In the mountains of East Tennessee, a few friends started to meet together for impromptu living room worship sessions. Then a few more friends joined them, and soon enough, walls started getting knocked down in order to make room.
Others in Knoxville know them as the United Pursuit worship band, but “band” is a little misleading. The members function as a community; “family” might even be more accurate. Like any family, United Pursuit’s story is one full of unexpected twists that have gotten them where they are today.
In 2006 Nathan Fray, Jake LeBoeuf and Will Reagan were recent high school graduates and musicians working in Mozambique as missionaries for the summer. They met fellow musician Brock Human and began to lead worship and write songs.
The summer ended, but the songs stuck. Wanting to continue living with the same intentionality they had experienced in Mozambique, the friends came up with a plan: Buy a house in Knoxville, move in, build a studio to record music, open the doors and see what God does with the space. And so the Banks House, named for the street it’s located on, came to be. But what happened with the space was bigger than they could have imagined.
“The Banks House…was a place where we experienced life. It was our family. It described a bunch of guys doing life together and pursuing the Lord,” says Reagan.
A handful of people started showing up every week to worship in the living room of the Banks House.
“We lived in a community centered on worship. We really couldn’t help but write songs,” remembers Fray.
All that song writing paid off. As more and more people began to gather for worship at the Banks House, United Pursuit played Christian music festivals and had its music covered by the internationally recognized worship band Jesus Culture.
It was then that the band members realized they could worship not just with friends in their living room, but with believers all over the world. In 2010 United Pursuit recorded one of their weekly living room worship gatherings and sold the album on iTunes; it debuted at #2 on the iTunes Christian music charts. Without any marketing, the album started gaining international attention and the band was being requested to lead worship around the world.
Austin Thomas, a student at the University of Tennessee, started attending the weekly worship sessions when he heard of its growing community. “The band is helping to bring a spiritual awakening to not only Knoxville, but to listeners across the globe,” he says.
Suddenly the tiny worship gatherings in the living room of the Banks House didn’t seem so tiny. Fray, Jake LeBoeuf, Human and Reagan knocked down walls to create more space for more people to worship. “We’ve knocked down walls to the extent that the building will fall over if we knock down anymore,” says Reagan.
Having too many people wanting to come worship seems like a great problem to have, but it was also a problem that needed an answer.
“We have random people from all over the country calling us, telling us they’re going to be in town and want to bring their youth group to worship with us, but we have to tell them we literally don’t have space to host anyone,” Fray says.
The vision United Pursuit had for the Banks House pales in comparison to what they believe God is calling them to do next: Raise $100,000 in 30 days to purchase a 10,000-square-foot abandoned warehouse in the heart of downtown Knoxville, and transform it into a hub for Christian community, creativity and worship. It’s a daunting goal that band member Nathan Fray compares to jumping off a cliff. “To dream, especially publicly, involves risk because it’s hoping and planning for a future with no guarantee of certainty, except this time, if we fail everyone will see it,” Fray writes on the band’s blog.
“Since we’ve known each other, we’ve had some pretty crazy dreams, and they’ve all seemed to come true. Every time we dream together it’s always bigger than something we could have dreamed on our own,” says Human.
This time around, United Pursuit is dreaming bigger than ever before. They are dreaming of a place where they don’t have to knock down any more walls—a living room for hundreds of people to gather and join their voices to God together. The warehouse will be a bigger home, one where United Pursuit can invite anyone to join their family. They’re calling it Banks House 2.0.
“The living room was where we learned to worship. Everything we learned about worship and community in the Banks House days, we want to continue to happen,” the band writes.
Their plan is to create a space of Christian community and worship not just for the city of Knoxville. Every weekly worship gathering that takes place in the warehouse will be streamed on the Internet for free all over the world. The money raised will be put toward new community opportunities. A coffee shop will be built. A fully functioning music studio will be built and made available for other musicians to record in. Rooms in the building will be rented out as studios for artists and offices for local entrepreneurs. Artists will have the opportunity to display and sell their work on the walls. Couches will fill a common area for meeting up with friends, and a study area will be designated for those who need to get work done.
With so much new space, United Pursuit will be able to host creative workshops and conferences where ideas can be shared and community can thrive. Their hope is that the warehouse will be transformed into a home where all are welcome.
Thirty days seems like a short amount of time to raise such a massive amount of money, but that’s the way United Pursuit likes it. In fact, the way the support-raising is structured, the band won’t keep any of the money raised if the full amount is not reached by the end of the 30-day timeframe.
“When God multiplies money, He gets the credit. We’ve set such impossible standards so we can’t get credit for this,” said Fray.
As long as people keep coming, United Pursuit plans on leading worship. In whatever space God provides, the band intends to host “a space for the people of God to be the family of God, inviting the lonely and orphaned home.”