Churches become vibrant by addressing community needs
|Church and community leaders break ground on St. Thomas Charge's youth sports complex in Huger, S.C.|
By Neill Caldwell
When he talks about his churches, the Rev. Marvin Taylor gets fired up. Taylor, pastor of the three-point St. Thomas Charge in Huger, S.C., a rural area north of Charleston, said his congregations are growing in an area where many churches are dying.
The growth started when the churches identified community needs and worked to fill them.
“There’s nothing for young folks to do, especially in the African-American neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “So we’ve built a sports complex, and used it as an evangelistic tool by opening it up to the entire community.”
The 12-acre complex at New Hope United Methodist Church includes football, baseball and soccer fields. Now everyone is “jumping on the bandwagon” in support of church programs, Taylor said.
The St. Thomas Charge is one of 20 congregational resource centers for a United Methodist initiative called “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.” Each center mentors other African-American congregations.
But the St. Thomas charge wasn’t always vibrant.
Since Taylor came to New Hope, Zion and Stewart Chapel United Methodist churches, the charge’s total membership has risen from about 500 to more than 1,200. Taylor said it took a “thinking-outside-the-box” kind of approach.
“I thought about Sam Walton and his Wal-Mart model,” he said. “We design our churches to be ‘one-stop shopping’ for the family by offering a number of ministries and programs for all ages, from Grandma to the kids. If I take care of your mom and your kids, then I’ve got you.”
Taylor also completed the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership through Duke Divinity School. The certificate program enhances leadership of selected pastors from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
“The program teaches pastors to be great managers,” Taylor said, “and teaches the concept of ‘selling the vision,’ getting a vision of ministry across to the congregation. Some of our folks struggled with the transition we were making. It takes a while, but once people catch the fire, Lord have mercy!”
The result of the study and leadership is that Taylor now has three station churches, each with its own style of service. “You can come in and connect with whichever style you feel comfortable with,” he said.
Taylor believes this proves rural churches don’t have to merge to survive. “If you merge churches, often a lot of those folks won’t drive to the new church. Then someone else will come in there and build a church and people will go there instead. The secret is building a kind of ministry that the rural church can do and be successful with.”
Taylor also visited “megachurches” to examine how they do ministry. “We’ve looked at St. Johns and Windsor Village (United Methodist churches in Houston), visited them to see how they do things, then we came back and created a model that would apply to the rural church.” Next he plans to visit Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco.
A similar success story can be found in the northeastern corner of North Carolina, just below the Virginia state line. When the Rev. Vic Culberson arrived at Moyock United Methodist Church in 1999, he looked out over a congregation without any children or young people, despite the town’s rapid growth as a bedroom community for the Tidewater area and the military bases around Norfolk and Elizabeth City. The church had land for a new facility, but did not have the funds to start building.
|Moyock (N.C.) United Methodist Church identified child care as the greatest need in their community.|
Culberson motivated members to consider the church’s mission and to canvass neighbors to learn their greatest needs. They identified the greatest need as child care.
With local financing and a grant from the Duke Endowment, the church stepped out in faith to build new facilities and to start four programs: full-day child care, half-day preschool, after-school care and summer camps. All of Moyock Church’s new child-care programs were quickly filled and had waiting lists.
Now the church has a vision for a campus that will include a family life center with vocational training classrooms, athletic fields and a park.
And the congregation is filled with children and teenagers — members of the families who have been served by the church’s ministries.
—Neill Caldwell, freelance writer, High Point, N.C.