Madison church helps members, neighbors make connections

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Madison church helps members, neighbors make connections

By J.A. Buchholz | Feb. 2, 2009 {0970}

NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about churches that have experienced growth in professions of faith and average worship attendance, measures of two of the five practices of The Methodist Way. See related story, “Analysis shows conference churches making strides,” at:

The Rev. Robert Laidlaw can’t say exactly why First United Methodist Church in Madison is growing, but he does know the church is doing its best at living out the mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

While professions of faith at the church jumped from 11 in 2006 to 26 in 2007 and average worship attendance grew from 192 to 225, Laidlaw said he is more proud the church is “reconnecting to our first love, Jesus Christ.”

Brian Sanderson, youth pastor at First United Methodist Church in Madison, says the church is trying to create a place where youth feel they belong. He says more than 60 youth attend the weekly Wednesday night youth service. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Madison. Photo #09-1095.

“We have been doing some serious Bible studying, and I think that is producing a hunger in people,” said Laidlaw, senior pastor at the church. “People are on their spiritual journey and are discovering their purpose.

“It’s not about a formula or a program. I just can’t point to any one thing. I guess our main focus is living our lives to an audience of one.”

Laidlaw said attendance in small groups is up, interest in Discipleship Bible Study has increased and members are connecting their membership in the family of Christ to caring about people outside the church walls.

”The church is really taking ownership that each member is a minister,” Laidlaw said. “Every nursing home where we have a member, every shut-in or a place where there needs to be prayer for healing — Christ is getting there, not always through me, but through the members who are answering the call.”

That message is also reaching beyond the church. The worship service is broadcast Sunday mornings on WMAF 1230AM and on the Internet with listeners, Laidlaw says, from Canada, England, France and Japan.

“First and foremost we try to get people into the presence of Christ,” Laidlaw said. “Then they recognize He has been there all along. Many times they connect to the energy of serving Christ, and then comes the hunger for Bible study, and from there scripture takes on new excitement.”

On of the church’s priorities has been helping the children and youth of its community make those connections.

The church sent more than 30 children to summer camp, and the youth service each Wednesday continues to expand, says Brian Sanderson, youth pastor at the church.

Sixteen-year-old Danny Williams appreciates what the church is offering.

Williams was so drawn to the Wednesday service, as well as the church, that he joined on his own, without his family, before the summer break.

“It’s really a nice place to be,” he said. “When some friends from school suggested that I come, I wasn’t sure. I had never been to church on a Wednesday, but I came, and now it’s like a second family to me.”

Sanderson said as many as 60 young people in sixth through 12th grade pack the service each Wednesday. He said everyone is welcome, from the bookworm to the football player.

Sanderson said he can easily account for the increase in youth attendance.

“Everybody has connections,” said the Asbury Seminary student. “When people are coming here on Wednesdays and they sense that’s it’s real … I mean when they find that what we are doing is genuine, they want their friends and family members to experience it and share in it.”

Once youth start attending, Sanderson said, they realize the church is a place where they belong, and many search to find their spiritual gifts.

“When they come here, I want to give them the best,” he said. “When they walk through the doors, I want them to know this is what the Kingdom will be like.”

The reasons and stories that prompt people to join a church are varied, Laidlaw says, adding it all comes down to a line from “Amazing Grace.”

”There’s that line, ‘I was blind, but now I see’ … that’s where I think the connection is made for people,” Laidlaw said. “When people hear the call and take that step to find Him.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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