A few words from
Rev. Lynda Bates-Stepe
Lessons from a church fire When the 111 year old sanctuary Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia was destroyed by fire there was a ready-made option for the small membership congregation to close it's now non-existent doors and go elsewhere. But instead the congregation rebuilt - and grew. They were about the same size as we are; maybe we can learn something from their experience. Highlighted here are some of the lessons they learned from their new life after the fire. You can learn more at; http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/how-a-church-fire-sparked-congregational-growth.
a sense of identity:
The church survived trial and difficulties both before and after the fire by renewing its commitment to social justice. They had previously opened a soup kitchen that reach out into the larger community. So when the building was destroyed, "Members had a sense of what Athens would miss if their church simply folded." Even in the midst of rebuilding, "We knew what we were doing and knew where we were going. We were focused on ministry to people in need."
The hard work of rebuilding rested mostly on the members. The pastor was ready to retire when the fire occurred but she stayed on to encourage and empower the congregation members. She described her work this way, "at Oconee Street, I always felt like I was running down the field to catch up with them. Oh, it's wonderful."
the process in prayer:
They not only began each meeting with prayer but they shared with each other where they saw God at work in their lives. And at each step in the rebuilding a group met at the church to pray the process along.
with the community:
The members active in the rebuilding process made special effort to keep in touch with less active or connected members so they would know what was going on. They also used local media to keep the larger community informed.
God in the unexpected:
When there were setback and difficulties the "church members learned to see God's presence in what first seemed like setbacks." God was always present.
The congregation has now moved back into their sanctuary and the congregation is bigger than it was before the disaster. There is energy and excitement about their ministry. Their new pastor, "attributes the church's growth to a commitment to Christ, a responsiveness to their community's needs and God's blessing." He adds, "The blessing didn't happen like the wave of a magic wand. There was a lot of hard work that went into rebuilding, and God was with them."
Sense of identity, lay leadership empowered, surrounded in prayer, communication with larger community, and witnessing God in the unexpected (and often unwelcomed developments). These are important elements to the health and vitality of a congregation no matter what the circumstances. We can learn Oconee Street UMC's experience and encourage our own growth by focusing on these areas. How do we do? I'd love to hear your feedback. Give me a call or email me your thoughts on our identity, leadership, prayer-life, communication and witnessing God.