Beyond Sunday Morning: Winterfield UMC Puts Community First
By: Sherri Gragg
The Secret of Growth
Early in his appointment to Winterfield UMC, Rev. Steven Newcomb held several meetings with parishioners about the future direction of the church. Each time he sat down to hear from his new church members, they voiced the same concern; the church needed to attract more people to worship, especially young people and children.
Newcomb responded to each inquiry with the same answer. “I told them that in my experience, you are probably not going to succeed if those are your goals,” he said. He then explained that the best way to encourage the community to worship at Winterfield was to “be the church.” His challenge prompted church members to spend time in honest reflection concerning just how well they were sharing the love of Christ with others.
Loving On Longview
It turns out, they were doing a lot of things right. The church gave generously to international missions, and disaster relief. They were intentional about offering connectional activities as well. There were so many ways Winterfield was honoring God and loving well, but soon they realized there was one area in which they were lacking- their connection to the people right outside their doors, the city of Longview.
It didn’t take long for the Winterfield mission committee to take the lead in addressing the need. They formed a new outreach effort entitled Loving on Longview (LOL), the primary focus of which is to help the congregation connect with their community in fresh and meaningful ways.
The Birthday Party Ministry
As Winterfield began to brainstorm about how they could minister to their community, they realized one of their greatest resources lay in their beautiful facilities which were primarily unused during the week. Perhaps, church members reasoned, they could find a way to offer the gift of hospitality to the community by sharing their church home in some way. It wasn’t long before a member suggested a creative means to do just that. “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” she said, “if Winterfield was where children come to have their birthday parties?” She went on to explain that the cost of hosting a child’s birthday party in one of the local venues, such as Chuck-E-Cheese, was quite expensive. As church leadership began researching the idea, they found that many of the large apartment complexes surrounding the church charged relatively high rental rates for the use of their community rooms. If Winterfield offered their facilities as an economical option for these families, they could enable families to have birthday parties for their children who would possibly not be able to do so otherwise.
The Birthday Party Ministry was soon inaugurated. For a small fee to cover the cost of utilities, parents may use a large room in the family life center to celebrate their children’s birthdays. Families are encouraged to decorate the space, and use the kitchen for staging the food. Additionally, the church provides a volunteer host to open and close the facility as well as assist parents with any questions they may have. “I hadn’t realized it was such an emotional thing,” Newcomb said, “but now parents can give their child something they haven’t been able to do.”
Winterfield isn’t limiting the Loving on Longview program to birthday parties. They are actively seeking additional ways to share God’s love with their community, including adopting a local jogging trail where they pick up litter and hand out water to runners. “I really look forward to seeing how this is going to develop in the future,” said Newcomb, “we have had several people come up with some great ideas.”