Harvest Church, a United Methodist congregation in Byron and one of the fastest-growing Protestant churches in the United States, has recently added a second campus and fifth weekend worship service.
Located at the Houston Lakes Stadium Cinemas in Kathleen, about four miles away from Harvest Church’s main campus, the new Kathleen location is a throwback to Harvest’s early days – before moving to their current location on Highway 41 in Byron, Harvest Church met for five years in the Galleria movie theater at the Warner Robins mall.
The congregation and staff are excited about being back in a movie theater, says pastor Rev. Jim Cowart, and hosting a worship service in a theater is familiar ground.
The church, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary in February, was recently told by a consultant that, if it continues to grow at its current pace, it would outgrow its current facilities and space in two years.
Church leadership had thought about adding a satellite campus for a couple of years, but it wasn’t a pressing issue until the consultant pointed out their imminent need for space.
“When he said that, our mouths kind of fell open,” said Rev. Cowart. “We’ve only been in this building for three years now … so we’re like, man, growth is good, but losing room is not.”
Presented with the options, church leaders decided that launching a satellite campus was the most palatable and the one that allowed them to continue to fulfill the Great Commission.
“We’ve got this commission from Jesus to grow,” Rev. Cowart said. “We’ve got to keep reaching people in Houston County and middle Georgia, so we don’t want to negotiate that. That really spurred us on.”
After a lot of research, they ended up in Kathleen, a high-growth area that is close – but not too close – to their Byron campus.
Launched on Sunday, September 12, Harvest Church had two main objectives with their Kathleen campus: to free space in their popular (and crowded) 10:30 Sunday morning service and to reach new people for Christ.
Now, almost three months after their initial service, the Kathleen campus is averaging between 160-220 attendees per week. More importantly, some attendees have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Leading people into a relationship with Christ is Harvest Church’s vision and purpose, says Rev. Cowart.
“Harvest was started with the person in mind who doesn’t go to church and didn’t grow up in church,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t really know that God is relevant and has a purpose for their lives. That target has helped us model a lot of our strategies. It’s why I wear blue jeans when I preach; it’s why we have a band instead of a choir. It’s why we do everything we do – to help people who are disconnected from God get connected. We try to be very intentional.”
Dr. Tim Bagwell, Executive Director of Congregational Development for the South Georgia Conference, points to that intentionality as one of the reasons for Harvest Church’s growth.
“Harvest has been intentional about its sense of call,” he said. “They are sharing the love of Christ in non-traditional ways. Worship is alive, vibrant, and challenging. People long to be a part of something where they sense the spirit of God moving.”
At the Kathleen campus, worshippers experience that “alive, vibrant” worship and the same casual, welcoming atmosphere that is a hallmark of Harvest Church’s Highway 41 campus. The Kathleen location’s worship service features a live band and children’s programming; only the message is taped.
Since he can’t physically be in two locations at once, Rev. Cowart films the message he preaches on Saturday evening. It’s played at the Kathleen campus on Sunday morning while he teaches at the Highway 41 campus’ 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon services.
A main priority when launching the satellite location was maintaining quality, Rev. Cowart said, and key leaders committed to serving at the new campus.
Five weekend worship services in two locations is a monumental undertaking for any church, and Rev. Cowart says that it’s the church’s 1,100 faithful volunteers that make things happen each week.
“It takes a lot of people to make this ship sail,” he said.
Rev. Cowart, who grew up in small country churches, encourages people to not get caught up in the “traditional” versus “contemporary” debate.
“Whatever style it is, do that style the best you can and reach out to whoever lives around you,” he said. “What matters is whether or not we’re passionate about God and passionate about people. If we have a passion for Christ and a passion for people who don’t know Christ, I think that’s going to compel us to reach out.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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