By Brett Hetherington*
“We want to be involved in reaching people.”
These words come from the Rev. Tim Monteith, who serves at Johnson First United Methodist Church (Canal District). This fall the church opened its campus for a block party to engage with the community. “We wanted it to be a connecting spot for people in the community as we came out of COVID,” Monteith said. “But then we wound up back in COVID, but we decided to push forward anyway. Our church has a large enough campus that we could provide safe distance in an outside environment.”
Monteith shared that this event grew out of intentional training that is happening within the Canal District aimed at helping churches get outside the walls of their buildings. “We wanted to offer this as a gift to the people, so we were intentional about not gathering contact information except for one giveaway we hosted,” he said. “This wasn’t about getting people to come to our church, it was about giving something to the community.”
The volunteers from the church echoed this sentiment, with one member commenting, “This was a fun way to have the community in our lot and let them know we are not just an old stiff church, but we like to have fun!”
As a first-time event, there was a sense of excitement as the nearly 250 people filtered in and out during the three-hour block party. A food truck provided free hot dogs and water and offered additional goods for purchase. An area face-painter set up a booth and was creating art on visitors’ faces, and several other area businesses had a presence allowing them to connect with people and give away small gifts.
Church members hosted games, put on skits, and created obstacle courses. The highlight of the day was a bike giveaway – the only event for which contact information was collected – that gifted a bicycle to several children who came out to the block party.
“This was a way to let the community know we were back open, ready to serve them again,” shared a member who served at the block party.
Monteith said the block party has energized the congregation. “It has created a lifestyle of reaching out. People are asking ‘How are we going to be the hands and feet of Jesus?’” He went on to share that this block party has served as a catalyst for many in the church, helping to create a focus on relationships, and encouraging the people to find ways to be present that are meaningful in others’ lives.
The block party also served as a catalyst for many in the community. While one church member commented that there were a lot of new faces that they had never seen before, Monteith added a little more detail. “A lot of people know of Johnson Church but didn’t know where we were. And with this block party a lot of people were like ‘Oh! So, this is Johnson Church!’”
The goal of Johnson UMC church leaders was to host an event that told the community the church is still there. An event that was fun, didn’t pressure attendees to sign-up for church membership, and was offered freely as a gift to a community struggling in the midst of a tough time. Johnson UMC was able to not only create an event that met each of those goals, but as one member shared, the church was able to let the community know “the church is here for the community, not just for ourselves.”
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.