Doing Church Differently

Amy Wagner



My family and I attend Dutihl UMC in Cranberry Township when I’m not preaching elsewhere.  A few weeks ago at Dutihl, I asked a friend about her trip to Virginia to visit her daughter.  She told me that she attended church with her daughter on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach.  “It’s a new church start,” she said, “and they do things so differently!  I wasn’t sure I would like it.  But my daughter loves it.  And I was surprised – I did too.  It felt like home, and yet – fresher, somehow.  And do you know what I realized?  We could easily do the kind of things they are doing right here, too!”
She’s right!  New United Methodist churches can give us new ideas of how to “do church.”  It doesn’t mean we change who we are as a congregation.  It doesn’t mean we change what we believe or what we value.  But we can be inspired by their passion to reach new people with the Gospel, and borrow ideas as we learn how to do church differently to reach new generations.
Here are four new churches across the United Methodist connection that are doing church differently.  In no particular order, check out:
Simple Church:  A United Methodist Dinner Church (Worcester, Massachusetts)
At Simple Church, people gather around the table to share a meal and ask questions that matter.  They meet in the pastor’s home, over a meal prepared by the group.  They keep a garden, from which their food comes.  Children gather wildflowers or make crafts to serve as centerpieces.  Worship begins with Communion, then founding Pastor Zach Kerzee reads scripture and introduces a conversation topic.  Discussion continues around tables as people eat.  They close in song.  Since their launch in 2014, they’ve grown to over 50 in attendance at two weekly dinner gatherings, with more nights added as attendance increases.
The Gathering UMC (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
The Gathering Virginia Beach describes itself as “a group of spiritual nomads who haven’t found a church that fits.”  They invite every person into experiential worship, authentic accountability and incarnational missions.  And it’s working:  in 2011, they reported that 100% of their worship attendance attended a small group, and 130% of their worship attendance participated in hands-on service to the community.  The Gathering Virginia Beach was launched in 2009 by a team of 10 lay persons from a neighboring United Methodist Church.  Rev. Rachel Gilmore is their founding pastor.
Gathering Now (St. Louis, Missouri)
Gathering Now is a congregation committed to reaching new generations and transforming the city of St. Louis.  They currently worship at four sites, and shape their common identity around five practices:  community worship, learning in communion, prayer and meditation, service, and giving.  This Easter, they’re inviting the whole city to gather with them at Symphony Hall to celebrate the resurrection.  Gathering Now launched in 2006 with Rev. Matt Miofsky as founding pastor.
After Hours Denver (Denver, Colorado)
After Hours Denver meets in multiple bar locations across the city of Denver.  Each time they meet, they make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, hear music from whichever band is scheduled that night, and reflect on Scripture, led by founding Pastor Jerry Herships.  The sandwiches are distributed daily, along with bottles of water and other lunch fixings, to the homeless in Denver’s parks.  After Hours also leads an annual “PB&J for Hunger” event in which they invite churches across the country to make PB&J sandwiches and feed the hungry in their own community.  This year’s PB&J for hunger date is Saturday, April 4 (, corresponding with National PB&J Day!


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