A tale of two churches, similar in most every way
Two churches stood three miles apart in the medium size, county seat town in the South: Forest Hills United Methodist and Trinity United Methodist. (Names have been changed) Their statistics:
Forest Hills UMC Trinity UMC
Attendance: 165 153
Avg. Age (Church Council): 63 66
Number of Weekly
Worship Services: 8:30 & 11 8:30 & 11
The two churches worship together two times each year: Easter Sunrise Service and the combined Thanksgiving service. The two pastors, Rev. Tim, from Forest Hills, and Rev. Marsha, from Trinity, see each other at district meetings.
In the past 12 months, Forest Hills received two new families, one on profession of faith. During the same time, Trinity received nine new families, seven of them on profession of faith. The physical facilities of both churches are similar in size and quality. Why the difference in growth? While there are other factors to consider, a key lies in their Outreach effectiveness. Let’s take a look.
Forest Hills UMC Outreach:
Mary and Ted Dubois visited Forest Hills as first time visitors. They were seeking a smaller church after relocating from Florida. They had experienced few personal connections after joining a 3,200-member church in their last city. Here, they enjoyed the worship service, felt that Pastor Tim’s sermon was solid and meaningful, and noticed that two people introduced themselves, helping them feel welcome. They signed in on the attendance pad, writing their full address and cell phone numbers.
On Tuesday after the Sunday they visited, they received a form letter from Pastor Tim, thanking them for attending worship, with a salutation of “Dear Friends” and a printed signature. The following two Sundays they had family obligations out of town and then revisited the second time three Sundays later.
An usher welcomed them, gave them a bulletin and the service was good. They liked the music, enjoyed the sermon, but saw only one of the people who they’d met last time. The following week they received another form letter from Pastor Tim, very similar to the first one, thanking them for attending again. Mary’s mother had to go into a nursing home in Florida and they spend the next four weeks helping her with the move. They did not hear from Forest Hills UMC again. And they decided to keep looking for a church.
Trinity UMC Outreach:
Mary and Ted Dubois returned home from an early dinner at Olive Garden, and were unpacking the last few moving boxes. Hearing a knock at the door, Ted opened it. Al and Sandy Johnson, one of the community outreach teams from Trinity UMC greeted them. “We are from Trinity United Methodist Church and just out tonight, meeting our neighbors. We noticed the moving van a few days ago and wanted to welcome you to the community.” A warm and friendly visit followed.
Al and Sandy visited Mary and Ted four more times over the following three months. On the third visit, Ted let them know they were visiting churches in the area, but had not decided on one yet. Al and Sandy encouraged them, “That’s good. Of course we’d love to have you visit our church if you like, but our primary hope is that you will find the church where you feel God is leading you.” Al and Sandy shifted the focus to learning Mary and Ted’s story.
Ted had worked for NASA as a systems engineer. He had recently retired after a 30-year career there, excited about moving to the Carolina mountains. Mary had also retired after 31 years of teaching in elementary and middle school. Ted wanted to know about local golf courses and Mary planned to do some antique hunting. Al invited Ted to play golf, which Ted did – and beat Al on his own course. Sandy confessed to Mary that she had never learned about antiques. Mary invited Sandy to spend a Saturday with her going to an antique show in Asheville. They had a wonderful day - and Sandy came home with an antique chair.
On a Sunday morning, 15 weeks after Al and Sandy first knocked on Mary and Ted’s door, they walked into Trinity as worship visitors. After being welcomed by the greeters, who introduced themselves to them by name and made a note of theirs, Ted asked, “Where can we find two of your members here, named Al and Sandy Johnson? Are they here today?”
“The Greeter’s face radiated with joy, “They sure are! They are probably just getting out of their Sunday School class. I’ll take you to find them.” Mary and Ted gave Al and Sandy hugs when they saw them in the fellowship hall. They sat together in worship. After the service, Al introduced them to Pastor Marsha.
Pastor Marsha said to them, “I am so delighted you decided to visit us. I’ve heard wonderful things about you from Al and Sandy for a while now. By the way, we have a Lunch Bunch ministry here that’s going out to eat together after this service. It would be a blessing to have you go with us. I’d love to get to know you better.” Two Sundays later Mary and Ted joined Trinity UMC.
1) What were some of the differences in the two churches’ outreach strategies?
2) When Mary and Ted visited each of the churches, what were major differences in their first visit at each church?
3) How do WE reach out to families who visit our church? Be specific.
4) Does Matthew 28:19-20 lead us to initiate relationships with families in our community before they ever visit us? How will we respond?
Rev. Jim W. Hollis is a General Evangelist, the founder and Executive Director of Proactive Ministries – a long term, teaching and consulting ministry with churches and Districts across America. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.