For four years, First United Methodist Church in Sikeston, Mo., has annually hosted three communitywide events to strengthen the congregation's outreach.
After the 147-year-old congregation received a Rethink Church grant from United Methodist Communications, members began offering community events "to change the culture of a dying church from inward to outward," says Brad Aycock, executive pastor.
"In 2010," he continues, "we were averaging around 250 in worship with few to no baptisms or new memberships. In 2014, we average around 600 in worship. Since 2012, we've had around 300 people commit to membership and more than 150 baptisms.
"We focus on the three peak opportunities for church attendance," explains Aycock.
A three-day Hope Epidemic near Easter involves thousands of volunteers in local mission projects and packing food bundles for children in Haiti.
"Hope Epidemic changed us from an inward to an outward church," says Aycock. Sponsored by area churches and businesses, the event involves 80 groups volunteering throughout the community.
In 2014, First Church raised $83,000 for Hope Epidemic and recruited 1,500 volunteers to pack 375,000 "manna packs."
HopeFest, at the beginning of the school year, helps some 800 needy children who receive new backpacks, supplies, haircuts, dental and vision screenings and one-on-one time with church members to "invest in relationships," says Aycock.
"HopeFest prepares local under-resourced kids for a better start to the school year."
Through Radical Christmas, says Aycock, "we have converted our Christmas Eve service to something more."
In 2013, Aycock said, 1,000 children and 1,600 community members received vouchers to attend four Christian music concerts at First Church.
"Those in need register for the voucher two weeks before the event," he said. "They get inspiration from the show. Afterward, we distribute the gifts, groceries, shoes, Bibles and lots of love."
Heather Peck Travis is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow, Ky.
AT A GLANCE First United Methodist Church | 1307 N. Main St., Sikeston, MO 63801 | 573-471-3283 | [email protected] | www.thefunchurch.org | Lead pastor: The Rev. Geoff Posegate | Average Attendance: 619 | Missouri Conference