May 16, 2013
The moment I pulled into the long driveway towards Ginghamsburg church, I could tell it is a church that is well-cared-for, a place where attention is paid to detail.
Here is information about the church and its history (from the church’s website); I’m including a large piece of content here because this church is one of the most vibrant mainline congregations in the United States:
Senior Pastor Michael Slaughter was appointed to Ginghamsburg in 1979 as our first full-time pastor. At the time, our church averaged approximately 90 people in attendance. Since Pastor Mike’s arrival, our mission is to bring seeking people into a life-celebration with Jesus. Grow as disciples in life group community and Serve out our call and giftedness. Today, approximately 5,000 people are on Ginghamsburg’s campuses each week. Pastor Mike has become a leading figure in the missional church movement and a popular author and speaker, and has been named one of the most influential Christians in America.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ginghamsburg gained national recognition as an innovator in small group ministry and has since continued to be well known for our life group ministry. Today we offer more than 100 life group opportunities, providing meaningful ways to live out our faith.
We were an early frontrunner of cyberministry (ministry via the Internet) and currently have one of the largest church internet ministries in the world. The church’s website and online ministry have received national attention from media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and The Dallas Morning News. A non-profit organization (see below) was also formed by members of the Ginghamsburg cyberministry team to help other churches develop their websites and online ministries.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ginghamsburg became known as a leader of the church “media reformation,” which was a movement to incorporate video, onscreen graphics, creative lighting, and other audio-visual elements into worship services to create a multisensory worship experience. The church’s worship design has received attention in The Wall Street Journal, Christianity Today and Fox News.
Since 2005, Ginghamsburg Church has invested over $5.6 million into sustainable relief projects in Darfur, Sudan through an initiative called The Sudan Project. The church first developed the initiative after Pastor Slaughter read about the war in Darfur in 2004. With the situation in Darfur being named by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world from the impacts of genocide, extreme poverty for millions and a refugee crisis, Slaughter urged the congregation to get involved. Ginghamsburg has a strategic partner in Darfur, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has helped the church use the funds to implement sustainable agriculture, safe water, sanitation, child development and child protection projects in Darfur. The projects are now serving more than 250,000 people in Darfur. Every year the church holds a “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” miracle offering during the Christmas season to raise funds for the project. As a result of the annual miracle offering Pastor Slaughter authored a book, Christmas is Not Your Birthday, calling on Christians to reject self-centered, consumerist approaches to the holiday season and remember the true meaning of Christmas. In April 2010, the church’s work in Darfur was featured on PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. The church’s work in Darfur has also been chronicled by The New York Times, Huffington Post, Beliefnet, Christianity Today and The Christian Century.
The church was also nationally-recognized for its relief efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, garnering a front page cover story in The Times-Picayune and articles in the Houston Chronicle and Washington Post. As of August 2012, the church has sent 70 teams to the city to assist in rebuilding efforts.
In 2010, Ginghamsburg inspired the first annual Change the World Weekend, a worldwide United Methodist event sponsored bu United Methodist Communications in which church members commit to a weekend of community service. On May 19, 2012 at Ginghamsburg’s Tipp City Campus, 350 church family members paid for, packed and shipped more than 100,000 meals to famine-stricken sisters and brothers in Africa. The first event corresponded with the release of Pastor Mike Slaughter’s book Change the World: Recovering the Mission and Message of Jesus.
The church’s Tipp City Campus sits on one hundred twenty-seven acres of land just outside of Tipp City and houses the Worship Area, Preschool and Childcare Center (ACSI accredited), classrooms, playgrounds, the church’s administrative offices and the Common Grounds Cafe & Bookstore. The church’s student center, The Avenue, is also located at the main Tipp City Campus and includes a stage area for concerts, classrooms, basketball courts, batting cage, fitness center and game loft. Hundreds of teens from the Dayton area visit The Avenue monthly for spiritual classes as well as teen outreach events. The church’s newly-created community-supported agriculture project, which provides church ministries with fresh produce, is located on the main Tipp City Campus as well.
