By Kara Witherow, Editor
There are no pews, no hymnals, no stained glass windows and no steeple.
But what The Waterfront Church lacks in traditional church trappings they make up for with joy, hope, enthusiasm, smiling faces and a desire to reach people for Christ.
The Waterfront Church, a new United Methodist church plant and congregation in Richmond Hill, held its first preview service on Sunday, November 13. With more than 140 people in attendance, the service surpassed all expectations.
“I think going into it our expectations were that we were hoping to have at least a small turnout that we could build on, but the turnout yesterday definitely exceeded our expectations,” said Rev. Adam Ricker, pastor of The Waterfront Church. “We’re going to build on that momentum and continue to reach out and invite more people. While it was a great turnout, it’s certainly not where we want to stay. We want to continue to build on the success of the first preview service and grow from that.”
Rev. Ricker, his wife Rebecca and their three young children, Noah, Myah and Leah, moved to the Savannah suburb in June. Knowing few people in town made the task of starting a new church challenging, but it has been a complete family effort – including the connectional family, Rev. Ricker said.
Soon after they settled into their new home, Rebecca began developing relationships with women in the community and started a weekly women’s Bible study. More than a dozen ladies now meet every Monday night to learn more about being Godly parents.
During the Sunday-morning service, son Noah, 4, helped a young friend feel more comfortable joining the children’s ministry.
And several nearby United Methodist pastors and congregations have offered their support and encouragement. Rev. Glenn Martin and Richmond Hill United Methodist Church and Rev. Mike Ricker and Savannah’s Isle of Hope UMC have welcomed Rev. Ricker to the pulpit to preach and serve. Several members of each church volunteered to help with the preview services, along with members of Gateway UMC in Pooler.
“It’s been a really good experience for all of us,” said Rev. Ricker, who previously served as the Associate Director of Life Span Ministries for Connectional Ministries. “While this is a new church starting, it’s very much with the help of other churches that we’re even able to accomplish what we’re doing. They’re very cooperative and supportive and are helping us do what God has called us to do. They see the vision for this church and the need to reach even more people for Christ.”
Located just south of Savannah, the population of the Richmond Hill area has grown by 184 percent since 1990. Richmond Hill’s more than 10,000 residents are drawn to the area’s small-town charm and big-city offerings. The growing population made it a natural fit for a new church plant.
“Church planting should follow where the people are,” said Dr. Tim Bagwell, Executive Director of Congregational Development for the South Georgia Conference. “Richmond Hill is a case in point. The bishops of the United Methodist Church have recognized church planting as the number one priority for our denomination. In the early 1900s, our denomination was planting one new church per day. Somewhere along the way, we lost that passion. When we birth new congregations, we are reclaiming our Methodist heritage.”
One of the initial challenges that Rev. Ricker and The Waterfront Church faced was where to meet. Richmond Hill doesn’t have a movie theater, the school system doesn’t permit outside organizations to meet in their facilities, and retail or warehouse space was too expensive or not in the right location.
After weeks of searching, Rev. Ricker found Jump N’ Jacks Family Fun Center, which had just opened in May. The owner, Wayne Jackson, was amenable to the idea of hosting a church congregation, and a partnership was born.
“He’s (Wayne Jackson) very much a servant here in this community,” Rev. Ricker said. “We found a businessman who has a heart for the community and who is willing to serve. His vision for his business and our vision for the church synced up incredibly well.”
So on the Saturday evening before the first preview service, Rev. Ricker, Rebecca and their team of volunteers met at Jump N’ Jacks at 10:30 p.m. to deflate and store its huge inflatable games, move the laser tag equipment, vacuum, and set up the stage, lights, sound system and chairs.
After leaving at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, they were back at work at 6 a.m. to finish setting up for the service, which started at 10 a.m. Once the service ended, they had to quickly remove the church’s items and re-set Jump N’ Jacks so it could be ready to open at 1 p.m.
Shane Baldwin was one of the dozen or so launch team members who helped make the service happen.
Baldwin, his wife Kami and their 3-year-old daughter Makay were among the first families the Rickers met after moving to Richmond Hill.
Having moved to Richmond Hill from St. Simons Island about a year and a half ago, the Baldwins had visited several area churches but not found one that “fit.” After meeting the Rickers and learning what they were doing, they felt called to help.
“We had been praying and searching for a church home and this was the Lord’s answer,” said Baldwin, who serves on The Waterfront Church’s set-up and technology teams. “It’s been really special for us. We had been searching for something that we felt a part of and felt connected to, and this has been a really great thing for our marriage, our family and our walk with the Lord.”
Being a place where people feel connected, comfortable and able to serve is important, Rev. Ricker says.
“Our desire has always been for this to be a place where anybody can come from any kind of background, tradition or experience and we can explore seeking God together,” he said. “We’re journeying together in our faith, and we want it to be as inviting and as positive an experience as possible, especially for those who are not Christians or who have had an experience in the past that has turned them off to the Church. We want to remove all of those barriers that keep people away from the Church because we believe the Church is God’s instrument in the world to show His love and build His kingdom.”
The Waterfront Church’s next preview services will be held at 10 a.m. on Sunday, December 18 and Sunday, January 8 at Jump N’ Jacks Family Fun Center in Richmond Hill. The church’s launch service will be held on Sunday, February 12. For more information, visit www.thewaterfrontchurch.com, call 912-659-8290, email email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 1978; Richmond Hill, GA 31324.
The Waterfront Church needs a few items as they launch their church and reach out to the Richmond Hill community. Contact Rev. Adam Ricker at 912-659-8290, firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1978; Richmond Hill, GA 31324 if you are able to help purchase or donate.
2 wooden porch rocking chairs
2 industrial size coffee makers
1 40" flat-screen television
1 digital camcorder