What if we stopped trying to get people to come to church? It seems we United Methodists spend a lot of our energy trying to get people to come to us. A side effect of this effort is that we can see other churches as competition rather than as partners. I didn't grow up in the United Methodist Church, but one of the things that attracted me to the UMC, besides my wife, was the connectional nature of the church. However, it sometimes feels like competition has overtaken connectionalism.
Recently, I was having breakfast with the manager of our local Chick-fil-A in Stockbridge. We were talking about some of the issues that faced our community, and we stumbled into a conversation about homelessness in Henry County. He shared with me that he was homeless on the streets of Knoxville less than 12 years ago. Yet, now he is blessed to be the manager of a Chick-fil-A because someone invested in him many years ago.
He expressed a desire to have the opportunity to invest in other people, the way someone invested in him. He explained an idea of moving outside the walls of the Chick-fil-A into the homeless communities of Henry County and reminding the people there that others care for them. His mission was "Beyond the Red Door."
As we talked, in what was obviously a move of the Holy Spirit, a lightbulb went off in my head. What if we partnered with this man and his Chick-fil-A? I shared with him the idea of using the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church to make his vision a reality. With the help of seven other UM churches, we agreed on a way we could serve the homeless in Henry County. Competition faded away. We were no longer trying to figure out how to get people to drive past another church and come to our church. During the month of September, we simply celebrated the wholistic beauty of The United Methodist Church to see a vision into fruition
Each congregation collected winter items to take to the homeless and then on Oct. 14 of this year, the Chick-fil-A of Stockbridge opened its doors on a Sunday afternoon to build survival bags of winter gear. Yes, on a Sunday! The original idea of the manager was to build 50 bags. That afternoon, we made over 300 and still had items in excess.
We prayed together. We laughed together. We served together. We celebrated what was happening in our churches. It was a beautiful thing to witness. Connectionalism at its best. A diverse group of mission-minded people from all areas of Henry County joined together for one purpose; to share the love of Christ with our neighbors.
We don't have to reinvent the wheel. Rather than working to get people to come to us, perhaps the answer is found in getting us into the community. I challenge you to look for ways to partner with your neighbors. You might just find strength and unity in the midst of diversity.
Rev. Andy Postell, pastor, Stockbridge First UMC, North Georgia Conference
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in ministry with the poor by encouraging churches to be in ministry with their communities in ways that are transformative.