Differentiation: Giving Church a B-12 Shot

Date Posted: 5/23/2013

Doing the same old thing year after year may be nice and comfortable, but can also create a shield of invisibility, according to Reverend Philip Chamberlin, pastor of Grace UMC Palestine.  He’s afraid that churches in general have been so predictable for so long, they might have a tendency to blend into the landscape. “At Grace Church, when our staff/lay teams brainstorm together, there is nothing predictable about the outcome.”  In fact, Phil sets the pace for this culture of creativity, beginning with his office. “I got rid of my desk and made my office more of a lounge type setting that will make visitors attending our New Members Class feel comfortable and staff members here for meetings feel at home.”

Pastor Phil and his worship team work to make church fun, interesting – and something to look forward to. To bring focus to the annual live nativity event at Advent, for example, Grace UMC innovatively placed a search light in the parking lot with beams extending 25 miles away. “ Thousands of people from miles away were literally following the light, just like the shepherds coming to Bethlehem,” he chuckles. “They probably thought it was the grand opening of a new Target!"

And when Grace offered a sermon series on gifts and ministries called You’ve Got Game, the worship team converted the worship center space into a large football field type environment and encouraged our congregation to wear jerseys from their favorite teams – to church.

Although the church has a long rich history dating back to 1896, when Phil arrived on campus two years ago, attendance had dwindled to less than 40. “We are the church of second chances,” he explains, “and the members that hung on through the downtimes are now excited that we have amped up the worship experience and average close to 150 on the weekends.” As you might imagine, worship is anything but conventional, but the steady growth indicates people enjoy the upbeat music, strong teaching, small group oriented Bible study, prayer time and devotionals. “We cannot stop growing because there are 60,000 in our county and at least half of them have yet to meet Jesus,” he adds.

This summer, Grace is putting a creative spin into the youth ministry area by hosting a WAMP: a Worship, Arts and Music camp where youngsters will get a chance to learn musical instruments, do artwork, learn dance and develop other talents -- all while learning about the Romans Road to Salvation.  Camp teachers will include congregation members, local people and personal connections. “Our praise team and choir director will instruct the music lessons, and we are networking like crazy for art teachers,” he adds. Grace Palestine is charging a mere $10 for camp registrations, materials and t-shirt, mainly to know how many to expect. 

Invite Them Back

When churches are successful at getting newcomers to their campus, many forget to have something else planned as a follow up so members can invite them back. “Our outreach strategy at the end of the camp,” he explains, “is for the students to invite their parents and family for their big performance.” Then, he adds, “Summer will be great timing to take our children’s ministry to the next level by launching an energetic Kids Church to offer a more innovative approach to children’s worship.” Also, in a move to appeal to adults, Grace will be launching a message series that appeals to families the very next week.

 Building a New Vision

If this summer’s out-of-the-box programming for youth is well received, Grace Palestine will launch a kids choir as yet another follow-up initiative. “Over time, we hope to expand and have an ongoing Worship Arts and Music camp for youth.  And then, eventually, an internship for young adults to train up worship leaders for our church and other Kingdom-minded churches...maybe even in churches we eventually launch in other sites.”

God is blessing Pastor Phil’s style of teaching spiritual truths in unique and quirky ways. As Grace Palestine continues to differentiate itself from other churches, it is carefully focused on what he calls a clear discipleship pipeline. “When new members join, we help them learn who we are as Methodists and why we exist as a church,” he says. “We help them assess their gifts and passions and plug them immediately into ministry, and I am happy to report that 100% of the recent group of 12 that went through this orientation process are already plugged in.”

The Grace Church leadership team stays focused on the future – even now, making July 4th plans to create a ministry opportunity near the popular fireworks warehouse in town. “We take risks to reach people, but we are Methodists in our theology and teaching and Wesleyan in our outreach. What the world needs is more disciples, so our church litmus test question is HOW IS THIS GOING TO SAVE SOULS? If Grace Palestine is truly passionate about Jesus we should care about the eternal destiny of those around us.”

More information at  www.palestinegrace.com