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Name change, focus on community help church grow

Name change, focus on community help church grow

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Name change, focus on community help church grow

By Sarah Alsgaard | June 2, 2009 {1025}

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Jennifer Chester was raised Catholic, but a friend convinced her to attend a Christmas service at Deer Lake United Methodist Church in Tallahassee two years ago. She took her 4-year-old daughter with her.

Members celebrate exceeding the church’s 2007 growth goals and the burning of the mortgage for the church building. Photo courtesy of Deer Lake United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1187.

“The greeter, Mary, was so sweet and open, and I trusted her with my child immediately,” Chester said. “She left her station and walked with me to the back of the church and showed me where the kids go, and I stayed for the service, and it was beautiful.”

Because people from the church were so open and friendly, Chester decided to continue worshipping there. Now she’s in charge of the greeter program at the church and a volunteer in the nursery.

“It’s wonderful because, in some churches, cliques tend to get formed where a certain number of people are always together, but (at Deer Lake United Methodist Church) they’re just very open and loving people,” she said.

Chester isn’t the only person who has discovered the openness of Deer Lake United Methodist Church. Since 2006 attendance has doubled, according to the Rev. Jeremy Rebman, the church’s pastor.

In 2006 the church had about 270 members. Now, they’re at approximately 460, Rebman said.

“Really I think it’s important — the informal thing that folks reach out to new people and actually care that they’re there and help them,” he said. “I think the congregation really cares about the community and is passionate about people experiencing Jesus.”

Rebecca DeFrank has attended the church since 1988, back when it was located in a shopping center.

“It has just always met our needs,” DeFrank said. “The people have always been warm.”

When DeFrank returned from picking up her adopted son for the first time, people from the congregation were at the airport to welcome them. When she lost a good portion of her sight, the congregation supported her through it.

Building a wheelchair ramp for a local resident is just one way church members show care and concern for people — a core value many say drew them to the church. Photo courtesy of Deer Lake United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1188.

“As long as we’ve been there we’ve been through many stages of life there, but there has always been such warmness and love,” she said.

“We use this phrase abundant ministry, which for us has lots of different implications, but basically it’s about experiencing real life in Jesus and abundant love and joy and peace and fulfillment, and then that abundance spills out as we connect with people in the community,” Rebman said.

Before its recent name change, Deer Lake United Methodist Church was called Killearn Lakes United Methodist Church. Rebman proposed changing the name to avoid confusion with nearby Killearn United Methodist Church.

“A lot of folks just thought we were the same church,” he said. “From a missional standpoint it’s important to have more of our own identity rather than be thought of as the little Killearn, which people tended to think about with us.”

The church has added a service Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. and is focusing on children’s ministries. Church members have also placed an emphasis on small groups as the church’s population grows, DeFrank said.

“Anytime you watch a church grow from an attendance of 50 people on Sunday morning to 450 you see a lot of changes over the years,” DeFrank said. “But the things that have stayed the same are the ones that are important.”

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

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