Experiencing the Father’s Heart with ECO


By Pastor Tom Willcox

We remain, as we always have been, the First Presbyterian Church of Branson. Our journey began in 1907 when we were established as a congregation in the PCUS (Presbyterian Church in the United States) also known as the Southern Presbyterian Church. It took three years before the Old Stone Church was completed, we began to worship there in 1910. As an aside, the present day City of Branson wasn’t incorporated until 1912, so our congregation’s history began five years before that of the City of Branson.

In 1983 our denomination, the PCUS, merged with the UPCUSA (United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, or the Northern Presbyterian Church). The newly reunited denomination reclaimed the name PC(USA) or the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and continues under that name today.

As of January 1st, 2016 the First Presbyterian Church of Branson is now a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. That is the full name of our new denomination but we generally just go by ECO. “ECO” is pronounced with a long “E,” as it is used in the word ecosystem and not like an “echo,” with a short “e,” which is the sound that bounces back to you when you shout into a big, empty sanctuary. (Feel free to expand on that metaphor.)

According to our new denominational web site,ECO2

“The name ECO is not an acronym. It reinforces our passion for strengthening the ecosystems of local churches. We believe the church is a living organism that needs life-giving resources to help it grow, thrive, and multiply. ECO is committed to cultivating a healthy, diverse, resource-rich ecosystem where pastors and congregations can flourish.”

Our new denomination is not all about having its members make the denomination flourish, rather it is all about the denomination making us, its members flourish!

We no reside within a denomination that encourages and supports our vision, mission and purpose to:

engage | equip | empower

God calls us as his family to share his love and inheritance with all who are in need of refuge and a place to thrive in God’s household.

The three areas of vision we’d like to discern together:

1. We are called to engage people in the Life of Christ

Engaging people in the Life of Christ requires our intentional efforts to form relationships that help people grow according to the following flow:

First, we welcome people into the Reality of Christ as we meet them, come to personally know them, and demonstrate who He is and what His message is.

Second, we draw them into the fellowship of the Body of Christ by greeting them, sharing hospitality, and inviting them into the life of smaller groups.

Third, we welcome people into the Mission of Christ by identifying their gifts, confirming their calling, and supporting their service.

We’d like to contemplate the following questions together in this area of vision. It’s our hope that through reflection and conversation, the Lord will reveal the decisions, commitments, and creative ideas for the next seven years.

What don’t we know that we need to study or discover in this area?
What skills or practices do we need to develop to be the best at helping people engage?
How can we best support each other to grow our ability to engage?

2. We are called to equip people with Biblical Answers

We equip people with Biblical Answers that can be applied to everyday life, helping everyone we serve grow in four key areas:

Worship: We equip people to worship, offering their whole lives as praise to the Living God.

Connect: We equip people to connect with others, following the Living Way in their relationships, associations, and vocations.

Grow: We equip people to grow, to realize their full potential through the Living Word.

Reach: We equip people to reach out, serving others by Living Love everywhere.

There are three main questions we’d like to discuss and discern together in this area of vision:

1. How can we help more people access Biblical Answers for their lives?
2. How can we better help those wounded by the Church, blinded by sin, or confused by society’s misconceptions find the truth of the Living Word?
3. What would help people to apply theological and biblical knowledge more directly to their everyday life?

3. We are called to empower people to Exercise God’s Gifts

Empowering people to Exercise God’s Gifts will require us to invest time and resources significantly in three areas:

Culture of Support: People need to discover and nurture their spiritual gifts through teaching, mentoring, and small groups in our church activities and beyond church programming.

Skill Sharing: People benefit from person-to-person and generation-to-generation sharing of skills to complement and mature their gifting.

Environment for Incubation: People thrive in an environment where new ministries, ventures, and fellowships grow as they learn to engage, equip, and empower.

As we plan to empower people, we’d like to discern these three questions together:

1. How can we best help people discover and nurture their gifting?
2. What skills can we share with each other and our community?
3. What resources and relationships can be we offer to those starting new ministries, ventures and fellowships?