All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47, NRSV
Discipleship is fundamentally a communal process. Churches make disciples of Jesus Christ by forming strong and loving communities that welcome new people and practice radical hospitality. Too often churches work to be welcoming but miss building a strong community that attracts new people who both feel welcome and want to become part of that community.
Mosaic United Methodist in Evans, Georgia is a 200-member congregation that turns welcomed visitors into new disciples. The first thing most people see when they enter Mosaic are the words “YOU ARE WELCOME IN THIS PLACE” painted on the wall. The ministry in the North Georgia Conference began in 2003 when the Rev. Carolyn Moore was appointed to start a new congregation in the suburban community near Augusta. Mosaic today is a patch-quilt of middle and working-class members of all ages and living situations including singles, single parents, young families and older adults.
“We tend to reach people who’ve fallen through the cracks of conventional church ministries,” Moore said. “Many of our members are in recovery or transition from addiction, prison, poverty, etc. We try to offer plenty of ‘grace and space’ for different kinds of people here at Mosaic.”
Member Krista LaCroix affirmed Moore’s statement. “I’ve been in recovery for over a year and the church has been there for me all the way,” she said. “We say you can come here as you are. Mosaic has helped me heal and get closer to God.”
Mosaic has fused hospitality to its outreach programs by offering the help and services many of its members and visitors need. The church hosts a 12-step ministry and will soon start a therapy ministry for families of children with disabilities. Mosaic also extends hospitality during the worship service by inviting participants to share their testimonies.
“This church is one cool place,” said member Jackie Goble, “Carolyn opens up the floor on Sunday morning during service for people to share and respond in their own way. The community is so open and honest.”
Virtually everyone who comes to Mosaic plugs into a small group. Moore has learned that newcomers know where they are and what they need better than anyone. The church offers different types of groups to meet the needs of various people. Along with traditional small covenant groups three of to five people who meet together long-term, there are also slightly larger groups who organize around a common topic or area of study and meet for a set period. New groups form at the end of each study.
“We know our people don’t all think and act alike. This means we offer different-tailored options to different groups. We’ve made peace with not having everybody in the same room all the time.” said Moore.
Greig and Cristina Clawson have been members of Mosaic for a year. Both are members of small groups that meet during the week and volunteer with ministries for children and youth.
“The word that always comes to mind when I think about Mosaic is transparency,” said Greg Clawson. “The pastor and the staff are very honest and in-front about who they are, what they believe. The members are comfortable opening up to one another in small group and during Sunday morning worship.”
“My small group meets in each other’s homes to do a study and share a meal together. I think people find it easier to open up to each other in these less formal and intimate spaces,” said Cristina Clawson.
While the small groups connect people, Mosaic uses worship and seasonal studies and practices involving the whole church to build larger cohesion. “We set aside times in the year for intentional prayer and fasting and also provide resources like daily Bible reading plans for the entire congregation,” Moore said. “Getting everyone in step together in these practices helps build trust and community.”
Mosaic is not a mega-church, but Moore doesn’t measure its success by the number of people in the pews on Sunday morning. Instead, the church celebrates countless lives changed over the past 16 years as people with addictions and criminal records have been rehabilitated while other members have gone back to school with encouragement from their church community. Most important, many people who thought church or Christianity wasn’t for them have made professions of faith. Three staff members have felt the call to ordained ministry and gone to seminary.
“The small groups and the church service are incredible. You are made to feel no shame and given the freedom to open up to the others. Here you know you are loved, and you cannot put a price tag on that,” said member Kim Goss.
Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.