From New Identities to Breakfast Chaplaincies: North Georgia United Methodist Churches Are Creating 'New Places for New People'

11/5/2015

Roswell UMC's chapel converts from modern space for Chapel Roswell services to traditional space for communion services. 

By Anne Nelson
 
Everyone has an innate need to connect and belong.  It’s an idea grounded in theology (think God’s radical connection with humanity in the person of Jesus) and in science (think Brene Brown‘s new academic research on how we’re wired for – and the importance of cultivating – connection). 
 
Some churches are doing well engaging and connecting with their congregation and local community. Others find their communities changing and are struggling to reach new folks. With this in mind, General Conference 2012 introduced Four Areas of Focus: Growing Vital Churches.  One of those areas is “creating new places for new people and reaching more new people – more young people, more diverse people who become more like Christ in the world.”
 
In North Georgia, this effort to “create new places for new people” is spearheaded by the Office of Congregational Development. When asked about the work in our Conference, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder, Director of Congregational Development, highlighted many engaged, innovative, passionate clergy and churches. He also shared incredible stories of courage and risk and the way God is reaching new people through the United Methodist Church in North Georgia.   
 
Suwannee Worship Center
For some churches a small, intentional change is all it takes to create a “new place.”  Rev. Teddy Rollins, a successful church planter, was appointed to Suwanee Parish UMC in the heart of Gwinnett County. Suwanee Parish was struggling, but the community was seeing a rise of innovation and activity. The city of Suwannee was even voted one of America’s top small towns. Because the word parish “speaks small,” Rev. Rollins began to simply say, “I pastor Suwanee.“ Through prayer, “Suwannee” felt called to become a worship center for this community, a church dynamically impacting their community. With Rev. Rollins’ leadership the church also decided they needed a new name, a name that would reflect their desire to no longer “be small.”  They chose the name Suwannee Worship Center, A United Methodist Congregation.  
 
And as Suwannee Worship Center has lived into its vision of becoming a place for engaging, transformative praise and worship, the community has responded, with attendance increasing from 25 worshippers to over 300 in just two years. 
 
Pastor Rollins remarked, “God has been faithful in this name transition. We’ve embraced our new call to be a worship center. And despite being building poor, location poor, and logistics poor, we are honoring who God is calling us to be.”
 
Chapel Roswell
Sometimes, though, churches don’t have to re-create the proverbial (church-planting) wheel to meet this “new places” goal. Take Chapel Roswell, for example. Rev. Mike Long, senior pastor of Roswell UMC, had a vision for reaching new people, specifically the young professionals moving into the Roswell area. To connect with this group, the decision was made to use a more traditional church-plant model called “a church within a church.” Rev. Long and Associate pastor, Rev. Eric Lee, spent a year becoming familiar with the greater Roswell community, building relationships with the people who would become this new faith community. They also took the year to prepare Roswell UMC for the launch, answering questions and concerns, but mostly celebrating what this new ministry would bring to their campus. 
 
Chapel Roswell meets in Roswell UMC’s historic chapel, which has now become multi-purpose. The chapel is used for a traditional communion service once a month and as Chapel Roswell’s weekly main worship space. Because of this shared nature, the chapel has to be Transformer-like, easily converting from traditional to modern in a short time span. Careful planning has made this possible.  

The new congregation’s Ancient-Modern vibe embraces both the traditional elements, like the stained glass windows, and the modern, with innovative technology, lighting, and a band. Worship is central to this service, reinforced by the fact that the chapel space is a “worship in the round” style.  Experiential worship is key with “reflect and respond” as the goal. 
 
For example, one Sunday’s service focused on issues of social justice. Individual issues were written on strips of paper that formed a paper chain, draped across the altar area. The sermon was a call to action. In response to the word, worshippers were invited to come and literally break the chains, reinforcing the message in a physical response. During that following week, Rev. Lee used social media to share information about how to get involved in addressing the social justice issues written on those paper chain links. In doing so, worship was experientially engaging, even beyond the Sunday morning hour. 
 
After seven weeks of services, Rev. Lee says, “The future of the Church in Roswell is bright.” And in true church-planter, evangelist style, he adds: “Find us online at chapelroswell.com, on social media @chapelroswell - and if you know someone in our area looking for a modern church experience, send them our way!”
 
The Nett Church
Rev. Rodrigo Cruz’s “new place” is Parkview High School. On Sunday, October 18, The Nett, the North Georgia Conference's newest new church plant in Gwinnett County, held its first preview service at the high school. Parkview has a diverse student body in what is a newly diverse area. Cruz hopes his church, The Nett, will reflect the kind of diversity represented at the school, saying further, “I want the church on earth to reflect the diversity that we believe exists in heaven.” 
 
Across the street from Parkview High School is a large soccer complex. Last month, Rev. Cruz walked across the street to ask if it was okay for him to hang some signs about his new church. The organization responded positively, saying they were glad a church was going to be nearby and that they hoped Rev. Cruz would pray for them. This soccer organization is the biggest in the state of Georgia and is comprised of a large network of coaches and players. Because of the coach/player relationship, many of the kids confide to their coaches the difficult things going on in their lives. The coaches often feel ill-equipped to help the children with these deeper issues, and so a new partnership has formed: Cruz was asked to serve as Gwinnett Soccer Association’s Chaplain. In this new role, Cruz opens the staff meetings with prayer and serves as the coaches and players’ unofficial pastor. Simply by walking across the street, Rev. Cruz found another unique way to minister to “new people.” 
 
You can also find Rev. Cruz at the local Chick-fil-A. In talking with the restaurant’s manager, Cruz asked if he and his staff had a chaplain of sorts. The manager said that they did not, but they sure could use one as many of his staff deal with difficult issues: single-parenting, financial struggles, etcetera.  Without hesitation, Rev. Cruz volunteered to come on Tuesday mornings and sit in the corner with a chicken biscuit and coffee.  If any staff member needs to “just talk,” he’s there. So, as an unofficial soccer and Chick-fil-A chaplain, Rev. Cruz is ministering to “new people in new places” even beyond his new church-plant walls.
 
Creating new places for new people is both challenging and inspiring, a true call to action for the greater church, but also for us as individual believers.  In response to that call, may we the church - both clergy and laity - continue striving to make new disciples of Jesus Christ in new places for the transformation of the world. 
 
Anne Nelson is editor of the Monday Morning in North Georgia e-newsletter and a writer. She lives in Atlanta with her United Methodist minister husband, two amazing kids, two couch potato dogs, and a guinea pig named Taco. 
 

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