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Church makes turn-around after nearly closing

Church makes turn-around after nearly closing

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church makes turn-around after nearly closing

Dec. 10, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0584}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

John Wesley, the founder of The Methodist Church, believed Christians have a spiritual duty to minister to those outside the church. He said: “Genuine inward holiness must show itself in outward holiness. Works of piety are worthless without works of mercy. Faith without works of love is the grand pest of Christianity!”

The Rev. Alan Jefferson (right), superintendent of the conference's South West District, and Mike Bullerdick, the district's oversight committee chairman, unveil CROSSROAD church's new name. Photo courtesy of CROSSROADS church, Photo #06-479.

The staff and members at the former North United Methodist Church in Sarasota agree with Wesley so much they have changed the church's name and focus in order to help the people most in need within their community.

“North United Methodist Church was started 50 years ago. Within the next 10 years, the membership had swelled to over 400 members,” said Keith Givens, the church’s lay leader. “In the past 10 years the church experienced a decline in membership and financial support. The members took a leap of faith to return to mission status instead of close the church. With the new pastor, new vision and new focus, our church is on the way to becoming a church of the new millennium reaching out to the community.”

The church gave up its charter in June 2006 and became a mission status congregation. It officially changed its name during a churchwide celebration last November to CROSSROADS: A United Methodist Church of the 21st Century.”

“After several years of financial struggles and watching our attendance dwindle, we began to pray as to what our future might hold,” said the Rev. Bob Suter, the church’s pastor. “With our members still on fire for God and wanting to be an exciting, growing church we decided to go to mission status at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference. This decision gave us the opportunity for a second chance in a community where the need is so great.”

CROSSROADS is located in a part of Sarasota that has been described by a local news station as an “area of prostitutes, drug addicts and the homeless.”

Since changing the focus of the church, weekly attendance has tripled and the church is receiving a new family into membership each month.

“Our church is working hard at helping homeless families back into society with jobs, homes or apartments, and most importantly a church family and the recognition of a God who loves them,” Suter said. “Nearly 20 people have responded to altar calls each week, and four professions of faith have resulted.

More than 100 people join CROSSROADS church during the Sunday morning worship service that was part of the two-day celebration to unveil the church's new name and ministry. Photo courtesy of CROSSROADS church, Photo #06-480.

More than 100 people joined the church Nov. 12; of those 12 were by profession of faith.

Givens said about 400 people attended the church’s festivities during the weekend celebration. Outdoor activities included praise bands from CROSSROADS and Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, a dunk tank, bounce house, face painting, free snacks and lunch. A hymn sing, history display, choir and handbell concerts, remembrances from previous pastors, and a concert took place inside.

“The most exciting part was taking in new members and changing our name to symbolize a new direction and rebirth of the church,” Givens said.

That new direction includes a ministry to help the homeless. Participants must agree to go through a screening process to determine if they are willing to work and turn their lives around. Since July the church has helped five homeless families find jobs and homes.

The Pifers are one of those families. Cathy Pifer and her husband, Patrick, now have jobs and a place to call home, and they have been able to enroll their daughter, Hailey, in school again.

To a Bay News 9 reporter Cathy Pifer said: “We don’t know what we would have done without the church.”


This article relates to Congregational Transformation.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.