By Brenda Sanford Diehl
Reflecting on the challenges of a growing congregation, Mount Zion-Linville (Va.) Church of the Brethren pastor Jonathan Prater declared recently, “I never would have dreamed 13 years ago when I was hired to be a half-time interim pastor that we would have two building expansions and so many people coming it created parking issues.”
Attendance at Mount Zion-Linville has nearly tripled, and Prater attributes the growth to “keeping it simple and just talking about Jesus. . . . We’ve learned that if you’re aiming to grow the church, you’re aiming at the wrong thing. If you aim to find Jesus, the growth will come. Attendance is not our end game.
“We’ve grown to the point that we’re trying to hold it all together in a time when there are so many divisions,” he continued. “We’ve been able to create a sense of belonging where you can come and just worship Jesus without polarizing things.”
Growth took root when the church started a children’s ministry that met two times a month, led by Amy Hull. More than 30 children participate on any given Thursday night. The program facilitated relationships, and from those relationships other ministries were born.
The fathers of the children began a men’s group that has grown from those three or four members initially to six times that number. At a men’s retreat in March, 18 men attended.
Young families are embracing the idea of community. “We’re watching the parents move towards parenting together,” Prater observed. “We’ve been able to return to the time where the church is becoming the center of social events again.” In one example, the local AAU basketball team has eight members who are affiliated with Mount Zion-Linville, including all five starters.
Growth affects not only the building and parking lot but also how worship is planned. “We’re integrating our worship to accommodate a multi-generational church,” Prater said. “A youth praise team has been formed and will be performing one Sunday each month. We are also allowing third- through eighth-grade children to be the scripture readers.”
Diversity is more than meets the eye, as Prater notes. “We’re trying to cross the generational lines and are nurturing diversity,” he said. “It’s not about church growth, but about growing the care of the congregation.”
This article originally appeared in Messenger. Subscribe to Messenger here.