Receiving the Church of Excellence in Outreach award at Annual Conference each year is a highlight for churches that have made mission a focus. Congregations who are recognized with the award expand their missional viewpoints from outside of their church walls into their communities and around the world – at the community, annual conference, and denomination level. Award recipients tend to agree that the work is not easy, but it is worth it.
Rev. Shannon Karafanda of Cornerstone UMC was given the list of Church of Excellence in Outreach criteria from the church Missions Committee chair, Bill Pound, during her first year there.
“I was thrilled with his initiative but at first the 11, multi-faceted criteria for achieving the Church of Excellence distinction seemed a bit overwhelming for both of us,“ recalls Karafanda. “However, we knew that just because something is challenging doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pursuing. In fact, often the biggest challenges can bless the most people.”
After looking over the list, Karafanda found that Cornerstone already met some of the requirements through the missional commitment they have with Red Bird Mission Work Camps. It remains a favorite project to this day.
“Over the years we have developed relationships at the local school, employees at the work camps, and residents in the area,” Karafanda says of their experience with Red Bird. “People of all ages who attend the mission trip come back each year with stories of lives transformed by being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Cornerstone is grateful for the way that the Church of Excellence curriculum challenged their view of mission.
“This process allowed us to develop a shared vision about missions that was grounded in our faith so that we could be clear about why we do what we do,” Karafanda explains.
Another recipient of the Church of Excellence in Outreach, Zoar UMC, is especially proud of its local outreach program through their Wednesday night supper and children’s bible study. The church used a Connectional Ministries GAP Grant to help with funding to grow the midweek program.
Zoar UMC kicked off the school year by throwing a Hip, Hop, and Hope party. With the help of several volunteers, they prepared food, games, prizes, and music for a wide age group of Pre-K through 7th graders.
Within 30 minutes of opening the doors, the party went from empty to overflowing with more than 50 families.
The enhanced Wednesday evening consists of about 20-25 volunteers serving dinner to children and their families before joining together for bible study, music, and games. Then everyone breaks into small groups to continue discussions and participate in crafts and other activities. About 35 Pre-K- 4th grade students and 12 5th-7th graders on average attend.
Children’s Director Jennifer Mullen has enjoyed watching the children who are experiencing church and community for the first time. She recalls one little girl who asked her leader what a sanctuary was, then stood in awe of the stained glass and structure as the group filed into their sanctuary that evening.
One child excitedly ran up to a Wednesday night volunteer at a grocery store, exclaiming, “that’s the story teller!”
Mullen and the children’s ministry volunteers have witnessed several children come out of their shell due to the Wednesday night program, and parents often share their kids’ anticipation throughout the beginning of the week, eagerly waiting for “church night.”
Cornerstone and Zoar were just two of the churches that were recognized as a Church of Excellence in Outreach at the 2016 North Georgia Annual Conference. Awards were presented to: