It began with a simple feeling that led The Ark Church lead pastor Luke Cunningham to Huntsville, bringing with him a spirit and heart that would quickly build an expansive ministry in the community.
The Ark Church began in Conroe 20 years ago, with its roots being laid down by Pastor Allen and Joy Clayton. Cunningham had worked there for five to six years before feeling led to plant a church himself.
Unsure of where to begin, Cunningham and his wife began searching and praying, trying to figure out where the Lord was leading them.
“We went to Sugarland, Pearland, San Antonio, Austin, all of the popular fast growing areas, and I remember when we went to all of those places we didn’t connect with any of them. It just wasn’t in our heart, it wasn’t where the Lord wanted us,” Cunningham said. “I remember talking with my Pastor and Huntsville dropped into my heart out of nowhere. I told my wife, ‘we need to go to Huntsville,’ and her first words were, ‘where is Huntsville?’”
The family took off up I-45 and knew as soon as they passed the statue of Sam Houston that they were where God wanted them.
Cunningham refers to The Ark in Conroe as their “big-brother”, their separation allowing them to have the freedom to be who they need to be in their respective communities, the name a familiar comfort to the people from Huntsville who used to make the drive to Conroe.
“It’s a spirit, it’s a heart, we have the same heart that they do, the same love that they do for the Lord and for people,” Cunningham said.
The Ark launched in at the Lowman Student Center August 20, 2017 with a successful turnout of over 200 people in standing-room only. The following weekend, Hurricane Harvey flooded the LSC which lost power, Cunningham’s family was evacuated from their home by the coast guard and church was canceled after only one day of being operational.
“We literally went from the greatest launch we could have ever had, this huge feeling of momentum, to cancelling church,” Cunningham said.
Unsure of whether of not the church would regain its momentum, Cunningham returned to hold Sunday service September 3, and was met with a larger crowd in attendance.
In the three years the church has been serving the community, the population has grown immensely, the kids’ ministry alone doubling in that time.
“I think what we’ve seen grow is not just numerically, but culturally. I think our church culture has really taken on its own identity,” Cunningham said.
Meeting on campus at the Lowman Student Center, many would assume that The Ark in Huntsville is targeted for a college-aged demographic, however Cunningham would say that just isn’t so. The goal from the beginning has been to create a multi-generational church with intentions of being there for anyone who wants to experience the fullness of Christ and drawing members of every age.
“It’s a unique experience on a Sunday morning because you have a bunch of college students that collide with a bunch of empty nesters and married families, but we can all learn from each other – the older need the younger and the younger need the older,” Cunningham said, adding that The Ark almost feels as if it has taken on two identities, church when school is in session, drawing out hundreds of college students, and church when school is out of session, with the same core group of locals that live in Huntsville
The church is currently considered “mobile” in that it does not currently have a permanent home, however having signed a five year lease with the LSC, Cunningham doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“We love the idea of being mobile, being mobile gives us tremendous flexibility, it activates a significant amount of volunteers, it gives them a job, gives them something to do … Being mobile, there’s just a builder atmosphere to it, there’s an excitement about it, so we’re very much a permanent church in the community, we just aren’t investing in a building right now, we’re investing in people. It gives us a lot of flexibility to invest more in people than a building we may meet in once a week,” Cunningham said.
Offices are used for team training, meetings and bible studies, however their group ministries, or “connections”, encourages members of the church to meet up and grow relationships together as well as with the Lord in lieu of a large mid-week service. Connections can meet in homes, restaurants, the workplace or dorms with a group leader that goes over a discussion provided by The Ark covering the message from Sunday.
“It’s a great way to make a large church feel small, or to feel connected … it’s almost like taking the city and making it feel like a small town,” Cunningham said.
Currently, over 100 people on volunteer teams serve on Sundays in the church. Missions and outreaches uplift the community with grocery giveaways, partnership with the Tim Tebow foundation and renovating teacher lounges in HISD schools.
“We believe everyone is called to a cause and we believe when you start serving a cause greater than yourself, you really step into the purpose that God has for you,” Cunningham said. “Our vision is not to come with a hand out asking for things, it’s to come handing out things that people need, so we want to serve and love the community.”