The South Campus houses The Ark, which is a practicum center for training events and is also the original Ginghamsburg Church building. The Discipleship Center, also located on the South Campus, served as the primary church building after the congregation had outgrown The Ark in the mid-1980s until the move to the main campus in 1994. It is now the headquarters for Ginghamsburg’s New Path Outreach (see below), a 501c3 non-profit that operates a food pantry, car, furniture, clothing, medical equipment, coupon ministry, pet care ministries to those in need in surrounding communities, as well as the New Creation Counseling Center. The New Path car and furniture ministry barn, which houses the cars and furniture that the ministry distributes, is also located at the South Campus.
The Fort McKinley Campus became part of Ginghamsburg Church in July 2008. Prior to July 2008, Fort McKinley was a separate United Methodist congregation, located in an economically challenged urban Dayton neighborhood. The church had dwindled to approximately 40 people in attendance weekly before voting to merge with Ginghamsburg. The church now averages over 400 in weekly attendance and has an active community revitalization project known as Good Neighbors. It has also become the largest African-American United Methodist Church in the state of Ohio, with roughly half of the congregation being African-American.
In April 2012 Ginghamsburg started another urban campus, The Point, located in Trotwood, Ohio. The Point hosts a 5 p.m. Saturday worship celebration and currently partners with the YMCA on various community intiatives and with the Trotwood Department of Parks and Recreation to support its soccer program.
Ginghamsburg Church partners with four 501c3 non-profit organizations founded by Ginghamsburg members.
New Path Outreach operates seventeen separate community service ministries within the Dayton area, including two food pantries and car, furniture, clothing, medical equipment, pet care, rent/utility assistance and other ministries. New Path currently serves over 40,000 people in the Dayton area. New Path also operates three stores in the Dayton area. The first store, Anna’s closet, located in nearby Troy, sells gently-used clothes and home furnishings. The second store, The Gleaning Place, which is located in neighboring West Milton, sells home furnishings. The third is GIVE which loans durable medical equipment and provides disposable medical supplies at no cost to those with physical disabilities, enhancing independence and well-being and is located in Covington. All three stores are run entirely by unpaid servants and supported solely by donations with all revenue going to support ongoing New Path ministries.
New Creation Counseling Center provides counseling to community members, regardless of ability to pay.
The Clubhouse (Dreambuilders) After-School Ministry has seven Dayton-area locations where more than 400 trained teenagers each year tutor, mentor, and play with at-risk children, providing safe and educational alternatives to children being home alone after school or during summer break. The Clubhouse program was awarded a Point of Light award from President George H. W. Bush and the Presidential Voluntary Action Award from President Bill Clinton, among dozens of other national awards.
Another non-profit, Web-Empowered Church, helps churches and para-church organizations develop their websites, improve their online presence, and better use online resources by offering software help and consulting, as well as a number of classes, tutorials, and workshops. The non-profit was founded by Mark Stephenson, who was Director of CyberMinistry and Technology at Ginghamsburg from 1998 to 2010.
As all of the above indicates, this church has distinguished itself in many ways. I’d heard and read about it for decades and was glad to finally have the chance to visit.
As I walked into the main entrance, I saw color everywhere. One of the groups in the church was holding a plant sale fundraiser. I thought it was a brilliant idea to have a Mother’s Day plant sale – and the colorful plants were displayed in such a way that it created a cheerful, impressive entrance into the church.
I spent about 30 minutes walking around the facility. There were free coffee stations, a place to buy pastry (but donut holes are free to children!) A cafe and bookstore sells fancier coffees as well as greeting cards, books, and other materials. Frames hold posters describing upcoming activities. Art work shows pictures of the church’s mission and other projects. Signage is clear and attractive.
Worship services are Saturdays at 5 and 7 PM, Sundays at 8:30, 10 and 11:30. I drove from Avon Lake that morning and arrived at the church about 11. By 11:15, people began to assemble outside the doors for worship. The 10 AM service concluded about 11:20 and as worshipers were leaving that service, the 11:30 worshipers began entering the worship space.
