Atlanta-Emory District Proves Church Can Happen Anywhere
By Ansley Brackin
United Methodist Churches across the Atlanta-Emory District are looking past the walls of their church building to find new, creative ways of worshiping and serving their communities.
Random Acts of Kindness and Community Connection
McKendree UMC of Lawrenceville
Bernadine Richardson’s Sunday School class was moved by a video they watched on a laundry ministry and decided they wanted to provide a similar service to their town as an outreach project. Richardson researched and contacted several laundromats before choosing the best location and most enthusiastic business.
The group arrives once every other month after Sunday service with laundry detergent, fabric softener, as well as cookies and bottled water. They set up a table and offer quarters to pay for people’s laundry. The group usually covers 20 people’s laundry each trip.
They try to bring at least one member with them who speaks Spanish so that the group can communicate with English or Spanish-speaking laundromat patrons. People of multiple backgrounds and economic situations have been served through the “LOL” ministry.
The Loads of Love ministry’s main goal is for the members to get to know the community better on a personal level, and participants do not usually promote the church during their time at the laundromat. Their only advertisement for their congregation is on the free tickets they sometimes disperse for the church’s Wednesday night suppers.
has a vast assortment of ministries, including a Popcorn Ministry where members hand out treats at local RedBoxes while inviting people to church, a bicycle repair co-op, bible studies with inmates, and so much more. But one of their most popular ministries is Loads of Love.
“The people of our church are now more aware that we need to go outside the church walls,” says associate pastor, Rev. Eduardo Stevens. “The chance to talk to other people makes a difference.”
Originally, the Sunday School class members paid for the ministry out of their own pocket, but the McKendree UMC Evangelism Committee later offered to cover the expenses. Volunteers have now extended past the Sunday School to the whole church, including the youth.
Serving Families and Connecting Congregations
Cannon UMC of Snellville has struggled with a common problem that most churches face with their youth groups in the summer. Everyone is busy. However, youth coordinators Adam Witter and Kristen Crawford decided to provide a unique, noncommittal option to make the best of the summer slump.
The Cannon UMC youth
have maintained a relationship with the SouthEast Gwinnett Co-Op, a food pantry in their area, for a number of years. They began to take notice of the number of children that come to the Co-Op with their parents. These children often have to sit and wait for their parents as they are being served.
After consulting with the management, the youth group offered to entertain the children with activities and games throughout the summer.
“It was a very hands-on project,” Crawford says.
It was a summer activity that welcomed any number of volunteers. Sometimes there would be several students, and other times there would only be one or two, but it still made a difference to those at the Co-Op and provided an opportunity to make a difference in the community.
“We have had some great God moments there,” Witter adds.
The youth group also collaborates with Grayson UMC’s youth program
to have evenings of joint fellowship and devotion at a local coffee shop.
Grayson Coffee House was created by a couple of Grayson UMC members who wanted to provide a safe, quiet place for students to meet friends and have tutoring sessions. It was chosen as the perfect place for the two youth groups to gather.
Crawford, Witter, and Grayson UMC’s youth leaders, Ayubu Hashiguchi and Charlie Conder, find it is important to collaborate with other churches and expand the youth’s spiritual family as far as they can. While a devotion is usually read at the end, the time together is mainly spent in fellowship, discussing current issues, and getting to know each other.
“We saw benefits of exposing our kids to a different youth group,” Witter says. “You can be friends with anyone from any school. The church is still the church.”
Even after the summer break, both groups were enthusiastic about continuing their relationship. They often invite each other to their church’s functions and keep in touch.
The youth leaders believe providing the students with short, small commitments is the best way to reach kids during summer break. While the attendance may be smaller and more sporadic, it provides excellent opportunities for quality conversions.
Casting a Wide Net
“St. Mark UMC
has always been a regional church,” says senior pastor, Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts.
The downtown Atlanta church casts its net far and wide, but doing so made it difficult for all of its worshipers to get to church during the week for small groups. Members love their St. Mark UMC family, but could not always handle multiple weekly drives.
In order to better their connection, the church decided to spread bible study groups across the areas where most members live, providing every worshiper with an opportunity to stay connected to the church that they love. They call it St. Mark at Home.
Many enjoy the comfortable feeling of meeting in someone’s home once a month. While some groups taper off, others thrive and form a strong bond with each other. Several of the groups even go on trips together.
The groups continuously attract new people to the St. Mark family through Facebook and word of mouth. Several have never stepped foot on the actual church campus, but are still involved through their bible study.
“You want church to be a place where new people can come and visit,” LaRocca-Pitts explains.
The church also hosts a ministry with Candler School of Theology called Theology on Tap. The group meets at various bars and restaurants on Wednesdays for book studies and discussions.
Church is Happening Everywhere
Here are some other outside-the-walls ministries going on across the North Georgia Conference.
Bascomb Mission Thrift Store:
Bascomb UMC in Woodstock recently opened a thrift store down the road from their building, pictured is their scarecrow currently hanging in the historic area. It is a not-for-profit run by volunteers and clothing/item donations. Their vision statement reads: “Our vision
is that no person in Cherokee County goes without their basic needs being met due to lack of resources, as we pursue the expectations of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor in transforming the world.” Some Sunday School classes also discuss their lessons in a local coffee shop, inviting all within ear shot to join in if they please.
Assisted Living Ministry: Glenn Memorial UMC
on the Emory University campus hosts a chapel service at Montclair Assisted Living. Attendees usually range between 85-102 and vary in health and mobility. “It’s always entertaining and always a blessing,” says Susan Pinson.
Pints & Praise:
Tucker First UMC hosts Pints and Praise
nights at Rivals on Five in Stone Mountain once a month. They invite the community to come in for a drink and a night of fun and live praise music, mixed with some secular tunes as well.
Far More Ministries Clothes Closet (and more): This ministry
originally started inside the church walls of Williamson UMC, but with the success of the clothes closet and food pantry, they had to move some components off campus, one town over in Zebulon. Every facet continues to thrive.
Comment below to share with us how your congregation worships and serves outside the church walls, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to add your creative ideas to this list!