It was the second week of December and the beginning of one of the busiest seasons of a pastor’s year. Pastor Jamie McDowell of Hopewell United Methodist Church in Westminster had just walked into a local restaurant, Eva’s, for breakfast.
As he sat down at the table, a friend from a different denomination joined him. A conversation began that included small talk about shared business interests. Eventually the conversation turned to church.
When Jamie asked how church was going, the response he received was, “I have not seen the growth I hoped for.”
Jamie then questioned, “How do you measure the growth of a church? Is it by the butts in the pews or the lives touched?”
The other gentleman conceded the point and affirmed his church touched many lives through outreach.
Jamie returned to his day job and put the conversation into the back of his mind. But that conversation would pop to the forefront many times over the next few weeks. Later that same week, a couple came into Jamie’s day job. While talking with them, Jamie shared one of the outreach areas Hopewell assists with: the Utica community and Patsy Davis. They immediately wrote out a check as a Christmas donation to help Hopewell with that mission.
That Sunday Jamie and several members of Hopewell were blessed to go purchase many items for the Utica community with these funds. They were able to purchase a new microwave for Patsy and enough canned goods to overload the register at the big-box store.
The following week, a member came in with another check. This one was twice the first check. A local business-owner had heard Hopewell was involved in outreach and wanted to help. He gave this check for the purpose of being used wherever it was needed. In the meantime, several others made anonymous donations to help locally this season.
All of this allowed Hopewell to help with groceries for a family, a power bill for another, Christmas gifts for another and food for another. This also allowed for several donations to other facilities to help families in need.
As the whirlwind of giving was settling down, the weather was just getting started. A record-breaking low temperature was setting in. It would not be fit for man nor beast outside. After a flurry of phone calls and meetings, it was discovered that not only would the homeless shelter be open to provide for those people who needed warmth, but another small church in the county would also help, knowing they may not get any new members, but they would be fulfilling the call to love thy neighbor.
Knowing that many people now had options, Hopewell turned its attention to animals. Almost 30 bags of pine shavings were picked up from Tractor Supply. As the upcoming winter weather approached, these were passed out to various homes, homeless encampments and businesses throughout the county. This offered the opportunity to speak to many about the role animals play in God’s creation.
Overall it was a blessed Christmas with a simple answer about how to judge the impact of the church: Not by butts in the seat, but by lives impacted in every way.