Churches Grows by 100 members: Due to Welcoming Ministry
By Lindsay Peyton
Making everyone feel welcome is the mission at A&M UMC. Senior pastor Preston Greenwaldt counts 101 new members who have joined since January – all drawn to the warmth of the church.
“Almost all of them say, ‘This feels like home,’” Greenwaldt explained.
July marks his fourth year as the senior pastor of the church – but he and his wife Kristin both attended the church while in college. When they walked in to assume their new roles, they noticed that not a lot had changed since their undergraduate days, not even the carpet.
“We knew that if we were going to attract more students, then the space had to be better,” Greenwaldt said. “We did an overhaul.”
The church started a $2 million capital campaign, reserving $800,000 to renovate the organ and $150,000 to update the contemporary worship space, including audio, video and other needed technology.
Members of the congregation were already well aware of a need for the upgrades. “When I got here, the laity were ready to grow,” Greenwaldt said. “We took their list and expanded it. It’s been incredible to watch the laity make this their mission and their passion.”
In addition to remodeling the space, the pastor wanted to spend time redefining the church’s identity.
“The church was struggling to find out who it was,” Greenwaldt said. “Growth is always a church’s goal, but it wasn’t our focus. Our focus was understanding who we are.”
It didn’t take long to crystalize that vision. The church served as a mission to Texas A&M University, recruiting students in need of a place to worship. At the same time, the congregation served staff and faculty, as well as community members.
“We’re a multi-generational body of Christ,” Greenwaldt said. “Making people feel welcome, making people feel part of the family, making people feel that they matter, it’s equally important for the 18-year old college student and the recently retired couple who walk through our door. We’re a bridge, but we’re also a landing point.”
Once the church understood its role connecting all walks of life, membership blossomed. “We just needed to get that spark and go,” Greenwaldt said.
Students enjoyed seeing all ages at services and knowing that the church would be there with them for the long haul, not just when they were at university. Adults from the community enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the younger generation.
The church even has an “Adopt an Aggie” program. For example, one couple, in their 60s, adopts about three students a year, taking them out for meals and checking up on their progress in school.
“That couple has been invited to more weddings,” Greenwaldt said with a laugh. “They’ve become such a part of those families.”
With expanded membership comes a bump in programming at the church, the pastor said. A fourth Sunday service will be on the calendar starting this fall. There’s also a second contemporary Sunday night service that’s been added.
“We’ve also done a lot of mission work,” Greenwaldt said. “All of our programs have expanded rapidly. We’re able to go places we never thought possible.”
Take Easter for instance. A couple years ago, about 300 people attended the event, which had about 20 volunteers coordinating the details. Last year, 100 volunteers showed up and 1,200 people came.
“It’s all driven by our church members showing up and making a difference,” Greenwaldt said. “It’s people serving people.”
It’s those congregants that have truly helped increase membership, the pastor said. “Reaching over the pews and connecting, it takes courage,” he said. “It’s not something that a preacher can do. It’s what the community at the church does. And it changes the whole game.”