A. Frank Smith UMC: A Magnet for Families in Alto, TX
Revs. Ryan and Amanda Boyd-Stratton share insight on how to “Invest in the Young” in a rural community setting.
In the small East Texas town of Alto, the vibrant church of A. Frank Smith United Methodist Church is on the grow! With the celebration of three professions of faith, six baptisms and new young adult members in the last four months, co-pastors Ryan Stratton and Amanda Boyd-Stratton have been in awe of the movement of the Holy Spirit. The welcoming heart of the congregation coupled with new programs and intentional community involvement has yielded a wonderful spirit of discipleship among the members.
Church leaders have spent the past year in intentional prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead this community of faith. “When we arrived at A. Frank Smith, it was clear that the heart of this congregation was ready to grow in their discipleship,” says Pastor Amanda.
“This church was already very involved in the community, but was looking to grow in their witness,” observes Pastor Ryan. Visioning and planning meetings helped reveal that this church longed to connect the Gospel message with their community involvement. After participating in a sermon series called “Re-Focus: Why we do what we do” some of the largest programs were reworked-- to be biblically based with a focus on discipleship -- by sharing the story of Jesus Christ with community participants.
In December, this Alto church hosted a community family event called, “A Night in Bethlehem.” This interactive event allowed church members to lead hands-on activities that taught the story of Jesus’ birth to children and their families as they explored the church grounds decorated as Bethlehem. Visitors experienced the story through bread making, woodworking, writing like the scribes, and even going to the manger scene. Notes Ryan, “This led to several people being exposed to the complete story of Jesus’ birth and brought visitors to the church.”
"A large event like this was possible in a small church because church leaders reached out to other churches, including Cold Springs UMC, to sponsor their own booth and Christmas story activity,” adds Amanda. With over 50 families, almost 200 people, in attendance, the event was an amazing success. Ryan shares, “It was truly a blessing to see the body of Christ working together to bring this ecumenical event to life!”
The pastors quickly identified that in a new appointment, community relations are extremely important. “Relationships with members of the community are vital to the growth of a church’s discipleship success,” he adds. Acts 1:8 describes the higher calling on a church beyond Sunday, it says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Additional outreach ideas:
- Be present in as many community and school events as possible, including having the church’s name and contact information displayed on the school fields, courts, and in programs.
- Serve the school personnel lunch during teacher training days before the start of the school year to show appreciation in advance for the work they will do in the lives of children during the upcoming school year.
- Identify where the community is most active and involved and be there with them. In the community of Alto, that place would be sporting events, so much of the church outreach is done at the football stadium or court side.
- Connect with the local funeral home to connect with grieving families, especially if they don’t have a local pastor to walk them through the loss of a loved one.
- Be consistently active on social media; this is a great way to connect with young families on a daily basis and show you care about their daily challenges and accomplishments. Commenting on and “liking” their posts shows a connection that can continue.
“As Pastors, Amanda and I, work tirelessly to be part of everything we can in the community. It is such an incredible moment when the teenagers of this church publicly claim us as their pastor and introduce us to their friends,” he says.
“There are so many ways to connect,” notes Amanda, “but ultimately it’s about serving others as Christ served. We engage in community events as much as possible, but it is important to visit shut-ins, nursing home residents beyond just your church members, take food to the sick, visit people in the hospital and just show the love of God through Jesus Christ wherever you are! We meet people in the local grocery store and invite them to visit with us about Christ and to attend worship.”
Ryan concludes, “It will be amazing to see what happens as we continue to pray for vision, empower church leaders, and step out in faith as the body of Christ to reach out and offer hope to a world in need of knowing God’s presence and healing touch. The Kingdom of God is here and THAT is something to get excited about!”