'Part-time' Doesn’t Have to be Only 'Part of the Time'


By Rebecca Wallace

When Rev. Dr. Theophilus Stanford got the call, he was at a church he had been serving for 10 years. It was somewhat of a surprise, but he was asked to make a move to a church where the previous pastor had made the tough decision to accept a new assignment. Allgood Road UMC was still reeling from change. 

“I first needed to build trust,” Rev. Stanford said. 
A part-time local pastor, Rev. Stanford immediately began to empower the leaders. 

“I couldn’t do everything because I am part-time. I needed them,” he said.
Having a background in worship and music, the pastor decided to first work on the music ministry. He recruited musician friends to breath life into that part of worship. Then for the service itself, he incorporated members into all aspects of the worship experience. 
“Instead of just giving them assignments, I worked to educate the members on the process and explained why we do what we do,” Rev. Stanford explained. “Once you get buy-in, it’s much easier. Worship has been a huge part of our growth.”
Additional drivers for Allgood Road’s growth were re-engaging its seniors and its evangelism and outreach efforts. The leadership reconnected with the elementary school and began working with charities on local and international projects.
“Rather than being focused on adding members, we focused on ministry,” Rev. Stanford added. “If you focus on our basic call as Christians, growth will happen.”
Allgood UMC’s leadership embraced the basic tenant that people need to feel connected, and church services went from an average of 60 people in attendance in the early years of Stanford's tenure to the current Sunday attendance of 80 to 100 people. Rev. Stanford acknowledges that there are several people who come every week but haven’t chosen to join because they are “still nervous about the itinerancy piece… I just allow them to be. We take the pressure off people; we just want people to come to worship,” he said.
While one would think that only having a part-time pastor would stunt growth, Rev. Stanford said that it made him rely more on the lay leaders and get them to lead their church. “The church does belong to them, after all,” he said.
The congregation knows that a part-time local pastor does not necessarily mean you only get a leader part of the time. A pastor does not have to necessarily be present full-time to bring full-time leadership.
As one of the growing churches in the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District, Rev. Stanford and the Allgood members will say that what they did was focus on ministry and the people in their community.

“If you just pour love into people and give them opportunities to feel connected, everything else will fall into place,” he said.

Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta. This is the latest in a series on growing churches in the North Georgia Conference.