Two South Georgia UM churches top growing church list


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Two South Georgia United Methodist congregations top a well-respected list of growing churches.

Harvest Church, a United Methodist congregation in Byron, and The Chapel, a United Methodist congregation in Brunswick, have been ranked number one and number two, respectively, on a list of top 10 United Methodist churches with the highest annual growth over a 10-year period. The Chapel was also recently ranked number 12 on a list of top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist churches.

What does this mean for them, the Conference, and for local churches in South Georgia?

Amid church decline, talk of “nones,” and rising secularism it means that there is hope and growth happening.

“I think that the growth of The Chapel and Harvest reminds us that around the South Georgia Conference we have lots of churches that are paying attention to what makes for growth spiritually as well as numerically,” said Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, resident bishop of the South Georgia Conference. “Our conference is alive with people who are sharing ideas, who are being creative, and who are partnering with each other and other churches to explore best practices in church growth.”

The list is author Len Wilson’s annual “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches,” which is published each January.

The Chapel has grown 55 percent in the past five years. What began in 2004 with seven people in Rev. Jay Hanson’s basement has grown into a multi-campus congregation that now averages more than 1,100 each week in worship.

“It’s amazing, it’s astonishing,” said Rev. Hanson, who was thrilled to learn that two South Georgia UM congregations made the list of churches with highest annual growth over 10 years. “It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s sustained growth.”

He was hesitant to generalize, however, about what a growing church looks like, but he does find it interesting that both The Chapel and Harvest are exclusively contemporary in worship style.

“They have also both found a balance of gracious acceptance and love of all while maintaining a strong biblical teaching,” said Rev. Hanson, who also serves as the South Georgia Conference’s director of Congregational Development.

Harvest Church, a United Methodist congregation in Byron, has grown 21 percent in the past five years. Its four services average nearly 2,600 in worship each week.

“The Chapel and Harvest are proving that there is the possibility of continued growth,” said Dr. Wayne Moseley, superintendent of the Coastal District. “It’s a message for all of our churches that we have to find ways to communicate the gospel clearly to all ages. They have found methods and means whereby people who otherwise may not be reached … are being reached. They are models for us to learn and grow from.”

A few of the things The Chapel is doing that other churches can adapt for their own settings include: being contextually relevant, constantly asking why, measuring progress, and learning from others.

Never satisfied, church leaders always ask, “why” and constantly try to improve, whether it be from worship service to worship service or year to year. They also measure progress based on changed lives.

While Rev. Hanson is happy to be ranked, what really thrills him is that the congregation is reaching out and impacting its Glynn County community. Each church in South Georgia has the potential to impact its own area by being relevant in its context.

“I’m really more excited about the fact that we have done such a good job of reaching people in our community,” he said. “You may not be the biggest church, you may not be the fastest growing, but if you’re reaching your community, that’s what matters. And that’s what every church can do.”

Bishop Bryan agrees, and reminds local church leaders that MissionInsite is available to help them better know and reach their communities.

“(The Chapel and Harvest Church) pay careful attention to their own areas. They know where they are, what is around them, and who lives there. They go out of their way to understand the needs of people and how to address them, and they program for it,” he said. “I think any church could look at that and ask how they can pay attention to where they are, where they’re located, and who lives around them.”