By Lindsay Peyton
At Journey of Faith UMC, church will be coming soon to a location near you. Imagine Bible study at an area restaurant or prayer at a laundromat. The congregation, located in Humble is starting a new program called “Church Can Happen Anywhere,” and the focus is on reaching millennials, individuals in their 20s and 30s.
“These days, they are not typically running to the church, ”Pastor Stephen Goldsmith explained.
“This is about meeting them where they are. It’s all about getting outside the four walls of the church.”
It’s possible thanks to a recent $43,000 grant from Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) for community outreach and discipleship projects. TMF provides financial and leadership services to UMCs, institutions and individuals within Texas and New Mexico.
With the grant, Journey of Faith will be able to hire a part-time administrator to direct the new program. Then, the congregation will get to work on its new vision, which includes “Word Up Wednesday” – small Bible study groups that will convene at various locations, from Starbucks to Whataburger.
Pray and Wash
The program will also feature “Pray and Wash.” Goldsmith explained that there are a number of
apartment complexes and mobile homes in our mission field, which means the nearby laundromat is usually buzzing. The congregation plans to offer free washes and help with carrying loads back and forth. Members will offer prayer to those who are interested.
Goldsmith explained that the church was already connected to Melvin Amerson, resource specialist for the TMF, who had helped the congregation with stewardship initiatives. Last summer, he recommended that Journey of Faith consider an upcoming evangelism grant.
The process was new for the church. “This is the first grant we have written since I have been at Journey of Faith,” Goldsmith said. “It was a learning process for us.”
Still, the congregation jumped at the opportunity when it opened in the fall. “We applied and turned in our letter of intent,” the pastor said. “They wrote back and said we could proceed to the next stages.”
There were hundreds of applicants in the running, Goldsmith explained. The TMF narrowed it down to about 50 site visits across the state.
Journey of Faith was one of the last sites. The congregation’s team made a presentation near the end of March.
Then, Goldsmith received an email notification at the end of April. “It’s been a wonderful blessing,” he said.
The first order of business will be hiring the director. Already, congregational leadership is planning the program. “Our hope is to launch by summer or early fall,” Goldsmith said.
The pastor explained that empowering youth is his passion. “We have a responsibility, as a church, to provide programs for them,” he said.
For instance, currently the church is building a coding class for children that is disguised as part of their favorite video games. There will be an educational component for parents as well.
“I want to be the church that they remember, that provided all of these opportunities for them as children and young adults,” Goldsmith said. “And the opportunities are endless.”
With the TMF grant, the same spirit of outreach can be extended to those in their 20s and 30s. “We see them in our church, but it’s not enough,” Goldsmith said. “We really need to tap into that demographic and provide a space that invites them in.”
Encountering Jesus at Starbucks
More often than not, that space is a more contemporary setting than inside the church, the pastor added. “Maybe they’ll never come to a service,” he said. “But they will be faithful to that study group at the coffee shop or the brewery or even the Chick-fil-A.”
Goldsmith hopes that with time, the members of those groups might become more comfortable with members of the church and eventually venture on campus. And in the meantime, they are encountering Jesus, wherever they are.
“To me, that’s what it means to be the hands and feet,” he said. “People are won by your witness, by your love and your nonjudgmental treatment of them. They’re won by the fact that they feel good when they are with you.”
When people enjoy congregation members and have fun together, they are more likely to want to go – and to tell others, Goldsmith added. “And that’s how you become an evangelist. It simply means to bring the good news to others,” he said. “And that’s what the church needs to be. We need to be a wonderful experience.”
Being open and willing to support others as they start their faith journey is essential, Goldsmith added. “If we at our core believe in the Wesleyan understanding of sanctifying grace, we understand that everyone has to go through a growth process,” he said. “You don’t get where you are overnight. You have to grow into it.”
New Christians need that grace, the pastor explained. “They’re going to fall, but we are here to help them get back up,” he said.
The church’s role is to sow the seeds and let the Holy Spirit do the rest, Goldsmith added. He is convinced that the ground is fertile for growth. In fact, he said that COVID has heightened the desire for community, spirituality and prayer.
“The pandemic has provided evangelistic outreach opportunities to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” Goldsmith said. “What better time for the church to come along and say, ‘I know Jesus.’”
With the TMF grant, and dedicated members, Journey of Faith is now ready and able to take the next step. “We’re looking forward to digging deeper,” Goldsmith said. “Let’s get started.”