Clean Slate, New Foundation

By Char J. Patterson

As a struggling church prepared to close, it decided to do something unexpected and courageous: use its remaining funds to relaunch another church.

Members of the now former Grace Community Church in South Georgia have not only proven the dynamic Kingdom Force theme is vital and essential for the current culture of The Wesleyan Church (TWC), but that it can be performed and exemplified in a way that considers the multiethnic, multigenerational and multieconomic aspects that are just as essential as the theme itself.

The congregation demonstrated what’s considered one of the most selfless and generous acts of faith when it voted to donate the church’s remaining fund balance to relaunch a church, now called Sumter Chapel, at the end of Grace Community Church’s life cycle. The hope was to guarantee that a Wesleyan church would still be present in the community, and it has proven successful.

“This is a church that said we’re going to give our resources away to help a new church begin in our place and still reach our community,” said Wayne Schmidt, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. “You have an example of a church that has its greatest act of faith at the end of its life cycle in order to give and for the church to be [what] it wants to become.”

The leader of Sumter Chapel, Pastor Drew Anderson, echoed similar sentiments. “Their decision was a courageous decision — to look at their situation and not just see something closing or giving up, but a sense of legacy of wanting to leave what they had in order to further the kingdom.”

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George Tunningly, a former member of Grace Community, was part of the group that decided a church restart should happen. “We could have gotten a pastor, but obviously it takes a certain type of person to grow a congregation. Just getting another pastor is not what it needed to grow,” said Tunningly.

Schmidt is confident Anderson’s leadership will help TWC reach the community surrounding Sumter Chapel in new ways. He expressed his excitement about Sumter Chapel’s ability to exemplify the multigenerational, multiethnic and multieconomic factors from the beginning, something not all Wesleyan churches have been able to do in the past.

Their decision was a courageous decision — to look at their situation and not just see something closing or giving up, but a sense of legacy of wanting to leave what they had in order to further the kingdom.

“It’s so much better if when a church begins, its DNA and its vision right from the beginning are [multifaceted],” explained Schmidt. “Santes [Beatty, director of Multiethnic Ministries] and others are really helping us ask, what does it look like from the very beginning? We’re not trying to talk existing churches into making that journey. But the truth is, if churches could begin that way, it would be huge because they wouldn’t know anything different.”

Anderson added that Sumter Chapel will serve as a fresh start that will inevitably change the previous culture, such as embracing new expressions of worship. He believes since Sumter Chapel is considered a new church, it will make it easier for guests from different backgrounds to feel welcome.

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“With this church, we decided to wipe the slate clean and build a new foundation,” said Anderson. “It allows it to have the evidence of the kingdom being multiethnic, multi-economic, having women and men in leadership, focusing both on the local and international mission … all of that can be a part of the DNA from day one, as opposed to having to get a shift.”

While he’s new to TWC, Anderson said it’s very obvious the denomination has a desire to be multifaceted in every walk of life. Even though the transition might be a difficult one, starting from scratch is certainly a beneficial factor, and is just one of the ways TWC is starting a movement and demonstrating Kingdom Force.