In August, over 100 people from our church gathered in homes around the community (and one Sunday School class!) to answer three questions:

  • How did you get here?
  • What do you love the most about our church?
  • If you had a magic wand and could do anything in our church, what would it be?

Our thanks to everyone who participated in one of these groups, and others who called, emailed, or stopped by to answer these three questions. Here’s some of what we heard, who we are, and who we want to be.

Who We Are

Alex and I found out we were coming to First UMC Pulaski in late March. In early April, we came up to meet with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. Our district superintendent actually asked the question first: “Tell Will and Alex what you love the most about this church.”

And everyone around the room gave the same answer: the people.

To no surprise, this is what we heard from all of you as well. 79% of those in our listening groups said the thing they loved the most about our church is the people.

The services the church provides were all fairly equally represented: the music, preaching, Sunday school, and the atmosphere in contemporary worship and the sanctuary were all mentioned between 17-22% of the time. But overwhelmingly, these were all secondary to the relationships that exist between us.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)

A church is not the brick and mortar. It’s the people. And it’s not just a people who believe in Jesus Christ, but a people who love each other well because of that belief. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul says this is worship: bringing ourselves as a living sacrifice. This is the language of any covenant relationship: a marriage, a family, and a church. It’s you and me, by the grace of God, laying ourselves down as individuals for the sake of the greater thing that exists between us. And in doing so, the church helps transform us: we are better because we are together.

Who We Want To Be

If the thing we love the most about our church is the people, it’s no surprise the thing we’d most desire if we had a magic wand is…more people.

In our listening groups, 36% of people mentioned growing our church as the thing they’d do with a magic wand. Another 29% mentioned more kids, youth, and/or young families. That’s good news! We’re excited about steps we’ve already taken in this direction, from initial growth in both of our worship services to hiring our new youth director. And we’ll continue to engage new ideas as we seek to grow, most of all in fruitfulness. The work of growth and engaging young people isn’t just for Desmond and I, but all of us. It’s always good to serve a church that wants to grow!

What we also heard on the magic wand was this: 29% mentioned more unity between the worship services. 

I’m grateful to serve a group of people who aren’t afraid of creativity. Sometimes that’s been a camel in the sanctuary during Advent. Sometimes that’s been combining all of our worship services for the summer. I’m so thankful for your willingness to try something new. And even when that something new doesn’t go off exactly the way we wanted it to, it has not quenched our openness to creativity. And it clearly has not stopped our desire to be more unified; I would expect nothing less from a church that values its people so much.

We have no plans or desire to combine our worship services every Sunday; we believe we have a good thing going on in both contemporary and traditional worship. But we also believe, at certain times throughout the year, it’s good for us to be together in meaningful ways. And so, on October 21, we’re going to have a combined worship service outside on the front lawn. It’s our next chance to worship together as one church, in a space that belongs to all of us. And afterwards we’ll do the most unifying thing we can do: eat.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us… – Romans 12:4-6 (NRSV)

We’re often good at understanding the first part of verse five – we are one body in Christ – but sometimes we forget the second. We are members of one another. In a church, and in any covenant relationship, we belong to Christ, and we belong to each other. What happens to the one affects the other. We’ve all been given different gifts, and we want to continue to share those gifts in as many ways as possible, and to celebrate the diverse things we love about our church. But it is love – of God, and each other – that unifies us more than anything else. Thanks be to God, we get to belong to Christ…and we get to belong to each other.

A church is a place where people believe in Jesus Christ. But a church is really those people, bringing themselves as they are, and offering themselves to something bigger. Being transformed by the grace of God, and expressing their worship in all kinds of different ways. Being held together by the love of God, and that love manifesting itself in the way we love each other.

That’s who we are. And that’s who we want to be.

Grace & Peace,

Will