By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist for North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church
Go, Love, Repeat: these are simple instructions. Lead Pastor Ben Cathey has been showing his congregation at The Orchard UMC and the surrounding community just how impactful those words are to live by.
Servant Evangelism has been the heart of The Orchard’s church body since before they began weekly worship on March 3rd of 2002 in Loganville. Their key mission is “growing new and fully devoted followers of Jesus”. Their outlets for evangelism have varied from monthly meetings to church-wide events and small group involvement.
Chris Stallings, the Outreach Team Leader since 2009, saw Cathey’s passion for reaching new people since he founded The Orchard. However, there were a couple of key things that needed improvement. Their community contact needed a perfect balance of consistency without being overbearing to the public. They also seemed to have the same handful of people involved in Outreach. Stallings idealized a system that engaged “a broader group of worship attendees” when a meeting over ice cream turned his list of what ifs into a goal of why nots.
Cathey and Stallings met with The Orchard’s Grow Group Leader Alissa Rothschild at Dairy Queen to organize a calendar that would provide each congregant with an outreach opportunity. After strategic planning and a brain freeze, these leaders created outreach projects for every week of the year. This is when they “struck outreach gold” with Project 52.
The Orchard’s weekly acts of service began around Loganville in January, 2011. They use these activities to represent God’s love as opposed to promoting their church. “We are not expressing our love,” says Cathey, “but illustrating God’s love.”
Although numbers are not the focal point of Project 52, they are astounding. The church has seen 93 percent of its average weekend attendants participate in at least one act of service a year. Their highest year saw 70 outreach projects achieved. Over 400 people participated in both 2011 and 2012, resulting in more than 8,000 people reached both years. Their church-wide event Orchard Great Egg Hunt brought in 2,000 people.
Other popular church-wide projects include Love Loganville, Next Door Kids Camp, and Constructing Kindness, a recently completed project that focused on fixing up two homes close the The Orchard. Church-wide activities bring a lot of people to the church, but they are only once a season. “Most of our projects happen in the context of a small group of people touching many lives instead of a large group of people touching a few lives,” explains Cathey. Service acts are often simple and occur in the surrounding community.
Every small group within the congregation gets a seven day period to complete an act of service. These teams fall under one of three divisions: Grow Group, Serve Team, or a Ministry Area. Stallings leads twelve volunteer Outreach coordinators in equipping each project with supplies and preparation. “I work a job outside of the church during the day, so getting to lead Outreach at The Orchard UMC is my fun work,” says Stallings, who is also working towards a Masters of Divinity.
During their random acts of kindness, they are easy to spot in the town of Loganville. Each participant wears a Project 52 t-shirt along with business card hand-outs saying “God Loves You. No Strings Attached”. A group will stand at a busy intersection with small gifts, like water bottles and sodas, cards in hand, and a sign for refusing donations from any recipients.
These simple gestures are Stallings’ favorite ways of reaching people. While it may just be a free bottle of water, they make personal contact with a vast amount of strangers. Recipients who have been sitting at a traffic light in the heat of the summer are always grateful for some free relief. “We hear stories of people that connect with God that next Sunday and others who came to The Orchard a year later and said, ‘that card just kept looking up at me every time I drove my car,’” says the Outreach leader.
As The Orchard continues to spread God’s love, Project 52 continues to prove how little is needed to Go. Love. Repeat.