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Confessions of faith: Matt and Danielle Cosgrave

After becoming members of a church, a couple finds renewed joy in the opportunity to support a mission.

At the beginning of their relationship, Matt and Danielle Cosgrave began attending worship together at a WELS church. Now married, the couple has found ways to get more involved as members.

Part of this increased activity has included the chance to start a mission congregation in Durham, N.C. “Being part of a start-up requires ongoing dedication, and I enjoy the challenge of it,” says Danielle.

She first invited Matt to visit her congregation when they were dating and he did not have a church home. Over time, he took classes to learn about the church and eventually joined. Years later, when the chance arose to help with a new outreach effort, the two knew they wanted to participate.

Different backgrounds

As a child, Matt spent time in western Maryland and attended a Baptist church. Under the care of his mother, he often went to the church three days a week. On Sundays and Wednesdays, he participated in services. On Thursdays, he was part of a group that reached out to the community and carried out activities such as door-to-door canvassing and bussing inner-city children to church.

In his college and early adult years, Matt found himself less attached to the Baptist church. Over time, he turned away from it; however, he did not completely remove spirituality from his life. “I never lost my faith,” he shares. “I was involved with interfaith groups and still called myself a Christian—it just wasn’t always top of mind.”

Danielle grew up in Wisconsin and went to church regularly. “My family was WELS, and I was baptized in a Lutheran church,” she says. Danielle went to a Lutheran grade school and a Lutheran high school. She decided to study to be a teacher and enrolled at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. After graduating, she went to Maryland to teach in a grade school.

While settling into the area, she met Matt. She introduced him to the Lutheran church, and the two began attending worship together. “I hadn’t heard of WELS before meeting Danielle,” Matt recalls. “I wasn’t familiar with the different denominations of churches and hadn’t been encouraged earlier to explore the options.”

During their time dating, Matt and Danielle discussed religion and had in-depth conversations about their faith. “We both believed the basics, and we talked about the other aspects of our faith,” Danielle says. “As a couple, we wanted to be part of the same church and to be active there together.”

Before they got married, Matt took membership classes at the WELS church where Danielle was attending. After getting married, they continued attending the WELS church and appreciated the chance to connect with the other families in the congregation.

Moving to North Carolina

Not long after getting married, Matt received a job offer in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., area. The position was in the pharmaceutical field, which aligned with his educational background and interests. The couple moved to Apex, a suburb of the metropolis.

This area in North Carolina is often referred to as the Research Triangle due to its proximity to three major research universities: Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. The urban sector is a hub for technology and biotech companies. In addition, residents find cultural events, fine dining options, and entertainment to enjoy. The Triangle is often ranked among the top ten best places in the country to visit or live.

After Matt and Danielle moved to the area, they started attending Gethsemane, North Raleigh. “We were so welcomed there, right from the start,” Danielle remembers. One couple especially looked out for them and made sure they were included in the church’s activities.

As Matt and Danielle established roots in the area, they found opportunities to be more involved in the church. Matt was asked to take on a leadership role and became the recording secretary. The couple appreciated the atmosphere of the congregation and soon felt at home in the area.

Starting mission work

In 2019, Matt and Danielle, along with the other members of Gethsemane, learned of a chance to start a new church site in Durham, about 20 miles from Raleigh. The couple realized that, distance-wise, they could easily attend either site.

As they contemplated where to go, Matt and Danielle grew interested in the start-up. “We were inspired to challenge our outlook on mission work,” Danielle says. They wanted to carry out evangelism and outreach in a way that would reflect their willingness to do whatever it takes to reach the lost.

However, in 2020 as the pandemic hit, some of the initial plans for the Durham site were postponed. In 2021, Home Missions approved funding for this initiative. By 2022, a core group of four families (plus the pastor’s family) was established. The group was led by Pastor Doug Lange, who was called to serve the site. The families started meeting in Lange’s living room for worship and Bible study.

people gathered in room Matt Cosgrave volunteering easter
Left: The core group of the new mission in Durham, N.C., meets in the pastor’s living room for worship and Bible study. Right: Matt Cosgrave (left) and Doug Lange, home missionary in Durham, volunteering at a local nonprofit.

The core group has been focusing on getting to know the residents of Durham. “One thing we have been doing is being careful not to copy and paste solutions from other places,” Matt says. “We want to know the culture and the needs of the people in Durham.” Studying each city in the Triangle reveals distinct traits and key differences. Durham is multicultural and has economic differences among community members. Much of the population is unchurched or doesn’t regularly attend services.

To get more involved in the community, some members volunteer at a local nonprofit center that helps individuals get to a better stage in their life. It works with those recovering from difficult situations such as a job loss or alcoholism. People who come to the center enter a program to help them regain their footing in society. One of the steps is joining a church.

Danielle and Matt have volunteered at the center, serving meals and helping with the collection and distribution of nonperishable items. “We want to be inclusive and reach everyone, including the people society tends to overlook,” Danielle says. “We want to get to know them, so when they choose a church home, they might think of us.”

Building that relationship is key to reaching the lost, Matt adds. “We can’t expect to build a church and have people come. We want to show those seeking help that we support them and create those connections.” The idea is that through these friendships, the individuals will have conversations with Matt, Danielle, and other members about faith and Jesus.

As Matt and Danielle serve in new ways, they are finding a sense of excitement about the possibilities. Through her role as the operations manager at Gethsemane, Danielle helps with administrative tasks of the mission and the Gethsemane congregation. “It’s been so rewarding,” she says. “I feel like I am doing something with a purpose.” The couple has seen their own faith strengthen as they strive to make a difference in the lives of others.

Small-group atmosphere

Meeting with other members for book discussions, Bible studies, and fellowship has been especially meaningful to Matt and Danielle. “It’s so important for me that we can be open and share with others,” Danielle says. The couple has found that when everyone is vulnerable there are more chances to learn from one another and grow together.

The small-group environment has also allowed them to reflect on how they can best serve. With fewer numbers, individuals sometimes carry extra responsibilities. As numbers increase, Danielle adds, there will be ongoing ways to serve in different areas.

Just as Matt and Danielle were welcomed into other WELS congregations, they want to extend the same gesture to those who come to the mission. Drawing on their experiences, they are working to follow Jesus’ example and be inclusive, recognizing that he died for all. “We want to create an environment that welcomes everyone,” Danielle says.

Making connections

Opening a new church begins with a study of the community and developing personal relationships, advises Doug Lange, the home missionary overseeing efforts at the site in Durham, N.C. It’s not enough to put up a sign or a building. “People won’t magically show up at the door,” he says.

The following strategies may be helpful in making those vital connections:

  • Go to them. There can be benefits in getting involved in the community and meeting people, especially in areas where residents may not be seeking a church home.
  • Understand the environment. Gathering information on a region’s demographics can provide key insights as mission strategies are formed.
  • Be ready to listen. Letting others speak of their experiences can help build relationships and form bonds with the community.
  • Look close to home. There could be opportunities to speak to neighbors, friends, and coworkers. When someone is going through a difficult time, lending an ear and offering Jesus’ comfort could open doors.

As a mission gets closer to starting services, the core group will need to answer more questions: What time will worship be held? What events will the new mission organize? How will visitors be welcomed?

Taking on the perspective of those a mission wants to reach can be a starting point to finding answers. “We want to make decisions as we plant, not based on the people who are here but on those we want to reach,” Lange says.

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 110, Number 6
Issue: June 2023

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