Church reaches out to community with annual event (Aug. 5, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church reaches out to community with annual event

Aug. 5, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0131}

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

NEWBERRY — Who says you can't go home?

Jenny Rodgers did just that when she attended the Family Fun Day Event here last April at Ellzey United Methodist Church, a small church 45 miles west of Gainesville.

Rodgers, a resident of Otter Creek, grew up attending the church with her grandmother, but lost touch with the church after her grandmother died and she moved to another city. After recently moving back to the area, she was glancing through the local newspaper when she came across an announcement about the church's annual Family Fun Day Event. She packed up her daughters, ages 8, 4 and 3, and rediscovered a church that always had a place in her heart.

"I thought it was wonderful," she said. "It was organized well, and we all had such a good time."

The Rev. Mary Hill, pastor at the church, said Rodgers was one of about 90 people who attended the event. She said there were games, sack races, clowns, face painting, other activities and food. While the activities hadn't changed since the previous year, only 50 people attended in 2003 and most were members of the church and various bands performing throughout the day, Hill said.

Hill decided she wanted to reach more of the community this year and encouraged members, who number 48 on the membership roll and an average of 22 in worship each Sunday, to let neighbors know about the event by going door-to-door with personal invitations. While she initially received resistance from church members about the amount of effort it required and how much money it would cost to entertain and feed more people, they reluctantly agreed with her.

The almost double attendance this year surprised everyone, Hill said. "It was wonderful. It was beyond our imagination," she said. "You can tell that God was moving in this. People are hungry, and all you have to do is hold out your hand. The spirit is moving here."

Rodgers can see and feel it. She, her husband and daughters are attending on a regular basis. "It's like the church is starting over," Rodgers said. "There's new life in the church."

The Rev. Kendall Taylor, director of the conference's Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT), said any church can achieve what Ellzey United Methodist Church has done. He said the key ingredient to a successful church isn't based on how large a church is or how much money it has.

Taylor, who spoke at the church earlier this year, said he encouraged them to reconnect with their surrounding community. He said the main thing is to go to people and not wait for them to come to the church.

OCT was established during the 2002 Florida Annual Conference Event to expand on the conference's former Operation Evangelization Ministry. Its goal is to breathe new life into maintaining and dying churches using a church revitalization process called Natural Church Development (NCD).

"All this church did is go find the people. Any church can do that," Taylor said. "Most churches don't know who really lives around them. This church has a vision of wanting to be the church where if you're hurt, this is the place where you go to get loved."

Hill, who has been at the church for three years, said the church has had eight visitors within the past month. Normally, the church has about one visitor per month. She said the perception of the church in the community is changing.

The church is changing, too. Hill and her husband were doing some work at the church one day recently, and a passerby remarked they thought the church was a closed historical building. She said she is pleased the church is filled with faithful loving people who are now eager to share the love of Jesus Christ.

Rodgers says she can feel that love and it has her returning time and time again. "I enjoy going back to the church," she said. "It's really amazing that there are kids there now and the new life it is experiencing."


This article relates to Local Church Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011