By: Christa Meland
Earlier this year, around the time when members of Delano United Methodist Church were hearing about the Minnesota Conference’s Reach • Renew • Rejoice initiative for congregational development, they asked themselves: How can we bring Reach • Renew • Rejoice to our community?
Those questions led them to organize a big tent revival event that the church is hosting for its community Oct. 3-4; the goal is to reach new people, renew their spirits, and ignite in them a passion for Christ. The church hopes to welcome 1,000 people to this free event—and all Minnesota United Methodists are invited.
“What we hope is that people will leave with a message of God’s love and God’s grace that will fill their spirit and excite them about the faith in some sort of way,” said Rev. Matt Sipe. “If this is the first time they’ve heard that message or if they’re marginally churched or de-churched, we want to offer something that will speak to them and help them really receive that message of love and grace.”
The two-day event will feature meaningful worship around the themes of “reach,” “renew,” and “rejoice”; Bible studies; excellent music from Delano musicians and the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir; great food; games; and fun for the whole family. Three dynamic clergy from across the state will serve as guest preachers: Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, Southern Prairie district superintendent; Rev. Cynthia Williams, associate pastor at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul and Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis; and Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough.
Sipe said the plan for the revival really started to take shape when a church member, Sarah Hellmich, came into his office and said she felt God was calling the church to do something to reach its community.
“We have a tendency to be very complacent and content where we’re at,” said Hellmich. “As you hear…about the decline in church attendance and people losing their desire to be at church and their connections, we just can’t sit by and let it happen. I guess that led to trying to revive people’s faith and revive their enthusiasm for church, and we hope that’s what we get in the big tent in Delano.”
Sipe’s own passion was ignited by Hellmich’s passion, and as he prayed and discerned where God was leading his congregation, he heard God saying we needed a revival in our hearts and in our churches at a time when major shifts are occurring within our cultural landscape.
“Maybe we’re at a point now…that is very similar to where English society was when John Wesley led his revival and brought about this Methodist movement,” Sipe said. “Maybe the opportunity is ripe for a new great awakening, a revival of our faith.”
Although church members are excited about hosting this event, doing something of this magnitude has required them to step out in faith. The revival will cost more than $10,000, a big investment for a small congregation, and it will require a significant commitment from many people to make it a success.
But Sipe sees the revival as an opportunity for church members to “flex our muscles and do some evangelism.” They plan to canvass the community, knock on doors, distribute door hangers, and put up posters around town to invite as many people as possible.
“This will help us be expressive in our own faith, which can be challenging for a church with a 140 plus-year history,” Sipe said.
Although the church is always looking to grow, the primary goal of the revival is not to get more people in Delano UMC’s pews. It’s to meet people where they’re at and share the message of God’s love and grace.
“We hope that they leave there fired up for God…that they will know God’s love, that they will experience God’s love,” said Sipe. “They might make a decision for Christ; they might not. They might be planting seeds. They might go back to their own congregations on fire and say, ‘Hey, I was at the United Methodist Church, and guess what we did,’ and then that will spread throughout our community. We’re trying to inject some Holy Spirit into this community.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church