By Kara Witherow, Editor
A couple of weeks ago, Rev. Ken Sharpe stopped in Winn-Dixie to buy cheese straws. As he searched the aisles, a woman helped him look for the elusive snack. They struck up a conversation and the two ended up chatting for an hour. He never found the cheese straws, but he did invite his helpful new friend to church. She showed up the next Sunday, homemade cheese straws in hand.
This isn’t an unusual story for Rev. Sharpe, pastor of Brunswick’s Emanuel United Methodist Church. A proponent of friendship evangelism, Rev. Sharpe has a habit of starting conversations and making friends wherever he goes.
“I’m what I call ‘old school.’ I get out and visit all the time,” he said. “I talk to anybody and everybody, even if I’m at the grocery store. I just go up to people and start conversations. At restaurants, at grocery stores, wherever I am, anywhere in the community.”
And the Emanuel UMC congregation has started to follow his lead. When Rev. Sharpe moved to the church in June 2020, worship services were averaging about 30 people. A few weeks ago, 60 people gathered for Sunday’s worship service.
Discipleship Ministries recently recognized the congregation for their discipleship efforts by awarding them with the 2021 One Matters Award. It recognizes churches with a renewed focus on discipleship through professions of faith, baptisms, and growth.
“Rev Ken Sharpe leads by example in that evangelism and inviting others to Emanuel is a part of his everyday interactions,” said Director of Connectional Ministries Allison Lindsey, who submitted the One Matters Award nomination. “It has been contagious within his congregation, and this church is accomplishing amazing things. God is blessing their efforts and multiplying their impact. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rev Sharpe and was truly inspired by his passion.”
Nine adults have joined the church in the past year; new visitors show up nearly every Sunday morning; the congregation has paid off debt; increased its savings; and paid cash for a new zero-turn riding lawn mower, a new piano, and a couple of remodeling projects.
“This church really has a heart to want to reach out to people and minister to people,” Rev. Sharpe said. “I like people, they like people, and they’re open to anyone who wants to visit … it’s just a great church.”
Situated not far from bustling Interstate 95 and scores of subdivisions, Rev. Sharpe said the congregation is open to doing whatever is needed to reach more people for Christ.
A Sunday afternoon Spanish ministry has been added and plans for an English as a Second Language (ESL) class are being considered. Eddie Tanon, who moved to the area last October from Kansas City, Mo., leads the Spanish ministry.
“This church is moving, it’s going forward,” said Tanon, who is bilingual.
The focus on discipleship comes from the church’s leadership and has spread like wildfire among the congregation, he said.
“The whole entire church is strengthened by following the Spirit where it leads.”
Tanon is one of four lay members who helps Rev. Sharpe lead and teach the congregation. Lay Leader Randy Watson teaches, preaches, visits congregants, and is studying to become a pastor. Chip Woodruff, a retired Southern Baptist pastor, preaches and teaches Sunday school. Eric Pittman teaches Sunday school and preaches the Sunday night service.
“God is sending a lot of people here to help build this little church up,” Rev. Sharpe said.
Rev. Sharpe says what Emanual UMC is doing isn’t difficult. It’s simply the way he’s lived for some 40 years.
“I’ve tried all kinds of programs and visitations nights, but it just seems like making it a natural thing is best. We’re not out knocking on doors. We’re just making it a lifestyle of getting to know people and investing our lives in theirs,” he said.