Shoreline Church launches in Valdosta
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Popcorn and … Jesus?
People usually associate popcorn with movies and Coca-Cola, not the Holy Spirt. But with the familiar smell of popcorn in the air, 144 people piled into the Valdosta Cinemas on Sunday, Feb. 5 not to watch a movie, but to worship.
They were there for The Shoreline Church’s launch service, which was the fifth service the new congregation had hosted. After four preview services church leaders decided they were ready to start meeting weekly.
South Georgia’s newest United Methodist faith community, The Shoreline Church wants to be a place for those who have never been to church or who have fallen away from organized religion.
“We are here for unchurched and de-churched people,” said Dr. Joe Buck, the church’s founding pastor. “We are trying to find people who have never been to church and people who have disengaged from church, and we are trying to bring them back in.”
They’re trying to find them through some traditional means: billboards, door-to-door introductions, and word of mouth advertising, but also through some not-so-traditional means like targeted Facebook advertising.
According to MissionInsite, 40 percent of Lowndes County’s 110,000 residents are unchurched. That’s nearly 44,000 people who don’t have a connection to a faith community.
“That’s a lot of people who don’t go to church at all. There’s plenty out there in the field who need someone to care for them,” Dr. Buck said.
When Rachel and Grant Harvey moved to Valdosta last June, they began looking for a new church home. They knew they wanted to be part of a vibrant congregation that had strong, relevant teaching and an active children’s ministry.
Introduced to Dr. Buck by their former pastor, they attended The Shoreline Church’s preview services but also visited several other area churches on the weeks Shoreline Church wasn’t meeting.
The Harveys connected with the Buck family – Joe, his wife Lindsey, and their two children, Hannah and Joseph – and felt God calling them to step out of their comfort zone to help start the new congregation.
“We prayed about it separately and together and felt like God was calling us to get involved and do something bigger than just show up on Sunday mornings,” said Rachel Harvey, of being a part of the church’s launch team. She coordinates Shoreline Church’s children’s ministry and Grant leads the security team. Their children, Weston, 7, and William, 5, see their commitment, she said, and talk about the church to their friends at school.
Her children want to go back to “church at the movie theater,” Harvey said, and their excitement helps the whole family feel comfortable in the new environment. And even though they are in a new place, the teaching and worship style are familiar.
“The message is always relevant and relates to where we are at in our lives, and we can take that and move into our week,” she said.
In addition to a core group of volunteers like the Harveys, members of two Valdosta United Methodist Churches joined to form a SWAT team – Servants Willing and Temporary –to help launch The Shoreline Church. After Dr. Buck visited and spoke at Valdosta First United Methodist Church and Park Avenue United Methodist Church, several members of each congregation volunteered.
“I am very excited about what God is doing through Joe, Rachel, Grant, and the rest of the launch team,” said Rev. Jay Hanson, Director of Congregational Development for the South Georgia Conference. “But what I’m really excited about is how gracious, open, and supportive Bob Moon and First Methodist and Hale Bishop and Park Avenue have been.”
The congregations’ generosity will be a blessing for the churches and the whole community, Rev. Hanson said, and their welcoming spirit exemplifies what it means to be Alive Together in Christ.
“A rising tide lifts all ships,” he said. “It’s our unity – when our churches come together – that lets people know it’s of God. … That kind of spirit is infectious, and people are drawn to that, they want to be around people who are blessing people.”