|Church has place in new planned community|
"Live. Shop. Play."
When he saw the billboard
three years ago inviting people to become part of a new planned
community in Middle Tennessee, the Rev. Jacob Alexander thought an
important verb was missing.
"I thought, 'Why not live, shop, worship, play?'" he recalled. "Why (isn't the church) at the table for new communities?"
Three years later,
Alexander is the founding pastor of Providence United Methodist Church
in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., 15 miles east of Nashville. The first weekly
worship service on Sept. 7 drew 230 adults and children. The following
Sunday brought 280 people.
Alexander told the story
of Providence's beginning to members and staff of the United Methodist
Commission on Communication as they visited Grace United Methodist
Church, Providence's "mother church," on Sept. 26. As one of three field
trips to introduce commissioners to the four areas of focus adopted by
the 2008 General Conference, the visit to Grace focused on
congregational and leadership development. Others emphasized the global
health initiative and ministry with the poor.
Meeting in an elementary
school, the new congregation brings "worship" to the planned community
of Providence, which is anchored by an 830,000-square-foot outdoor
Methodist Church is a place "for the unchurched, the de-churched and the
not-recently-in-church," he said. The vision is "to reach those who
feel disconnected from God and the church and to introduce them to hope,
healing and wholeness through Jesus Christ."
Alexander expected to
receive 75 members on Sept. 28, hear 16 professions of faith and conduct
three adult baptisms. New members covenant to fulfill the church's
mission to seek God, welcome people, offer Christ and respond by
New church grant funds messages
Alexander was appointed
to Grace as an associate pastor responsible for planting Providence. He
quickly applied for a New Church Grant from United Methodist
Communications, which awarded 19 grants totaling $185,000 in 2008. Ten
will be awarded each year during 2009-2012.
Grant recipients receive
funds and guidance to develop marketing plans and materials to build
community awareness with the aim of launching worship services with a
significant number of people in attendance. United Methodist
Communications also offers hospitality and inviting training.
The Providence church
team rented a billboard bearing a simple illustration and its Web site
address, and a similar message was on three mass mailings to Providence
residents. Newspaper ads had the same themes. The United Methodist tie
is clear. The overriding message, said Alexander, is: "We are a new
church, and we're here."
The messages "are
reinforcers for your invitations," he told his core congregation, which
was formed in March to prepare for a September launch. Some first-time
attendees indicate they are "responding to an ad or a mailing," he said,
"but mostly they are being invited by friends or co-workers."
Support for the new church start has come from other parts of the denomination.
The Tennessee Annual
(regional) Conference is paying all of Alexander's salary this year and a
decreasing percentage for the next four years, in addition to providing
a new church coach. The salary support allows all money given to the
church to be used for ministry and outreach. The conference also sent
him to the annual School of Congregational Development.
Grace—itself born in the
1990s after two local congregations merged—helped to identify the need
for another United Methodist church in the growing residential area near
Nashville International Airport. Pastors in the conference's Cumberland
district opened their pulpits for Alexander to share the vision for the
new church and invite people to help.
Ministry in the community
Since its inception in March, the Providence team has been in ministry in the community to build for a September launch.
The Saturday before
Easter, team members joined 3,000 children for an Easter egg hunt in a
city park, where they painted faces and invited people to a sunrise
service the next morning. Alexander noted that, driving to the park, the
team passed numerous churches holding Easter egg hunts and wondered
aloud if the children they would meet that day did not have a church
home. Later in the afternoon, they visited an apartment complex, talking
to residents and distributing information.
Summer brought hotdog
cookouts in trailer parks, a prayer wall for Armed Forces Day,
Neighborhood Night Out activities and meals served in churches.
Congregants met monthly
from April to July for worship. A "soft launch" in August brought weekly
services at the school on the first four Sundays. Worship includes a
praise band and projected lyrics, and use of the United Methodist Hymnal when Alexander performs a baptism or celebrates Holy Communion.
The church's initial
Website is being redesigned and expanded. The simplicity was
intentional. "We didn't want to give the idea we were a full-service
church," Alexander said. It now promotes "The Reign Forest"
children's ministry and—for adults—small groups for Bible study,
fellowship, prayer and accountability.
As a church planter—a
call he first experienced in seminary—Alexander is clear that he was
"led to start a new United Methodist church." It's a calling that means
making sure the church is included "at the table" when new communities
He described how his
calling was affirmed as he found himself meeting with the developer of
Providence community to negotiate inclusion of the word Providence in
the new church's name. Sitting at the mahogany table and looking around
the glass-enclosed board room, he realized, "Wow, now I am at the
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*Noble is editor of Interpreter magazine and Interpreter OnLine, www.interpretermagazine.org.
News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.