South Georgia churches seeing fruit from SBC21 participation - Speedwell UMC


This is the third in a series of stories about South Georgia’s Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative. Participating churches include St. Andrews UMC and Horse Creek UMC in Sylvania; Asbury UMC in Savannah; Haven Sheffield UMC, Nesby Chapel UMC and New Hope UMC (Nahunta Circuit); Speedwell UMC in Savannah; and Canaan Community UMC in Savannah.

Like their namesake, the people of Savannah’s Speedwell United Methodist Church are tenacious and determined in their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Named after the ship that in 1620 twice attempted to sail from England to America with the Mayflower, Speedwell UMC has had ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. But the congregation remains anchored in Christ.

“Over the years, Speedwell has been thriving and sinking and struggling, but the congregation continues to persist, continues to press on,” said Rev. J. Michael Culbreth, the church’s senior pastor. “Speedwell is a vibrant church. It has been and continues to be a vibrant congregation. We are just trying to work on strengthening ourselves so we can be even stronger in the future.”

Rev. Culbreth and the congregation are participating in The United Methodist Church’s Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century (SBC21) initiative to help with their revitalization efforts and to meet their congregational goals.

The church is strong and is committed to serving Savannah’s Sandfly community, but can grow and be even more fruitful, Rev. Culbreth said.

Through their participation in SBC21, they hope to become a more welcoming congregation and to more fully develop their age-level ministries and expand Bible study participation. Rev. Culbreth has challenged each ministry to offer congregants at least one opportunity for growth in each of the following areas: missions and outreach, fellowship, and discipleship.

They have also recently hired their first youth minister, are reaching out and ministering to Savannah State University students, and are developing an after-school enrichment ministry focusing on math and reading.

Rev. Culbreth is deeply committed to helping each church member grow deeper in their relationship with Christ and strongly encourages involvement in small groups and Bible studies.

“We’re strong in worship but not as strong in Christian education,” he said. “People seem reluctant to get involved in Sunday school or a Bible study. They will come to worship and think that’s all they need, but I remind them that … you can’t grow just by showing up on Sunday morning. You can’t grow in discipleship if you aren’t studying.”

He teaches two Bible studies, one on Tuesday nights and one on Wednesday evenings. A third group meets regularly on Thursdays.

Dr. Jon McCoy, a 22-year ministry veteran and pastor of Hinsdale United Methodist Church in Hinsdale, Ill., serves as Speedwell UMC’s SBC21 coach. After visiting and worshipping with the congregation earlier this year and seeing that they have almost reached capacity in their worship space, he suggested they start a second service.

Church leaders are studying and analyzing the options and prayerfully seeking how they can best meet the needs of the community when and if they begin another worship service.

The church, which celebrates its 130th anniversary in September, wants to build on its strong legacy to move forward into the next era.

“We want to go from good to great, and participating in SBC21 is one way to do that,” Rev. Culbreth said. “We know we can be better. Momentum is moving, and we want to continue to move forward.”