Ocoee church experiences rapid growth in new location



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Ocoee church experiences rapid growth in new location

May 28, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando  {0300}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

OCOEE — Location, location, location.

That's the only thing the Rev. Ernie Post can attribute to the numbers of people who are flocking to Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church since it moved from its previous building in the downtown area of Ocoee to a booming area 11 miles west of Orlando.

OCOEE — Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church moved into its new facility last November. Attendance nealry trippled in the span of just two weeks. The $2.25 million building is located in a visible area near a local mall and has the benefit of 14,000 cars passing it daily, according to the church's pastor. Photo courtesy of Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church, Photo #05-0169.

The new 18,000 square-foot, multi-purpose facility opened last November, and attendance numbers recently swelled from 180 to 500 in two weeks.

Post said he's at a loss for a reason to explain the drastic change.

"I'm not doing anything different here that I wasn't doing at the old building," he said. "It's very exciting, but at the same time it has bothered me. A part of me thinks people are shallow that they needed a new building to come. Yet, I don't think we could have had this success in the old building."

The new $2.25 million building is located in a visible area near the West Oaks Mall and has the benefit of 14,000 cars passing it daily, according to Post.

Post agrees getting people in the door is good, but he has a variety of ideas in place to keep visitors coming back.

There are parking spots close to the facility specifically set aside for visitors and a hospitality area with free coffee and snacks.

Visitors are greeted during services, but it's more than the cursory handshake. It takes five to seven minutes for members to greet all of the visitors, and then a member offers to sit with them for the remainder of the service. They are given a coffee mug imprinted with a photo of the church and a pen imprinted with the name, address and telephone number of the church. Visitors are also encouraged to fill out a visitor information card that asks for contact information. Post then sends visitors a letter, and if they entered an e-mail address on the visitor card he sends them a personal e-mail thanking them for attending and inviting them back again.

"It's working," he said. "We have a good fellowship. We have a friendly atmosphere here. People are finding that they love it here, this is where they belong."

The church offers three worship services. There are two every Sunday — a traditional service at 9 a.m. and a contemporary one at 11 a.m. Then there's the Holy Grounds Café at 7 p.m. every Monday. The cafe features a more casual atmosphere, with people huddled around tables with candles and cappuccinos and Post delivering sermons in either blue jeans or shorts. About 100 people attended the first cafe service.

Post says all of the avenues the church is using to get people to church are working, and he anticipates doubling all church attendance by Christmas. But he also says he's not focusing on making visitors members. Instead, he just wants them to get into the habit of attending church on a regular basis.

"I'm not big on membership," he said. "It'll come in time. We are getting people who haven't been going to church or haven't been since they were kids."

The church is now focusing on establishing a new kind of small group — "interest level connection groups" to keep the attention of visitors and members. They revolve around a variety of topics related to ordinary subjects, such as golf, fishing, Scrabble or making scrapbooks. The men who were interested in playing golf put together a tournament and recruited local sponsors. Now, the funds from the event will be used to erect a church playground.

"We are going to make money for the church because a group of people want to play golf together," he said. "We have 14 people who have an interest in deep sea fishing. And there's also horseback riding. The possibilities are endless."

The groups aren't designed just for fun and games. They each have a leader and start with a prayer.

"It's about communicating and connecting through a common interest," Post said. "We have about 40 small groups."

Post said he knew he had to do something because he wanted visitors and members attending church to stay and become active. "It's really good because we had people who were coming and weren't connecting."

Post is optimistic about the future and hopes people will keep coming. "We've had such a huge response," he said. "We hope it continues to be great."

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This article relates to New Church Development.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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