The Rev. Nick Rains was unsure what came next when he surrendered his life to God, but he definitely didn’t imagine launching Canvas Church in Lenoir City.
Rains, lead pastor, was a youth pastor in Augusta, Ga., when he began to envision himself planting a church of his own. Rains talked to his wife and told her he “had a strong feeling that God’s preparing me for something crazy,” he said.
Two days later, Hurricane Katrina hit.
Rains’ friend in New Orleans, La., asked him to run the sales department of his company even though the pair hadn’t talked since college.
“I prayed about it — me and my wife prayed about it,” Rains said. “So I resigned my youth position, oddly enough, because I felt like I was supposed to do this and moved down there, hired a bunch of folks and during that time started planning, and we are going to actually plant an inner-city Atlanta church. Through times of prayer and fasting, we decided instead to come up to Lenoir City and plant.”
He brought a team of eight people who had never been to Lenoir City to help plant the church.
“When we initially started talking about planting the church, there was a pretty small group of us,” the Rev. Zack Franqui, associate pastor, said. “We were all kind of in this mindset of just praying and asking God to lead us to a place where we could minister … and when he presented Lenoir City, I think probably my initial reaction was I don’t know this place. I’ve never been to Tennessee other than just passing through, maybe to a couple of the Winterfest events. So my initial thought was I’ll have to, of course, lean on God here, but I’ll also have to lean on how well (Nick) may know the place or may not as well.”
Rains and his wife lived in Maryville during high school. He never expected to call Lenoir City home.
When people would ask why he chose Lenoir City, he could only answer it’s what God wanted him to do.
“I’ll be honest, this is one place I never would’ve wanted to move, you know, at the time just because I had known enough about it that to me it was kind of a little town that wasn’t going anywhere,” Rains said. “… I have very different views now, but at the time when I was looking to plant a church, I would have never considered here because I have really big dreams, really big vision, and I was thinking a place like this could never fit into what I wanted to do. … The more we prayed about it we just felt like this is what we’re supposed to do, so we came here.”
In April 2007, Canvas first met in the Lenoir City Seventh-day Adventist Church before moving to an old electronics store downtown. The church eventually found a home on North B Street but has quickly outgrown the space. Sunday services are now held in the Loudon County Boys & Girls Club gymnasium next door. The old sanctuary is used for youth and kids.
Coming to Lenoir City was a “rush” because of how “over churched” the area is, Rains said.
“We were very rejected early on just because I was usually … walking around in spiky hair and blue jeans, T-shirt,” he said. “I had a couple pastors confront me just about doctrine and, you know, we’re not any different than anybody else for the most part, but they didn’t know that. They just saw something different … and I worked for Pilot Flying J for a lot of years, and I was gone all the time traveling. … So it was one of those the things where I had to kind of earn the respect of some of my peers here, and I never really tried to do that. I just put my head down, focused on what we were doing, did what we felt God called us to do here, and I figured God would take care of the rest, and he has.”
Rains aims to make Canvas a welcoming experience for all who attend. He likes to use the phrase, “We run toward the messes,” to describe his church philosophy.
“While we believe in obedience scripturally to the Lord, we don’t want to be a church where people say, ‘I could never go there because I believe differently or think differently, or I don’t dress like this, or I’m not from church.’ The majority in our church now were unchurched before they came to our church,” Rains said. “… It’s OK to be a little messy and not have all the answers. … So our rule is I don’t care if you wear a suit, shorts and flip-flops. … I don’t care what you believe or what your thoughts are. While we have a doctrine, it’s not my job to make you fit the box to come to church. If you come to church, I’ll let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.
“… We just want to reach into the unreached places of our city and our community or anywhere that God sends us,” he added.
Scott Boatner and his wife have been attending Canvas for 10 years after trying several other congregations.
“They were fine and everything, but we got to Canvas, and we walked in, and there was just a feeling of being home, a feeling of being in a family,” Boatner said. “When we sat down — now listen I’m 63 — so I’m old enough to be his dad … but when I heard him preach the first time, my first thought was he sounds like a much older guy, much more seasoned. That was the part, mostly the family feeling for me but also when he started preaching up there, it was true and it was real.”
Boatner and Franqui agree Rains’ drive made Canvas possible. Rains “surrendered his will” to God and never veered from his path, Boatner said.
“He has a never-quit mentality, and if it doesn’t work, let’s not give up, let’s hit the reset button or restart button and try this again,” Franqui said. “He’s a guy that, of course, makes mistakes but learns from them. … He’s experienced quite a bit along the way. But one of the great things about him is that he leads by example, getting in there and doing a lot of the hard work, not just asking those that he sees around him to do it.”