Aldersgate Church focuses on growing disciples & serving community
By Jeff Campbell
The Rev. Erik Grayson is in his first appointment at Aldersgate UMC in North Charleston, S.C., and in those six years they have begun to see much fruit in their discipleship efforts.
In 2019, Aldersgate and its leaders were recognized for their renewed focus on discipleship with the One Matters Award from the South Carolina Annual Conference in partnership with Discipleship Ministries. This award recognizes churches and their leaders who have begun to turn things around with a focus on discipleship. One of the things annual conferences look for is churches who have moved from zeros in professions of faith and baptisms, toward positive numbers. When a congregation moves from zero to one or zero to two, we celebrate what those numbers mean – lives transformed by God’s grace.
Aldersgate and its leaders focused on discipleship through their Wednesday night offerings.
“We have done a Wednesday night discipleship group for two years for people who want to go deeper in their study and understanding of Scripture,” Grayson said. “We started a small group that meets on Wednesday night. We set a goal to do three major studies a year. Every Wednesday we also offer a free catered dinner and homework help for the kids.”
As Grayson reflected on the disciples who are learning and growing at Aldersgate, he emphasized that all the good work going on at the church is happening because members are deliberate about putting Christ first in everything they do.
Grayson also realizes that discipleship starts with leaders who model what being a disciple means, setting an example for others.
“I try to stay true to my own walk with Christ first and foremost,” he said. “I try to model participation. … I am very intentional with my language: ‘We are disciples who make disciples.’ That isn’t new, but it is very true. They have learned the ‘language of discipleship’ and how it applies to them.”
As a church of about 130 people set in a low-income neighborhood, the church has chosen to focus on outreach in its own area, as opposed to doing mission trips someplace else. Community engagement has become an important piece of their discipleship, and they look toward a greater connection of churches, other disciples seeking to serve, to increase their church’s impact.
"'We are disciples who make disciples.' That isn’t new, but it is very true."
Aldersgate decided to become a host church for other mission teams, helping Aldersgate serve the Charleston area.
“Going on mission trips is expensive,” Grayson said, “but Christ has made it abundantly clear that there is a lot of ministry we can do right here. We have good facilities. We work interdenominationally. We have to cooperate because there is so much to do and so many to serve. No church can do everything on its own. We need each other.”
Grayson said one important shift he has seen as they take discipleship seriously is they no longer fear opening their facilities to strangers, embracing and welcoming the people of their community in need.
“It was nerve-wracking to think of opening our church to people we didn’t know” he said. “But now we are welcoming and look forward to serving. That was a big disciple shift for us.”
As an example, Aldersgate has become an emergency winter warming shelter for the North Charleston area. The shelter provides a safe, warm place to sleep for the homeless and under-housed in the North Charleston area. They provide a homecooked meal, showers, male and female sleeping quarters, a clothes closet, and separate lodging for families.
“We help connect groups to an area that needs help” Grayson said. “We can’t do all the work the teams do, but we can offer hospitality. We feel like Christ has challenged us to see what we can do, not worry about what we can’t.”
As we reflect on Aldersgate’s story, we find that when leaders model discipleship, offering opportunities for people to grow and mature in Christ, what happens next is an outward focus toward others and a love for our communities. Walls come down and the kingdom of God is revealed.
Praying for you and your congregation as you focus on discipleship,
Rev. Jeff Campbell is the General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries. He comes to this role having led Discipleship Ministries as the Associate General Secretary for Strategic Programming, where he coordinated the work of the agency around three strategic priorities: an Intentional Discipleship System in every church; equipping local churches to engage their communities; and lifting up and creating local, contextual resources globally. Rev. Campbell joined Discipleship Ministries in 2013 as Executive Director of Conference Relationships.