Our Story

Providence Church began as small group organized by Lance Robinson, who felt called to start a new, culture-engaging church in Knoxville, focused on proclaiming God’s word. Lance and this group began to meet together, leading to the first official worship service on Easter Sunday, 1993. Of the 54 people who attended that Sunday, the core group leveled off to about 30 people, about half of whom were kids. The church eventually moved from its first meeting place in a Knoxville office building to Cedar Bluff middle school. In 1996, Lance’s close friend Chad Sparks was invited to join the leadership of Providence. Chad and his young family moved from Johnson City where he was a pastor to Knoxville. Lance and Chad shared the primary teaching role for Providence, as part of a group of elders.

Over the next few years, Providence made a number of crucial decisions that would define its identity as a disciple-making church for the unchurched. To counteract preconceptions and negative stereotypes, we decided not to affiliate with a denomination. We chose to craft worship services where music and teaching made it easy for those unfamiliar with Christianity and the Bible to understand how to follow Christ. We articulated our mission to “Glorify God by Making, Being, and Unleashing fully devoted followers of Christ.” This mission statement was eventually refined as “To Glorify God by Making, Growing, and Unleashing Disciples of Christ”.

Extending this mission by planting new churches quickly became a passion for Providence. With the recent fall of communism in Eastern Europe, nations formerly closed to the gospel suddenly became open. Even as small as we were, Providence felt compelled to give and go help begin churches in Romania which had faced severe persecution. Again after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, Providence supported a formerly imprisoned pastor who planted two churches to an under-reached people group. Planting indigenous, culture-engaging churches remains a primary mission strategy for us.
When Providence had outgrown the space at Cedar Bluff Middle School, our elders and other leaders began to pray and search for a new home for the church.  Two dedicated prayer nights were held in 1999 to consider where God would lead us, and after many sites were considered, we were drawn to 11 undeveloped acres at the corner of Lovell Road and Pellissippi Parkway. With the generous financial backing of a local foundation, the property was purchased and a new building was constructed. Providence was to assume the loan for the land and construction once the church was in a suitable financial position. Providence moved into 1432 Lovell Road in February of 2002, and inspired by the gathering of God’s people in the Old Testament in moments of God’s powerful working, Providence gathered for a “Sacred Assembly” that year to proclaim God’s sovereign ability, confess our sin and weakness, and seek his empowering to accomplish his mission.

Almost immediately, Providence’s congregation doubled in size. This rapid growth caused our elders to take stock of whether we were staying true to the values that God had given us from the beginning. Providence adopted seven Core Values—beginning with the absolute authority of the Bible, which guided all our other values (as well as our beliefs, structure, and strategy). Despite losing a few who did not share this commitment to Biblical authority, God continued to use Providence to make disciples of Jesus.
In the following years, our staff and ministry reach grew, as God raised up leaders from within the church. We began to recognize the critical mission of planting churches locally and globally. Yearly, we developed a vision for how God wanted us to mature and develop as a church, beginning in 2005 with Missio Dei (a Latin phrase meaning Mission of God). That year, we focused on 5 aspects of Gods mission for us: to pray, belong, serve, give, and tell. In 2007, Romans 10:13-15 formed the vision of having “beautiful feet,” and over 200 people from Providence went on mission globally and locally, with another 200 sponsoring children in global areas of poverty. In 2009, we evaluated our growing complexity through the lens of the vision “Simplify.” In 2012, we took on the crazy challenge of reading and teaching the entire Bible in one year as a church, in something we called The Journey. Tied with journeying together in community, prayer, missional giving, and missional going, The Journey became a formative year for every age group in our church. In 2013, with the help of an outside consultant, we asked if our strategies were still in line with moving forward in our mission, and we reaffirmed our commitment to being a disciple-making, church-planting church (rather than simply getting bigger and bigger). A year-and-a-half study in Romans beginning in 2014 further deepened our commitment to this mission. Our origins in a small group are reflected by the priority we place on relational discipleship in small group environments. Within these groups, every member is a disciple-maker and minister who shepherds and cares for others- rather than vesting the elders or staff alone with this responsibility.

In 2018, we fully paid the mortgage on our building and became entirely debt-free as a church. This has freed us to devote all of our church’s giving to the mission of making disciples and planting churches, with a budget that reflects this mission in staffing, funding of international and local church plants, mission trips, as well as organizations that serve the poor, those affected by sex trafficking, and so much more. Church planting efforts continued with Providence Church Jefferson City becoming an autonomous church. Bridge Church was planted in South Knoxville in 2019, and in 2021, Village Church launched in the Norwood community. Emmanuel Church was planted in Downtown Knoxville in 2022. Through these experiences, Providence is continuing to ask new questions to learn how to plant healthy churches that make new disciples and plant new churches. Over our history, Providence has planted or had a significant role in supporting around 22 churches internationally. These include Attitude Baptist Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a new church among the Kachipo people of South Sudan.

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