By Jessica Connor
CHAPIN—One South Carolina church is getting national recognition as a vibrant church because of its rapid attendance growth.
Chapin United Methodist Church, pastored by the Rev. Jody Flowers, had about 260 members when Flowers arrived in 2001. Flash forward 10 years and a lot of hard work, and now the church draws close to 1,200 in worship each week “ nearly 1,000 more souls.
It s the kind of growth that spells vitality, strength and excitement, church leaders say “ and it has earned Chapin recognition this fall as one of about 30 U.S. churches named by the Foundation for Evangelism as a vibrant church.
Flowers said his church feels humbled by their recognition, which he said is the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished by a large group of believers at Chapin.
We are appreciative that everybody has seen God s vision and is committed to seeing God s vision through, Flowers said, praising the congregation s diligence and commitment to growth. It s easy to see God s vision and pretty easy to sell God s vision, but it s really stinking difficult to see it through.
Celebrating Vibrant Churches is an online Foundation for Evangelism resource for clergy and laity across the denomination who are seeking creative, successful evangelism practice ideas. (The Foundation for Evangelism is a non-profit organization affiliated with the General Board of Discipleship of the UMC and headquartered at Lake Junaluska, N.C.)
Dr. Kenneth Lambert, the Foundation for Evangelism s director of church relations, interviewed pastors of select churches that have displayed some of the fastest growing attendance numbers in the nation. These interviews are featured on the Celebrating Vibrant Churches section of their website, which continues to be the most visited area of that site.
Chapin is the only South Carolina UMC receiving vibrant church recognition this year by the Foundation for Evangelism. Last year, two UMCs in this state “ Mechan-icsville UMC, Sumter, and Mauldin UMC, Mauldin “ were recognized.
Mary Burgin, of the Found-ation for Evan-gelism, said Chapin UMC is credited with an increase in church attendance of 53.3 percent from 2003 to 2008, and of 71.2 percent from 2004 to 2009 (based on data from General Council on Finance and Administration).
We at The Foundation for Evangelism have the opportunity to see the United Methodist Church at its best, Burgin said. Since the focus of The Foundation for Evangelism is to develop leaders with a passion for evangelism who will have a multiplying impact on the United Methodist Church, we are constantly seeking to share insights from pastors of churches where attendance growth is sustained.
Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Tim McClendon said Chapin UMC s partnership between laity and clergy is exciting, and that spirit is contagious.
Chapin UMC has its best years ahead, and it shows, McClendon said.
How did they grow so dramatically?
Chapin UMC has been in existence since the 1890s to serve the quiet lake community. But in the 1980s and 1990s, the community began to boom. When he arrived at Chapin, Flowers said the census data surprised him.
We found out the zip code area had more than doubled in the previous 20 years “ 1980 to 2000 “ yet the church had only gained 46 people in those 20 years, Flowers said.
He shared that with the congregation, who agreed with Flowers that their slender growth simply was not good enough when your area has more than doubled.
So in a nutshell, Flowers said, A bunch of great, great people in that church recognized God has brought people to this community and this area, and as part of the Great Commandment, we ve got to love and reach out to them.
Chapin UMC embarked on a new journey: one of outreach and evangelism. It was a learning process, he said.
Chapin began to focus on an active prayer group and other ministries. Then, in 2003, they decided to amp up their participation in the Disciple Bible Study program, doing Disciple 12x12 “ aiming for 12 groups of 12 people going through the faith-strengthening transformation. They managed to get 11 groups, not 12, but the seeds were planted, Flowers said.
Critical to their rapid growth was their decision to become a dual-track church. Flowers said census data revealed the Chapin community was split down the middle in preferring contemporary versus traditional worship. Chapin UMC didn t want to leave anyone out, so they decided they needed to do both styles.
Today, Chapin UMC offers four different services each week, and its members are enthusiastically reaching out to build a bigger, stronger Kingdom.
To view Chapin on the site, or see what other UMCs are doing to generate growth, visit http://foundationforevangelism.org/ 2011/09/chapin-umc-chapin-south-caroli na/. To enter your church as a Vibrant Church, go to FoundationForEvangelism. org and click Vibrant Churches, or email [email protected]