Invitational, Relational, Intentional: A Simple Gospel
By: Sherri Gragg
Lakeside UMC Houston achieves steady growth through an unwavering commitment to the simplicity of the gospel.
A Simple Gospel
In 1757, John Wesley wrote to a Miss Furly, challenging her to never lose sight of the foundation of her faith. “When I talked with you last, you could relish the simplicity of the gospel…Do not soften the plain, rough gospel: Do not measure back your steps to earth again.”
Throughout 2018, Lakeside UMC Houston relentlessly pursued the “simplicity of the gospel.” Growth in almost every area of ministry followed. “I really feel just surrendered to what God is doing,” said the Rev. Andrew Payne. “I don’t really know what is in store (for the future), but I know it seems like the culture and energy of church began to change last year.”
Payne describes the average member of Lakeside as someone in his or her 30’s or 40’s with young children who either have little experience with faith, or who grew up in the church and then drifted away from it as they entered adulthood. “Over the past year, we have had a lot of new people have a deep and personal experience with God, who if you had asked them a year ago if that was possible, would have emphatically said ‘no,’” Payne said. He credits the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) with empowering Lakeside to clarify its mission and determine the steps necessary to achieve it.
According to Lakeside UMC, A Simple Gospel is…
Payne credits Lakeside’s “invitational culture” with the constant stream of new faces filling the pews on Sunday morning. The children’s ministry and day school director, Sara Walsh, never hesitates to invite families from Lakeside’s thriving day school to join her in worship on Sunday morning. It is a spirit of welcome that is prevalent throughout the church from members of the men’s fellowship group, who eagerly reach out to newcomers, to individuals inviting neighbors and friends to worship. Payne laughs as he recalls one congregant, who after completing repairs on a local home, refused payment. “Don’t pay me,” he said, “just go to Lakeside on Sunday!”
Lakeside offers a variety of thriving small groups, where members can deepen their faith as well as their relationships with each other. Each small group reaches out into the community through service as well. In addition to investing their time at the local food bank, women’s shelter, and ministry to the homeless, Lakeside invests heavily in the children in their community. They have held luggage drives and birthday celebrations for children in foster care and shelters, as well as a cereal drive for the local food bank. “We set a goal to donate breakfast cereal equal to 10 percent of a Biblical field of wheat,” Payne said, “We collected over 1,500 boxes of cereal!”
Payne is especially excited about a new mentoring ministry to local school children through Kids Hope. Six Lakeside members will spend time mentoring a child once each week. Each child has also been assigned an additional volunteer to provide prayer support, and one who serves as a financial backer to cover Kids Hope’s small curriculum fee.
One of VCI’s challenges for Lakeside was to develop a Discipleship Pathway. It is a mission Payne takes seriously. He takes the time to meet with members individually to have deep conversations about where they are in their faith and offer them the opportunity to grow from there. He encourages them to be honest about areas of weakness, assuring them that Lakeside is a place of grace where they can grow closer to God. “We try to make gracious space for questions and struggles,” he said, “This is not a church for people who have everything figured out.”
Payne knows that as with any church, Lakeside will face challenges in the coming year, but he is excited to see what God has in store for 2019. “2018 saw a lot begin at Lakeside; There was a spirit of change. I don’t know where it is going, but it is fun to be there,” he said.
Could your church benefit from VCI? Learn more at https://www.txcumc.org/vci