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Joyful worship attracts new members to New City UMC

Doing little things has resulted in big changes at New City United Methodist Church in Dayton.

It sounds obvious, said Local Pastor Chris Reese, but those little things really matter.

He offers an example that he says might seem trivial. Usually, when someone says, “thank you,” the response is “you’re welcome.” At New City UMC, members respond to “thanks you’s” with, “my pleasure.”

Because, Reese said, “We’re there because we want to be. We’re not there because we have to be. It’s the little things that are significant.”

The congregation, he said, is very welcoming. “We genuinely love the people. You pull into our parking lot, you’re greeted immediately. You walk through the doors, you’re greeted. You get coffee at the coffee bar, you’re greeted – but you aren’t smothered.

“When I ask people how they heard about the church or why they continue to come back, they tell me it was the way they were greeted,” Reese said. “They decided to come back to church before they heard the message. People won’t remember everything you said from the pulpit, but they’ll remember how they felt.”

The little things may be one way the congregation and its pastor reach out to others, but a major renovation of the old stone United Methodist church on Dixie Drive in Dayton also played a part in the rapid increase of worshipers – from two, Reese and his wife, Tammy, in the fall of 2017 to an average of over 110 to 120 weekly.

Baptisms and Reaffirmations

That’s not all. Since its first worship service on October 22, 2017, Reese has baptized by full immersion over 50 people. Thirty were baptized in December, including his parents, Larry and Sandy Reese.

“When I talked with them about it, they said they both looked at each other and said that’s what we’re supposed to do next. They came up – that’s a moment you’ll never forget. That’s right up there with the birth of your first child – they came up to the altar. It was just incredible, an incredible story,” Reese said.

“We did not grow up in church at all,” he said. “I knew about God through AA. AA teaches about God – but they leave out the significant part of God – His son Jesus Christ. They don’t talk about him at all. It was a God of your own understanding. I understand the meaning behind that so they can reach everyone regardless of spiritual background. But there comes a point in time where you need more; and that point comes with a real, true relationship with Christ.”

Needing Christ in Recovery

Both Reese and his wife are in recovery, having used drugs and alcohol for years. They were in recovery for 10 years while raising their now adult daughters.

“I thought that everything in my life was going okay,” he said. “I had a successful business; my kids were about to graduate from high school and were doing very well. Then I thought it would be okay to start drinking again, and that led to more drinking and then drugs, and my wife followed right along with me.

“We went from being very involved in their lives, coaching their sporting events and all that, to pretty much paying them to stay away so we could use,” he said.

In 2010, with their marriage on the rocks, the couple re-entered a recovery program. They started attending Medway United Methodist Church in Dayton, where, Reese said, recovery has been “100 percent different because Christ is in the middle of our relationship and in the center of our life.

“Everyone knows someone who’s been affected by addiction,” he said.

Reese said he felt safe to say about 60 percent of those attending worship at New City UMC are in recovery: “We offer recovery programs throughout the week and we’ve seen attendance grow because [attendees] would come and celebrate their recovery.”

A Call to Ministry

In 2012, Reese attended Walk to Emmaus, where he felt the call to ministry. Because he knew becoming an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church would take years and require him to complete an undergraduate and seminary degree, he felt that, as a middle-aged man, becoming a Commissioned Local Pastor was the better route to ministry.

He has recently enrolled in a Bible college to complete his undergraduate degree.

Before that, through the Plant West Ohio Initiative, Reese attended the Greenhouse Training, which is geared to planting new churches in new environments, new cultures.

“It was very successful in equipping me with the tools I needed,” he said.

Some of those tools included training in administration and finance, as well as a grant from The West Ohio Conference to provide three years of support for the new church plant at New City United Methodist Church. After completing the remodel to make the old church modern, Reese said, “We built the church from the ground up – new ministries, new groups. My goal is to be fully self-sustaining by the end of our third year.

“We’re going to push for it,” he said. “We believe we’ll meet that goal. God will show up in a big way.

“If God could use someone like myself, with my background, my history – drug addiction, my education level, my dysfunctional family growing up, He can certainly use anybody,” he said.

A Passion for Ministry

In addition to support from The West Ohio Conference, Reese believes his experience as an entrepreneur and his passion for Christ helped with the new church plant.

Throughout it all, Reese said, his wife, Tammy, has helped. She has also kept the Reese’s construction business going while Reese devotes his time to growing a church.

It is a business he started 22 years ago, he said. “Eventually, it became too much for me, so I had to step away from it completely, but she’s still holding on. We started this ministry together. Most of our friends were in home churches. We just started praying for God to send the right people. Two or three times we’d stop and pray for people to come ... soon, people were showing up on the doorsteps saying we’re called to help you.

“We’re seeing miracles, that’s for sure,” he said. 

Effective Social Media

New City UMC has an active, vibrant Facebook page, where Reese posts announcements, thoughts and events daily.

“I burn up social media,” he said. “I put stuff all the time, I boost it. I have other people in our church share what we post. It’s working. The word about the church is being spread that way.”

He also encourages the congregation to invite others to worship. “I give invite cards out to the congregation and ask them to invite friends or someone at the grocery store.”

Additionally, he said, the church holds four big outreach events a year.

“We do a back-to-school bash where we offer free haircuts to kids going back to school,” he said. “We offer backpacks stuffed with school supplies. We gave 250 backpacks away in one hour. Our goal is to have 1,000 backpacks stuffed with school supplies ... it’s a need.

“People think I’m crazy, but God will provide. We’re a community where the residents don’t have a lot of money.”

Reese said ministry is his passion. “You can’t train passion,” he said. “Once you’re working in something you love, getting paid is a bonus.”

“I was called to plant a church; I was called into ministry,” he said.

He also admits he’s having fun.

“It’s been one heck of a ride,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”