Covenant Life Church is a reformed charismatic church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It has its roots in the "Jesus People" movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and through church plant...
Covenant Life Church is a reformed charismatic church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It has its roots in the "Jesus People" movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and through church planting. Covenant Life Church, along with other churches, came under the Sovereign Grace Ministries umbrella. Later renamed Sovereign Grace Churches the organization has taken on a more denominational structure. Covenant Life Church was the flagship church of Sovereign Grace Ministries until it left the group in December 2012.
The church began in 1977 as a group of 30 meeting in a Rockville, Maryland basement, under the name "Gathering of Believers". This group included Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney held the role of lead pastor for over 20 years, and in 2004 passed this role to Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl,). In January 2015 Joshua Harris stepped down as lead pastor.
Covenant Life Church had its roots in a city-wide charismatic prayer meeting called Take and Give (TAG) which ran from 1970 to 1979. TAG began as a small bible study led by Lydia Little, a Washington, DC area resident who had experienced the Jesus People revival in California and wanted to see similar renewal brought to local young people. TAG continued to grow in numbers with the Tuesday night meetings moving from the Blair High School auditorium to a larger auditorium space at Christ Church of Washington. Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney became the main teachers with Jim Orban leading worship and a number of other young people taking on other leadership responsibilities as the group grew.
At its largest point TAG attracted over 2,000 people, primarily young attendees under the age of 25. Many of the original members of CLC were at one point TAG attendees. The group went through several name changes (including Covenant Life Christian Community) as well as location changes to become more formally established as Covenant Life Church around 1980. Covenant Life Church met in the Magruder High School auditorium for several years before building their current structure nearby at 7501 Muncaster Mill Road.
The initial church group practiced "co-equal" leadership with a highly participatory congregation. Church life centered on numerous small groups meeting in congregation members homes. Over the first few years Larry Tomczak and C. J. Mahaney increasingly assumed larger leadership roles. Tomczak eventually left the movement and C. J. became "senior" pastor. When Larry Tomczak left he stated that the increasingly Calvinistic theology was a major factor in this parting of the ways.
In September 2004, after several years of internship and preparation in varying pastoral roles, Mahaney turned the senior leadership position over to Joshua Harris.
Over the years in association with ongoing church plants originating from CLC around the U.S. and a few international locations, Sovereign Grace Ministries was started as an association of local churches (originally known as People of Destiny International). Later, in December 2012, after a year of internal strife, Covenant Life Church formally separated from Sovereign Grace Ministries, citing numerous differences, but especially noting differences on issues related to church polity.
Covenant Life has little quarrel doctrinally with Sovereign Grace; its statement of faith is almost identical to Sovereign Grace's statement.
In 2013, Covenant Life had 19 pastors on staff for a congregation estimated to be above 2000 people.
Lead pastor Joshua Harris and pastor C.J. Mahaney "resigned from the council of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) in 2014. Also in 2014, a former volunteer youth leader was convicted of sexually abusing three boys in their homes in the 1980s and early 1990s. None of the abuse occurred at Covenant Life Church.
In January 2015, Joshua Harris, lead pastor of Covenant Life, and successor to C.J. Mahaney stepped down, saying he planned to attend Seminary school at Regent College to pursue more formal education and connections to other branches of Christianity. He believed that "the isolation of Covenant Life, and of a small cluster of churches of which it was a part, may have fed leadership mistakes, including the decision of pastors — himself among them — to handle a child sexual abuse case internally instead of going to police."
In 2014, a lawsuit alleging a cover-up of child sexual abuse against Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries was dismissed by the Maryland's highest civil court. The case was initially dismissed by a lower court with prejudice, based on the merits of the case brought. Because the case was dismissed with prejudice, the Maryland plaintiffs are now legally barred from ever filing the civil case in Maryland again. A police investigation resulted in no charges or arrests, and an independent investigator, hired by Covenant Life Church, found that new allegations of child sexual abuse "likely never happened" at all.
The church currently meets at 7501 Muncaster Mill Road in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They previously held two Sunday morning services, one at 9:00am and the other at 11:30am. However, as of October 2013, they have transitioned to a single service at 10 AM.
Covenant Life also runs a K-12 day school and a home school program. Almost 300 students currently attend the day school, which is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Over 500 students are enrolled in the home school program.