United Methodist pastor Jorge Acevedo leads a growing congregation in Florida. Acevedo has written a book and offers seminars on how other churches can become vital. Here's a look at Acevedo's own congregation and what is keeping people coming back to Grace Church.
(Locator: Ft. Myers, FL)
Voice of Eugene Jarke: "It's my medicine. It's God. It's the gracious hand of God over this building."
It may look like a Sunday morning, but this is a typical Friday night at Florida's Grace United Methodist Church.
Eugene Jarke, Grace Church Member: "I've been here for 10 years. I haven't left. It's my juice. It's every Friday night. Don't miss it."
Grace is a multi-cultural, multi-site worship community made up of four congregations in the Fort Myers area.
The Rev. Shari Lacey, Grace Fort Myers Shores Campus: "We have an open invitation for people to come and be healed."
(Music) "...so we raise up holy hands."
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo: "God's called us to help the invisible people of our community and of our world. But it really is the fuel behind everything else."
The Reverend Jorge Acevedo has seen weekend attendance go from 400 to 2600 since he became lead pastor in 1996. Acevedo credits a prayer that has become the foundation for the church's mission statement.
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, Grace United Methodist Church: "One of my mentors taught me a prayer and I learned it. 'Lord, send the people nobody else wants.' That was a part of the prayer that we prayed at that church. When I came here, it just was a part of who I was. It had become a part of my personal spiritual leadership DNA."
(Acevedo preaching) "Jesus was born on the wrong side of the tracks. This Jesus, he was a homeless, itinerating preacher who had around him a group of ragamuffins."
Many who call Grace their church home are battling addiction, like David Samson.
David Samson, Grace Church Member: "I came here, I was homeless, helpless, you know? No direction. And Pastor Arlene, she preached a message from the Book of Matthew which talks about, 'Do not worry.' And at that time I had been sleeping outside. I had been trying to find direction. The presence of God in this place is so powerful. It moves me."
Grace's vision statement is "to partner with God in transforming people from unbelievers to fully devoted disciples of Jesus." For many, this starts with 12-step programs which the church offers seven days a week , along with support programs for families.
Rochelle Redmon, Grace Church Member: "I actually started coming here for the free food. I struggled with drug addiction, you know. I was in and out, couldn't get clean and sober. What God, you know, did for me, he used these people. And they just started loving me and they were just there and they never stopped. No matter how much of a mess I was, they would come in here and they just continued to love me. Over the past 18 months, I'm sober now. My life has completely turned around."
As in other vital congregations, those whom have been helped at Grace are eager to lead others.
Jim Nowocin: "Seventeen-years-old, I was a blackout drinker."
Jim Nowocin lived with addiction for 24 years until joining Grace more than a decade ago.
Jim Nowocin, Grace Church Member: "For the past seven years now my wife and I have led marriage ministry. So here I am, a person that has taken the covenant of marriage and destroyed it, and now we're helping other people, making our mess His message, meaning God."
The Reverend Arlene Jackson found her place at Grace, serving the Fort Myers Central Campus.
(Jackson preaching) "...daily Bible readings and devotions."
The Rev. Arlene Jackson, Grace Church Central Campus: "I was called to be a pastor many, many years ago. But because I'm in recovery from alcoholism, I was pretty much sure they didn't ordain people like me. And I spent a lot of years running away from my calling. But being here at Grace Church and being involved in a church that really does minister to the people that nobody else wants and people nobody else sees, the last, the lost, the least, it made me see that maybe God might have gotten it right and maybe he did call me."
David Samson: "Everybody is called to do something, even if it's opening a door or giving somebody a glass of water. I see the Word in action. People gotta go to a greater level than just going to church."
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo: "There's a lot of conversation in the church about what it means to be a 'come to' and what it means to be a 'go to' church. Come-to churches were the kind of churches that just kind of open the doors on Sunday or Wednesday and say, 'Come to us.' 'Go to' churches are the kind of churches that throw open their doors and send their people out throughout the week to go to the community. God's already at work in this world. He's just looking for some folks who are willing to partner with him."
The third Saturday of each month, Grace Church does a large-scale community outreach. Church members and volunteers share their gifts and talents in a variety of ways including offering a food pantry, free haircuts, and resume help.
Jorge Acevedo's book is called, "Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World." For more information, contact Grace United Methodist Church at 239-574-7161, or visit the website. http://www.egracechurch.com/
Posted: April 29, 2013