Church Vitality: The Tale of Two Churches
Last week, Barry Burns talked about what makes a vital congregation. This week, I would like to tell the story of two very different vital churches in the Capitol Area North District.
North Lewisburg United Methodist Church in Champaign County worships about 65 on a Sunday morning. When Pastor Karen Montgomery arrived there in July 2012, she found a kindhearted church in the middle of town that knew how to raise up strong families. Pastor Karen set about getting to know the congregation and the community. She discovered three important facts: 1) the demographics of the community were shifting, 2) the church had very little interaction with their active preschool, 3) the outreach of the church centered around fundraisers. After careful prayer and discernment, North Lewisburg decided they needed to make sure that all of their ministries were designed to make room at Christ's table for all people.
Slowly over the last seven years, they have let go of any program that did not meet their vision of making room at the table. They found partners such as the school district, Champaign County resources, and the CAN/CAS Community Ministries. Recently they completed the WOC Connectional Blueprint, which has given them new ideas about how to build relationships with the people they serve. Currently this small membership, rural church's reach goes way beyond what they imagined in 2012 and continues to grow. Ministries include Wednesday evening community suppers, a food pantry, a community youth group, Celebrate Recovery Ministry, Connect 4Success Mentoring Program, SERVE Week Youth Camp and VBS, youth mission trip, Cool Tools 4 School, a worship service at Cherry Arbors Nursing Home, and Cardinal Corner Childcare Center.
The Church of the Messiah is a 200-year old suburban church in Westerville that worships over 900 people at five services during the weekend. In 2010, the church faced significant financial difficulties with a negative general fund balance and a debt of $1.4 million. Led by Pastor Jim Wilson, the congregation made it a priority to accomplish fiscal stability in a Christ-like manner. They refused to become debt-free at the expense of the poor or of connectional giving. Rededicating themselves to missions reminded the congregation of the church's mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ and to transform the world.
Church of the Messiah partners with the Westerville Area Resource Ministry, Church for All People, New Life Community Outreach, YWCA family shelter, Delaware County Habitat for Humanity, and Open Shelter to help transform the greater Columbus community. In an effort to change the world community, they support an orphanage in Nicaragua, Living Water International, Grace Children's Hospital in Haiti, and several churches and ministries in Cuba.
A concentration on mission has led this suburban congregation to take being disciples of Jesus Christ seriously. As a result, they have grown significantly, become debt-free, operated with a budget surplus, and supported over 100 life-changing ministry opportunities. Recently they made a $100,000 gift to the Light the Way campaign as a way to express their hope for the future of the church in West Ohio.
These churches have become vital congregations not because of their size or location but because they have made creating disciples that seek to transform their communities the focus of all they do!


-Rev. Linda Middelberg, Executive Assistant to the Bishop, West Ohio Conference, 
and District Superintendent, Capitol Area North