Smith Leads Newly Formed Methodist Church
By Thomas Lark at the Lincoln Herald
MOORESVILLE—There’s a newly formed Methodist church in the Lake Norman area.
It’s West United Methodist, created as a satellite of Williamson’s Chapel UMC but now independent. These days, the congregation is meeting for morning worship services on Sundays at 10 a.m. at Lake Norman High School in Mooresville, according to the minister, Rev. Andrea F. Smith.
Friday, Smith spoke about her church and one of its new ministries: “WoW” or “West on the Water,” an outreach to boaters on Lake Norman. “WoW” services will be held in boats on the lake on Saturday mornings at 10:45. It all starts June 22 (see related story in this week’s Herald).
“‘WoW’ is a part of West United Methodist Church continuing to be a faith community that seeks to meet people where they are,” Smith explained. “So many boundaries exist when people think of ‘church.’ At West, we believe it is those boundaries that keep people from experiencing the hope that comes from a journey with Christ. ‘West on the Water’ is a way to worship in a non-threatening way and enjoy what many around this area want to enjoy (in the morning): Lake Norman.
“People are busy,” she added. “Lives are busy. We’ve found that when people do have a little spare time, they are trying to spend it engaged with those closest to them and make some memories! In my opinion, for so often, preachers and churches have berated people for choosing to sleep in, go to sporting events, travel, etc. on Sundays. How could people choose something other than church? Perhaps it is the ‘guilt gospel.’”
When He walked the earth, Christ met people as they were, where they were, as Smith noted. So “WoW” may not involve walking on water, precisely, but worshipping on water it is an effective way of reaching people. And for Smith, it’s a win-win.
“I like to be on the lake!” she observed.
As for the hour and venue, she added, “I don’t believe Jesus would have berated folks for not worshipping at a particular time in a particular place. Instead, He went where the people were. Churches are man-made institutions. And at West, we seek to be the church, not worship in one—which is one reason we worship at Lake Norman High School. ‘WOW’ is our next step in moving into the community in a real, relevant and fun way so that we can show people that followers of Jesus can be non-judgemental, non-threatening and welcoming. We see it as (this): we are all on a journey together; none of us has the exact right way.”
When not busy with her many pastoral duties, Smith enjoys spending time with her family. She also likes the music of James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Casting Crowns, Fee, Hillsong United, Leeland and Kristian Stanfill. She lists her favourite books as When Christians Get it Wrong by Adam Hamilton; Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman (wife of noted Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman); and Left to Tell: Discovering God Amid the Rwandan Holocaust by Imaculée Ilibagiza.
Christianity adapting to challenges
Smith is known for her pastoral passion, charismatic personality and compelling sermons. Young, tanned, trim and blessed with a God-given beauty, Smith is like a growing number of American ministers: men and women who meet modern people where they are and are perhaps, in a way, less traditional pastors than rock stars.
“My passions are people and ‘being’ the church—not just sitting around and talking about it,” she said. “I believe ministry is something we do as a team, and we are all in it together. Part of the success of West is due to the phenomenal folks that volunteer their time, week in and week out. Everyone working together not only gets things done, but it also builds a community that is another part of what it means to ‘be’ the church. We focus on worshipping passionately, being intentional about growing in our faith.”
Serving both within the church’s walls and beyond is a real goal for West UMC—taking Christ out into the community and the world.
And that world is a place more antipathetic to Christ and His Message than at any time since the days of ancient Roman persecution. This year marks exactly 17 centuries since Constantine converted to Christianity, and the persecution of Christians officially ceased with the Edict of Milan.
But today’s Christians face foes far subtler and more insidious: Modernism, mindless materialism, rampant relativism, sick, serpentine secularism and flat-out apathy have drastically reduced the numbers of Christ’s adherents, as the West continues its slow suicide—contracepting itself to death; descending into a sick culture of nihilism and death, with the holocaust of abortion, execrable music, poisonous films, pandemic political corruption and economic destruction; and generally turning its collective back on everything that once made it great.
On average, according to Gallup Polls from 2010, more than 80 per cent of Europeans attend no churches at all—a downward spiral stretching back to the Second World War, a problem with roots in the phoney humanism and satanic secularism espoused by the dangerous, explicitly anti-Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment. And in America, which has for decades boasted a higher church attendance rate (probably due to its lack of suffering and the fact that World War II was actually good for the country), thanks to the Modernist push and youthful materialism, numbers are dwindling at a shocking rate.
As the country’s social pendulum swings left, for the first time in the nation’s history, a majority of Americans—some 57 per cent—have no regular church attendance at all. Considering such data, it would be easy to say that Christianity is dying, as any American pastor will tell you how attendance is exponentially down from the days of the 1950’s. But tell that to Christians in Africa, where churches are now being built to accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of worshippers under a single roof, or China, where underground Protestant churches are burgeoning like mushrooms.
Still, whilst international numbers may be encouraging, their domestic counterparts are depressing. As recently as 30 years ago, an average American church might be packed by 200 worshippers. Today, seeing half that amount is called a success.
The current state of the United Methodist Church in America may be taken as representative of the predicament of mainline Protestant churches in microcosm. Smith shared some sobering statistics for the decade between 1998 and 2008:
•Average worship attendance declined by nine per cent.
•The number of churches declined by six per cent.
•The number of baptisms decreased by a whopping 31 per cent.
•And the number of professions of faith decreased by a sad and surprising 25 per cent.
Methodist pastors are getting older. The average age of clergy has risen from 49 to 54 years of age.
Financial expenditures per person have risen 61 per cent. Only 10 per cent of most church budgets is spent on programming or missions.
“The biggest alarming thing of all,” said Smith, is that “weekly, 43,000 American churchgoers are leaving church, seeking other ways to attend to their spiritual connection. In the United Methodist Church, 2,000 people leave per week!”
But West UMC appears to be bucking that trend. Some 300 people regularly turn out for Sunday morning worship services, as Smith noted. And the church reaches out to a world in need, including through African missionary work.
Noting the state of crisis that Western Christianity finds itself in, Smith sounded a call to action—a call to rebel against the ever-rising tide of Christophobic secularism.
“It’s time for the insurgency!” she declared. “It’s time to look at what isn’t working and fix it! Maybe it’s time for leaders to lead in ways that reach people where they are and then journey along together, instead of thinking we already have it all figured out. Apparently, we do not! An insurgent is a rebel from within who looks at the constituted and existing authority and structure and says either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
And it seems that more and more people are saying “yes” to West. They’re heading west indeed.
To learn more about West United Methodist, Smith encourages you to see the Website at www.headingwest.org.