Changing the world, one community at a time


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Poulan United Methodist Church wants to be a church that does something.

They’ll do just that May 19-20, joining thousands of other United Methodist congregations around the world for “Change the World” weekend.

“Too often we get stuck inside the box of a sanctuary and are not really thinking about what’s outside and what we can be doing for our community,” said Poulan UMC pastor Rev. Nate Lehman. “I really base it on loving our neighbors. We want to be a church that loves our neighbors and is doing something.”

“Change the World,” a weekend of church-led service organized through The United Methodist Church’s “Rethink Church” initiative, is a movement to show God’s love in real and tangible ways, both locally and globally, by utilizing outreach events to make a positive difference in the world beyond the church doors.

“Vital congregations are engaged in mission, and Change the World illustrates the power of our interconnectedness,” said Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, in a press release. “Last year, more than 2,000 events took place in 15 countries. Change the World presents an opportunity to transform lives in connection with others.”

On Saturday, May 19, youth from Poulan UMC will make dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and distribute them to local children. The church’s United Methodist Women will create goodie baskets and give them to the town’s shut-in residents, and the United Methodist Men plan to help Poulan residents with small home-improvement projects.

Every generation is getting involved, Rev. Lehman said. The church’s children are collecting DVDs to take to the children’s wing at the local hospital.

Poulan UMC’s involvement with the “Change the World” weekend has a two-fold purpose.

“I feel like one of the best ways to grow the church is to outreach to the community,” Rev. Lehman said. “I really base it on the ‘love your neighbor’ mandate that Jesus gave us. I think that if we really want to grow as a church, the first thing that we need to do is show love to our neighbor. This weekend presents an ideal time to do that and to really focus on what we can do as a church to reach out to others.”

Trinity United Methodist Church in Warner Robins will kick off two weeks of mission and ministry on May 5. For the second year in a row, the church will launch their “Change the World” efforts with a 5K race and a “Biking for Bibles” bike-a-thon. More than 250 runners and walkers participated in last year’s 5K race, and event coordinators hope for an even better turnout this year. Proceeds from the race will be donated to Imagine No Malaria, and donations to the bike-a-thon will provide Bibles to children in Jamaica.

“This initiative talks about doing more, ‘being’ the church and thinking worldwide about what we can do,” said Angela Gilbert, Trinity UMC’s children’s and media technology director. “We want to do more things outside the church and in the community, not always just thinking about ministry inside the building.”

During the two weeks, the church will also host a teachers’ appreciation luncheon, plant vegetables in their community garden and host a community-wide block party. For 10 days the church’s youth will give up all beverages except water in an effort to raise funds for a water well.

“Our participation (in last year’s “Change the World” event) helped emphasize and increase awareness,” Gilbert said. “It’s great to have a tangible goal and to be a part of a disease that we really can eliminate. It also connects us with so many people, not just here, but around the world. We want to help others, and we also want to raise awareness of what’s going on around the world.”

Plans are taking shape for Payne’s Chapel United Methodist Church’s “Change the World” day. Church members will help local Millen residents with minor home repairs, and as they discover other needs, they will offer at least “a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name,” said pastor Rev. George Durham.

“Sometimes small churches feel left out in our ‘bigger is always better’ day of mega-churches,” Rev. Durham said. “Our efforts are small in comparison, but we try to change one life at a time.”

This fall, Central United Methodist Church in Fitzgerald will host its own “Change the World” day. Last spring, nearly 200 members served in 19 different ministries and service projects, ranging from visiting local nursing homes and assisted living homes to cleaning city parks and writing cards to local firemen, policemen, and Sheriff’s deputies.

“Every single ministry project focused on others outside our church doors. That was the purpose of this event – to focus on others and not ourselves,” said Susan Hughes, Central UMC’s youth and adult ministries coordinator. “This is what church is supposed to be, not sitting in a building taking care of ourselves, but reaching out to take care of others.”

Interested in hosting a Change the World event?
Change the World, a global movement of United Methodists to build community locally and fight malaria globally, will take place Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20. Local churches are asked to plan for the denominational event, as The UMC seeks to have 4,000 events take place worldwide. For more information on the 2012 Change the World weekend, visit