The atmosphere was very casual. Rock-style music was playing, softly, as people entered. Some people came in with coffee cups. The children’s choir rehearsed until 11:25 or so. By 11:30 the worship space was probably 80-90% full, and for the next 10-15 minutes, ushers seated people. They were wearing headphones, so I assume that someone was telling them where there were seats available. Almost every seat was full.
Elements of the worship service included:
Children’s choir introit – it sounded to me like they were singing along to a CD; they were all participating in the hand motions – I couldn’t count the number of children.
Funny video clip called “Ten Things Every Mom Needs to Know”
Two songs led by worship band – first one upbeat, the second one slower
Baptisms: one of the pastors explained that 46 children were being baptized that weekend at Ginghamsburg. Probably 15 or 20 at the service I attended. Each child’s full name and picture appeared on the large video screen.
The senior minister, Mike Slaughter, appeared briefly. He gave an announcement about the all-church mission project taking place the following Saturday. He talked about the 46 children being baptized, saying, “I’ve told you before that only 4% of people age 18-35 attend church in the U.S. Here at Ginghamsburg, it’s our fastest-growing group; we’re bucking the trend.”
He then introduced the guest preacher. Slaughter said that he and Adam Hamilton (pastor of another huge United Methodist church in the Kansas City area) were concerned about the scarcity of young United Methodist clergy, so they are working with some of what he calls “the best and the brightest”. Slaughter is a mentor to a woman named Rachel Billups who is a UMC pastor in the Cincinnati area. She was invited to preach at Ginghamsburg on Mother’s Day.
Slaughter then introduced the offering: during the offering numerous ushers passed baskets then attendance pads. A woman from the worship band sang a solo; pictures of mothers showed on the screen.
A video clip, obviously produced locally, introduced the scripture and sermon. The church is in the midst of a series on biblical heroes. This clip was extremely well-done, looked as if it could be on Saturday Night Live. It was a humorous introduction to the Old Testament character of Sarah, the oldest woman to ever give birth.
As that clip ended, Rachel Billups walked onto the chancel/stage, wearing a (maternity – she’s 7 months pregnant) Wonder Woman t-shirt and jeans. I found her sermon compelling – she talked about the importance of focusing on ourselves as we are on the inside, living in a culture where people tell us to focus on the outside – what we look like, the clothes we were, etc. She talked about eating disorders among women and men, God’s acceptance, the church’s acceptance. She ended the sermon (and the service) with a brief prayer at about 12:40.
Of my five church visits thus far, this church has the largest group of people under 60 by far…in terms of actual numbers and percentage-wise.
I was struck by the lack of any traditional liturgical forms: there was no “Gloria Patri,” no “Doxology”, no congregational liturgies or responses, not even the Lord’s Prayer, at least not the service/week I attended.
In much of the reading I’ve been doing, many writers claim that worshipers today want worship to be experiential and participatory. Ginghamsburg was neither, with the exception of two songs. It wouldn’t be easy to do worship much differently in that space and with that size group. My conclusion is this — no church can be all things to all people. If worship at Ginghamsburg has more of an audience feel, the church offers other ways for small group participation and hands-on mission.
Whatever the style of worship, quality is important. It’s obvious that the worship at Ginghamsburg was carefully-planned with great attention to detail.
I am beginning to get excited about returning to Avon Lake to share more of what I’ve learned with staff, Worship Planning Committee, and others. I’ve come away with ideas at each place I’ve visited. I’ve also developed a renewed appreciation for the strengths of Avon Lake UCC.
My thoughts are often with the people of 32801 Electric Blvd. I want you to know how grateful I am for this time of sabbath rest. This Sunday is Pentecost, the birthday of the church…I celebrate with each of you what a gift it is to be a part of one another’s lives and to serve the risen Christ together.
Next week is another family event: my daughter Anne will be receiving her Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Here are photos from Ginghamsburg: