Becoming involved by volunteering has also played a big part in the Carltons connecting at Access. Lisa serves in Waumba Land. “I enjoy the relationships I’m developing, both with the other volunteers as well as the families I’m serving,” she said. “There’s something special about someone entrusting you with their child so they can enjoy the day’s message without worrying about their little one.”

Looking back over the past year, Mike and Lisa believe the most helpful things in their transitions to a new place to live and in their faith journey have been acceptance, connection, and then helping make those things available for others. “Access Church has played a vital part in helping us navigate this season of our life,” Lisa said. “The people at Access have become family, those we expect to have lifelong friendships with. And the relationships I have with the babies in Waumba Land are so special to me because I know I will likely get to see these children grow up, and I get to play a part in growing their faith.”