By: Christa Meland
A conference workshop inspired members of Grace United Methodist Church in Burnsville to share their faith stories with each other—and the experience has prepared and motivated them to reach out and share God’s love in new ways within their community.
Forty-seven thousand people live within two-and-a-half miles of Grace UMC—and the church views that area as its key mission field.
After attending the conference’s “breakthrough relational evangelism” workshop in January, a group from the congregation began thinking about new ways to build relationships within the community. But they quickly realized that members first needed to become more comfortable sharing their faith stories with each other.
“Places where we have seen Christ in our own lives—if we rehearse that with one another, it helps us to be able to share it beyond our walls,” said Rev. Kevin Schill.
Each Sunday during Lent, someone from the congregation shared during worship (through a pre-recorded video) a time when they had encountered Christ.
One woman talked about finding Jesus through a relationship that she developed with a homeless woman. A young member talked about feeling called to ministry and, in particular, to issues around justice and caring for people in need—and she said she’s encountered Christ through her discernment process. Someone else, who works as an interpreter for the courts, talked about finding Christ in the courtroom as a man was facing deportation to a dangerous part of Africa.
The series theme was based on a painting that several members saw at New Orleans’ famous Café DuMonde (known for its beignets), which they visited while on a mission trip last year. The painting said, “It seemed like an ordinary day until I had coffee with Jesus at the Café DuMonde.” Throughout the series, a café table with a beignet bag was set up in the chancel, and the speakers talked about a seemingly ordinary day being transformed by God’s presence.
Before each video was shown, Schill told a story from the Bible about what seemed like an ordinary day for someone until Jesus showed up. One Sunday, he relayed the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who was having an ordinary day until Jesus spoke to her, accepted her, and showed her compassion.
“As members of the congregation have listened to these stories…other people have begun to step forward to share their stories and experiences,” Schill said.
For example, one woman wrote him a letter about various encounters with Christ as her husband was dying of cancer. She said she came to know Christ more deeply through the grace and care shown by doctors and other people who were part of her journey.
Sharing encounters with Christ prompted one member to suggest using the monthly church newsletter to give more people an opportunity to tell their stories—and a “Why I serve” section was recently added.
“This process is teaching us and emboldening us to share stories not only with one another but in our community where we’re called to serve,” said Schill. “Each of us has a story.”
Recently, leaders decided to participate in intercultural competency training, and they invited a couple of Latino groups in the community to go through the training with them.
“We’re a fairly typical, mostly white suburban church in a community that’s changed significantly,” Schill said. “There’s lots of diversity. We will learn together how to reach across cultural barriers and come to learn and understand each other better.”
The church has also begun reaching out to immigrants in its community who are at risk of being deported—and finding ways to stand with them.
The breakthrough relational evangelism workshop and the sharing that it inspired have created some positive shifts within Grace UMC. People who didn’t think they had a story to share have begun giving voice to their experiences, and the stories that they’ve heard from others have helped them discern all the ways that God is present in their lives.
“It’s in the day to day where most of God’s work is being done—not the miracle flashing across the sky,” said Schill. “Those become the more natural places for people to share.”
Videos: You can watch two of the encounters with Christ as shared by members of Grace UMC. Video 1: Finding Christ through relationship with homeless woman / Video 2: Finding Christ in courtroom as man faced deportation
Breakthrough workshops: These day-long sessions offered by the conference are designed to help churches learn about and experience breakthroughs in the areas of growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world. Four were offered in 2014-2015, and four more will be offered in 2015-2016. The topics for the coming year are worship: making a lasting impression, building connections of belonging and engagement, growing disciples who love God and neighbor, and developing Christ-centered leaders. Watch the conference website in the summer and fall for further details.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church