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Church Thrives on Diversity

In a white, upper middle class suburb of Cleveland, people drive miles to join one of the most multi-cultural churches in the state of Ohio. Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church casts a wide net in every direction to welcome all ages, races, and socio-economic groups under one steeple.


(Locator: near Cleveland, Ohio)

Johnnie Hilliard, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "I live 30 minutes away from Garfield and I pass a lot of churches on my way here. But I come here for a reason and that's because five years ago I walked into the church..."

Greeter: "Hi. Good morning, good morning."

Johnnie Hilliard: "... and I was treated just like I had been here forever. Didn't know a soul when I walked in but by the time I got to my seat I had met 30 people and it's never changed."

Praise band: "...filled with God's Holy fire."

The Rev. Chip Freed, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "So many churches are so inward-focused that they tend to take on more the dynamics of a club more than of a church. We feel the church needs to be a safe place where I don't have to worry about being judged."

Garfield Memorial United Methodist is a diverse, vibrant worship community in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.

Chip Freed preaching: "When you weren't even looking for it, God sent the Holy Spirit to knock on the door of your heart."

Garfield has handed out CDs, offered pizza with the pastor, and even given away free T-shirts to attract visitors. However, The Reverend Chip Freed says churches have to back the marketing up with something real when people walk through the door.

Chip Freed: "We started to build worshiping experiences that we felt anyone coming in, whether they had a church background, whether they had no church background, could find a connecting point to worship. We have three, very unique worship experiences. Heritage service represents the traditions of the church."

Chip Freed preaching: "You are the temple. You're the place where you encounter God."

Chip Freed: "Mosaic is a multi-cultural praise and worship service."

Chip Freed preaching: "Like spiritual infants crave for the milk of the Gospel."

Chip Freed: "Odyssey service is pretty cutting edge; turn up the volume and rock it out."

Praise band: "Hallelujah. Holy, Holy..."

Emily Macek, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "You actually want to jump up and get involved. Growing up, the church we went to, it was a lot of 'standup, sit down, sing another song.' and I just, they talk on very philosophical terms and I never really got into that."

When Pastor Freed came here in 2004, the church was in decline with few young families. Freed turned to the Gospel for a game plan.

Chip Freed: "I call us a 'Matthew 13:47' church where, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like someone who threw out a net and it brought in fish of every kind. We say if you throw a net out 15-20 miles in every direction from this facility, you have just about every life group in Cleveland that's coming to this church."

Alisha Caraballo, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "I had a little journey looking for all the churches. It was different feeling that I never felt in all the churches. I just had to come back. I needed that!"

Praise band: "He reigns. All God's children singing Glory Glory, Hallelujah, He reigns, He reigns."

Another secret to Garfield Memorial's success is engaging small groups of all ages on the other six days of the week.

Pastor Terry onstage: "Offering maybe to host a West-side group..."

Executive pastor, Terry McHugh helps members form "Journey Groups."

Pastor Terry onstage: "Talk to us about it and we'll figure it out."

Joseph Parambil, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "We did a class called 'Connect' wherein we learn about the values of our church. We did that and at the end of it, she asked each of us, 'What do you see yourself doing for this church?' And so I told Pastor it would be nice if we can have a Bible study group."

Chip Freed: "We have a dozen families who have opened their homes to intentionally launch multiple, small groups at a time to gather and to try to live out what we hear week to week."

(Woman in small group)"...a time when God was present in your life and I guess I'll share mine first..."

Ian Thompson, Garfield Memorial United Methodist Church: "There's just a very sincere energy in this place. People are enthusiastic to be here. You know, it's real. You don't have to be a life-long church-goer to know sincerity when you see it."

Chip Freed: "This is the least likely place for this type of ministry to emerge. This particular area of Cleveland is viewed as rather exclusive. This church is incredibly inclusive. And so, for the power of God to break through in this particular location, I think it eliminates excuses. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere."


For more information, contact Garfield United Methodist Church at 216-831-1566. 

This story was first posted on April 24, 2013.

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