New Service at Christ UMC Targets Millennials
(Kari C. Barlow) - Rev. Jeremy Steele didn’t need a think tank’s statistics to know millennials weren’t attending Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile.
All he had to do is look around the sanctuary.
Like so many churches across the nation, Christ UMC is surrounded by young people in the 19-to-mid-30s age bracket but can’t seem to draw them in.
"They’re literally right here, but they aren’t here,” said Steele, teaching pastor at the Grelot Road congregation.
That realization, along with more than two years of prayer, research and planning, led to High Point, a new Thursday night worship community that launched in August. Although designed by millennials, and uniquely suited to that demographic, High Point is open to everyone.
“It’s going really well for us,” Steele said. “We kind of treated it like a new church plant even though it was in our church. … It’s in our sanctuary, but it looks very, very different. … We transform it into something much more modern.”
Perhaps the most critical difference is the service itself, which incorporates prayer, praise and communion but is also streamed live on Facebook and includes an 18-minute TED Talk-type sermon, some secular music and time for fellowship.
“The first 15 minutes, after we open and welcome people, we have 15 minutes of coffee time,” Steele said. “We have coffee and we talk. It’s really nothing more than organic getting to know each other.”
This focus on intentional community is vitally important to millennials and something they crave in their church experience, he added.
“One of our core values is real community,” Steele said. “Research shows that … millennials say what church feels like, as far as relationships go, is people sharing space at a public event and not people who are really there for each other.”
Another of their core values is engaging the current culture, and the High Point community takes time out of each week’s service to improve the world in some tangible way.
“This week we are collecting fabric from people that we are going to use to create port pillows and mastectomy pillows to use while they are being treated for breast cancer,” Steele said. “We really wanted to engage in Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
A few weeks ago, they stuffed envelopes with gift cards donated by Chick-fil-A for families who have infants in a local neo-natal intensive care unit.
“We included a note that said, ‘We’re praying for your baby tonight, and that God would be with you and want you to know that dinner’s on us!’ ” Steele said.
For Alissa Gochey, who is 23 and works as the contemporary worship coordinator at Christ UMC, the community service component is a reflection of how Jesus lived.
“We use what we have—our time, energy, and resources—to make a difference in our world, to love others, and to make earth look more like heaven,” she says. “… In a society that is increasingly focused on self-interest, it’s an incredible thing to be able to gather together in friendship … and love others as Jesus loved.”
For Steele, who at 38 is the oldest on stage, says watching High Point evolve has been exciting. He hopes other churches will try it and is happy to offer guidance.
“I would love to help them walk through it,” he said. “The most important thing is to turn the keys over the millennials in your midst and empower them with the authority and the resources they need to figure out what it means in your context.”
CHECK IT OUT:
If you want more information about High Point and how it got started, contact Rev. Jeremy Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo courtesy of Christ UMC.