Appointed to a Zip Code with a Church in It

I can't remember the year that Bishop Goodpaster challenged all of us on Sunday of Annual Conference to think of our appointment to a "zip code, that just happens to have a church in it." But, I still think of that sermon on a regular basis.

As I met with him regularly while on the conference staff, he reiterated that point regularly with clergy and laity across the conference.

It was a different way to think about the church and its mission.  It was an idea that has resonated with me for a long time.

I believe that the local church is the primary place where disciples are made and nurtured.  But, I also believe that the local church exists to make a difference in its community, and is to always be focused outward on the surrounding community as its mission field.

Here are some things I have discovered about the mission field where I have been sent:
  • Terrell is a town of about 1000 people, with one stop light, a post office, a few businesses, and it has a strong rural feel.  There are a good mix of homes, including a number of families living on the shores of Lake Norman (some full-time, some part-time).
  • If you look at the population within a five mile radius of the church, the population is 30,000 + and has has grown significantly since 2000, and will continue to grow in the next decade.  Lots of new homes are projected within a couple of miles of the church in the next few years.
  • Based on demographic data, the area will grow in the future with persons ages 25-34, and those over 65.  Yes, it is a graying community like many places in rural North Carolina; and, it has the potential to grow with younger adults and young families. 
  • There are lots of families in the area that make more than the state average in salaries, and a smaller than average number of families are found in the lower income levels.
  • The education levels of the residents are higher than most of of North Carolina.  Lots of folks with bachelor degrees and advanced degrees.
  • Based on the charitable giving stats, they are a generous community as a whole and giving to religious organizations is higher than many places in North Carolina.
  • There are lots of churches in the area, and a good number of United Methodist churches, but based on observations and demographics, there are still plenty of folks who are unchurched, or under-churched in the community.  And, the number of persons who identify as having no religious affiliation has grown in the past 5 years.
Some quick takeaways:
  • Plenty of new people have moved into the community and more are on the way, and they need to be welcomed and nurtured in the faith.
  • There are plenty of needs not met in the area--physical and spiritual.
  • All of the churches in the area have plenty to keep us busy.  There is no need to be competitive, and every reason to be cooperative.
  • There is plenty of opportunity for ministry in many dimensions (as I said in a recent sermon, we will never run out of good work to do).   

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