Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, April 27, 2009

gracepoint goes it alone

John Meunier points to a UM Portal story about the former GracePoint United Methodist Church in Wichita. For those who haven't been following the story, GracePoint pastor Bryson Butts announced in March that he and the rest of the GracePoint staff would be withdrawing from the United Methodist Church and starting a non-denominational church, to be known as GracePoint Community Church.

The UMC quickly appointed a new pastor for GracePoint UMC, but nearly the entire congregation moved to the new church. On Easter Sunday, GracePoint Community Church had 1200 worshippers, while GracePoint UMC had only seventeen.

Apparently the main point of contention between the GracePoint staff and the United Methodist Church was GracePoint's desire to expand to a second campus. GracePoint had twice tried to create a new worship service in another part of Wichita, and had run into trouble with other congregations.

GracePoint also created a stir with some of its advertising campaigns. GracePoint targeted young people who felt alienated from traditional churches, using slogans like "Church doesn't suck," and "No perfect people allowed." By all accounts, they have been successful at what they are trying to do.

And yet…

There seems to be a theme running through GracePoint's attempted expansion. In seeking to start something in another part of town, GracePoint consistently ignored the congregations that were already there. Bryson Butts doesn't seem to get that the United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination. Growth in the UMC is not about expanding your own congregation at others' expense. If you want a healthy church that is supported by the denominational leadership, you need to play well with others.

I lived in Wichita for 13 years, from 1993 to 2006. I joined East Heights UMC in Southeast Wichita in 1994 and still have my membership there. One of the things my East Heights experience has taught me to respect about the UMC is how congregations can work together for the common good.

In the mid 1990s, Wesley UMC (located in a poor neighborhood) started a back-to-school backpack program for kids who attended Vacation Bible School. East Heights members helped collect backpacks and supplies so that every child could have one. The second year of the program, the kids told all their friends, and VBC membership soared. This helped Wesley UMC re-establish its presence in the community, and provided an entry point for welcoming whole families into the church. By themselves, the congregation couldn't have accomplished this. But when several congregations pitched in to help, the program was a success. East Heights had no desire to establish our own presence in Wesley's territory; we simply realized that we are all in this together.

In the late 1990s, the leadership of East Heights joined with some other area churches to look into reopening the Hyde Park UMC, which had closed its doors due to dwindling membership. But in discussions with residents in the Hyde Park area, they found that what that neighborhood desperately needed was reasonably priced day care. So the empty church building was redesigned and reopened as a day care center. The church leaders who helped plan the transition saw that what they wanted wasn't really what was needed, and were humble enough to put their own ambitions aside and take care of the needs of the community.

East Heights also sent volunteers nearly every year to nearby Grace Presbyterian Church, to help with the phenomenally successful Alternative Gift Market. In the early 1990s East Heights hosted its own similar event, the Christchild Market, but I think it was evident to the organizers that it would be more effective to help with Grace Presby's much larger event than to try to compete. Partnerships with other Christians should not be limited to a single denomination.

That type of partnership seems to be missing from GracePoint Community Church's leadership. In all their efforts to build a second campus, they've tried to go it alone. I can't help but think that that's not the way to further the kingdom of God.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home