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Campus Bible Study Births Thriving Charlotte Church

What started as a group of 12 in a college campus Bible study has grown into a large North Carolina church, whose citywide impact continues to expand.

Soon after completing ministry training, the then 21-year-old Tyson Coughlin had a zeal for church planting. Though eager, he knew he lacked the experience to jump right into such a large undertaking. To prepare him for his call, Coughlin decided to start a college campus Bible study at UNC Charlotte.

Within 18 months, the group had grown from 12 to 300 on an average week, and it was then that Coughlin finally felt released to plant.

In 2012, along with 100 college students from his campus Bible study, Coughlin found an elementary school in Uptown Charlotte, the main business district in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was willing to let them meet in the gymnasium. Vizion Church was born.

Excited and enthused by the quick growth of the Bible study, Coughlin grew increasingly discouraged at the church’s stagnant attendance over the next four years.

“I felt broken,” Coughlin states, “and I remember that I began to question my calling and began to compare myself to other church planters.”

At a place of total discouragement, Coughlin states that the only thing he had left to do was to completely resign himself to God and submit to whatever God’s will was for him and Vizion Church.

“I told God that if He had called me to pastor a church of 70 for the rest of my life, and if the church never accomplishes all the great things I’ve envisioned, I would still say yes,” he recalls, reliving a moment of what he calls genuine brokenness.

From that moment, Coughlin became dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit and decided to stop comparing himself and his ministry. Instead, he re-committed to building the best community he possibly could.

“We got serious about four things, pillars that really changed the trajectory of our ministry,” he states. “The pillars were prayer, connect groups, assimilation, and preaching the gospel truth in love every Sunday.”

The church also redefined its mission statement to the simple, straightforward command of the Great Commission which they phrased: Win Souls, Make Disciples.

“Shortly after we implemented our four pillars, the church took off,” explains Coughlin.

Soon the church found itself growing into a need for a third service and a permanent meeting place. By the grace of God, Vizion Church soon found a home by purchasing and renovating an old, foreclosed church building on the outskirts of Uptown Charlotte.

Coughlin describes the modern contemporary building, which also boasts traditional elements, such as a large steeple, as a visual expression of the church’s DNA: the sacred and timeless message of the gospel presented in a modern and inviting way.

In 2021, the church opened the doors of its permanent building with 350 people in attendance. Within a year, the church doubled in size, doubling again in 2023. Today, Vizion Church hosts an average of 2,000 weekly attendees across its five Sunday services.

The makeup of the church also reflects the cultural and economic diversity found in Charlotte, something Coughlin calls a move of God.

“In one service we will have drug dealers, pro athletes, college kids, and bankers, all sitting side-by-side” he states. “And it is just as ethnically varied.”

North Carolina Assemblies of God District Superintendent Rick Ross says, "The friendliness and excitement of people who have said they have had their lives changed is evident. They are reaching people who aren't 'church people' but are just seeking a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ." 

Accommodating such a diverse group, though, isn’t hard for Vizion Church’s staff because they remain committed to preaching the unaltered gospel in an unapologetic way. According to Coughlin, the gospel still works, and he doesn’t feel it is up to him or his staff to make it work, it is just their job to boldly proclaim it in love.

General Superintendent Doug Clay, who recently ministered at Vizion Church states of his visit, “Vizion had an unmistakable canopy of God’s blessing over it. People came to Christ in all of the services.”

In 2022, a delegation of prayer intercessors came to the United States from South Korea to pray for America, citing that their desperate prayers came from the belief that “so goes America, so goes the world.”

Aware of Charlotte’s history as the “city of Billy Graham,” the group asked Coughlin to allow them to use Vizion Church for a night of prayer.

Moved by the passion of the intercessors and the power befallen on them from the Lord that night, Coughlin began to feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to build bridges across the churches of Charlotte, which number in the hundreds, and call on God for a move of His Spirit across the nation.

Vizion Church decided that in order to unite the body of Christ and hopefully spark a fire that will span the country, they will host a city-wide event with all other Bible believing churches for one purpose: to proclaim the gospel. 

“On September 20, 2024, more than 50 churches will gather together in a show of unity at the historic Bojangles Coliseum. We aren’t bringing in big bands or big speakers. Our only aim is to preach the saving message of Jesus by mobilizing our local churches to bring hope to the lost,” Coughlin states.

Following the event, each person who responds to the Gospel invitation will be connected with a partnering church and immediately ushered into the importance of water baptism and mentored in a model of intentional discipleship.

“We want to be responsible with the harvest and manage the miracle we are praying for,” Coughlin states. “We don’t just want to tell them what to believe, we want to get them plugged in to a church where we can tell them why.” 

Vizion Church's staff and leadership are all in, remarks Ross, and they are leading the leaders of the renaissance of church growth happening in Charlotte. 

Although unintentional, the September date will mark exactly 66 years since Billy Graham hosted a crusade in the same building.

Since his first gathering of 12 on UNC Charlotte’s campus to his shepherding of thousands in the city of Charlotte “with integrity of heart and with skillful hands, how King David was described,” says Clay of Coughlin, he remains steadfast in one set of truths: that the gospel still works, and the blood of Jesus hasn’t lost its power.

Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.