By: Amanda Willis
A new partnership with a local elementary school and a thriving community garden have helped Christ United Methodist Church in Maplewood reach neighbors in new ways.
“A couple of years ago this church may have faded off into the sunset,” said Rev. Rachael Warner. “But at this point, to that school, to those families, and to those teachers it would matter if we weren’t here. The work we are doing is making an impact quickly.”
Christ UMC’s outreach was made possible thanks to a $19,000 Investing in Congregations grant through the Minnesota Conference’s Office of Congregational Development. Such grants are awarded annually to churches that demonstrate a potential, capacity, and commitment to reach new people, grow in love of God and neighbor, and heal a broken world—and applications for 2016 grants are being accepted through Oct. 15.
Christ has been working with Highwood Hills Elementary School, located about one mile away from the church, since January to establish meaningful relationships with teachers, families, and students.
Six volunteers from the church go to the school each week to work in classrooms, provide one-on-one support for children with behavioral challenges, and start an arts-and-music enrichment program for students. The school currently has no funding for art or music.
The community garden, meanwhile, has helped Christ UMC to reach neighbors outside of the school system. The church started the garden during the summer of 2014 but this year made a number of improvements thanks to the grant. Members built raised beds in which to plant vegetables and brought in better soil and higher-quality plants.
Families from the church agree to be responsible for a bed for during the growing season. At harvest time this year, the entire congregation will come together to host a potluck for the community. The foods prepared will all include vegetables from the garden.
The outreach has helped Christ UMC to achieve growth. Its average Sunday worship attendance went from 50 in 2013 to more than 65 today.
Applying for a grant
Investing in Congregations grant funding through the Office of Congregational Development—which is awarded for new ministries, programs, or staff positions—ranged from $500 to more than $33,000 in 2015. A committee that includes both clergy and laity reviews applications each year and decides how to divide up the $200,000 in grant money that’s available through the conference’s apportioned budget.
New for the 2016 grants are three different application options (click the links to download each type of application):
• Major grants: Total $2,500 or more
• Micro grants: Total $2,500 or less
• Grant renewal: Projects can receive funding for up to three years. Grant money is reduced each subsequent year for projects that receive funding more than once, and the goal is for each one to become self-sustaining by the end of the three years.
Micro grants debuted this year and are back by popular demand. The 40 churches that received them used the money for everything from Vacation Bible School, to financial training, to nutrition and literacy programs.
Grant helps Champlin UMC reach the next generation
Champlin United Methodist Church has been using the $20,000 grant it received to make huge improvements in the projector technology in its sanctuary and to connect with young people. A church team decided more than a year ago to start researching how to reach Millennials (those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s).
The research team was made up of young people—some current church members others who were unchurched. Because the church started the research before receiving the grant, it hit the ground running after receiving the funds. The team designed and branded a new worship service called REFUEL, designed to reach young adults.
The church made lots of changes in order to position REFUEL for success—including modifying the language used in the service (“visitors” are now called “guests”), making the narthex into a gathering space that looks like a coffee house, text messaging reminders about upcoming REFUEL services, and providing first-time guests with welcome bags containing a protein bar (in a REFUEL wrapper), a candle, and more.
Additionally, because research showed that Millennials weren’t inclined to show up every Sunday, REFUEL takes place just once a month. It has been hugely popular, with 120 guests at the June service.
“One of the key things we learned is we needed to re-imagine church, and we feel Champlin is now that bridge to the spiritual lives of these young people,” said Kay Roberts, Champlin UMC’s director of worship.
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church