By Jessica Brodie
GILBERT—There’s a sign outside the fellowship hall at Shiloh United Methodist Church that reads, “Love grows here.”
For pastor Dr. Christopher Greene, that sign encapsulates everything his congregation is trying to do as they live into a major expansion project designed to broaden both building and membership base.
“We are growing—but with the intent to keep the bonds of family and community intact,” Greene said. “It’s steady growth, over time.”
Just like a family.
Just like Shiloh has tried to do all along.
As the church wraps up Year 5 of its strategic plan and gets ready to complete construction this fall on the first phase of a major building expansion, Greene along with the rest of the church leaders are learning along the way, doing all they can to cling to outreach and foster deep ties in the Gilbert community. After all, there’s no sense expanding unless everyone’s all-in.
The expansion project, slated to be complete in mid-November, is turning the existing two-building campus into one big unit, creating new classrooms, new children’s spaces and new accessibility for all. An elevator and handicap-accessible bathrooms will enable disabled members to use all aspects of the building, and ample space for new offices, classrooms and even a choral suite will help the fellowship aspect of their congregation thrive. A covered patio area off the fellowship hall will create space for outdoor cooking, something that will improve their community dinners, and for the first time, the church will have a real welcome center and entry space complete with signage and gathering spots.
Mary Baker, church council chair, has been a member for more than 30 years and is excited about the way Shiloh will be able to welcome new families the way her now-adult daughters experienced when they were growing up.
“I think it will be really welcoming,” Baker said, noting she’s especially enthused about the new nursery and toddler space.
Her husband, Gary, is most eager about the new classrooms. As the church has grown, small groups and Sunday school classes had to get creative about where they gather, from a corner of the sanctuary to the pastor’s office.
“We’ve even met in the kitchen!” he said.
Indeed, it’s taken a great deal of patience on the part of the membership as their church has grown. But as an outreach-oriented church, Greene said, patience and authentic love is all part of who they are.
Shiloh has been a big part of so many Gilbert activities, offering everything from free quarterly community dinners to Christmas repair projects and wheelchair ramps. They have teamed up with several churches in the area for a Good News Club at the elementary school, sharing the love of Jesus with third- to fifth-grade girls and boys, and they offer a thriving vacation Bible school each summer. They support Salkehatchie teams, offer a Wednesday night Bible study and supper and host second-Tuesday lunches on topics of community interest, from herb gardens to local history.
The expansion project is another way the congregation is reaching out to the community, Greene said.
“I’m already dreaming of the next phase.”
When the expansion is finished in November, the church will gear up for the next step: resetting the vision and goals for Phase Two, which is expansion of the sanctuary and more.
What’s been heartening has been the fact that nearly half of those who have contributed to Shiloh’s expansion have been non-members. So far, they have raised $286,530 of their $300,000 fundraising goal through individual donations and grants from the conference, district and elsewhere. Even the children have helped, Baker said, collecting almost $1,000 to-date in cardboard church collection boxes each Sunday.
“It’s been an awakening period in the life of the church, giving us purpose: how can we live into what God wants us to do in the community?” Greene said. “I’ve seen an openness to trying new things. If it doesn’t work, it is a learning experience, not a failure. The vision has been casted, and the mission is in front of everybody.”