Church-based theater reaches in and out

By Jeff Campbell

The more I hear about churches that are having success with their discipleship endeavors, the more I become convinced that thinking outside the box (or outside the church) is key to success.

Frostburg1 400x347
Rev. Kyle Durbin played Elvis in the church's production of Godspell. Photos courtesy of Joanna Durbin

The more I hear about churches that are having success with their discipleship endeavors, the more I become convinced that thinking outside the box (or outside the church) is key to success.

The Rev. Kyle Durbin, pastor of Frostburg (Maryland) UMC, is using theater and the arts as a means for his church to make an impact on the community.

Frostburg is a small town in western Maryland. When Frostburg State University in session, the population grows to about 10,000, about a 40 percent increase.

The state declared Frostburg’s Main Street an historic arts district. Given that, Durbin said the church makes it a point to open its doors and go outside every time a cultural activity is going on.

The church makes it a point to open its doors and go outside every time a cultural activity is going on. ... everyone has a place at the table.

Durbin describes the church as diverse and welcoming. He said they are multi-generational and financially and ethnically diverse. They see that everyone has a place at the table.

Recently, there was a classic car show in town, going right down the street in front of the church. The congregation used that event to welcome the visitors and the townspeople to the church. They set up outside the building, talked to people, offered information about the church, and allowed people to park in their parking lot free of charge.

A theater major in college, Durbin had used theater as an outreach medium in three other small churches where he had served. He said in these small locales offered few options for entertainment. He discovered that people in the little churches and the surrounding areas were excited to get to create an event. They would do plays with Christian themes, giving even those without a specific talent for performance the change to participate.

When Durbin moved to Frostburg, there was already a theater presence because of the university. It was a means of outreach his people already understood.

Frostburg2 jpg 400x198
The church and the cast of Godspell used the play to reach out to the Frostburg community, sharing the gospel.

Durbin describes the church as diverse and welcoming. He said they are multi-generational and financially and ethnically diverse. They see that everyone has a place at the table.

Recently, there was a classic car show in town, going right down the street in front of the church. The congregation used that event to welcome the visitors and the townspeople to the church. They set up outside the building, talked to people, offered information about the church, and allowed people to park in their parking lot free of charge.

A theater major in college, Durbin had used theater as an outreach medium in three other small churches where he had served. He said in these small locales offered few options for entertainment. He discovered that people in the little churches and the surrounding areas were excited to get to create an event. They would do plays with Christian themes, giving even those without a specific talent for performance the change to participate.

When Durbin moved to Frostburg, there was already a theater presence because of the university. It was a means of outreach his people already understood.

They decided to do “Godspell” for the first play. The musical, which opened in 1970, tells a series of parables primarily from the book of Matthew. A high school girl was cast in the lead role and, as Durbin said, blew everyone away with how good she was.

About half of the cast and crew were volunteers from the community, some from other churches and others completely non-churched. He said everyone knew from the start the play was based on biblical themes. He unapologetically opened every rehearsal and performance with prayer. Each pre-rehearsal meal was preceded with a blessing of the food. Everyone connected with the presentation heard the gospel.

Durbin said a few of the people who worked on the play have become church members, but most have not. Regardless, he said the church made it a point to walk alongside everyone connected with the play.

The church was ready to do this because they have been trained in sharing their lives and their faith. He said he would be remiss not to mention the previous pastor, Rev. Jen Webber, calling her the real catalyst of change in the church’s open door policy.

Durbin said the leadership team recently discussed the book Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. Subtitled Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, the book follows the Lewis and Clark expedition on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. The explorers paddled their canoes across the country until they hit the Rocky Mountains. They saw that if they were going to get across the mountains, they couldn’t do it by doing what they had always done. They had to get out of their canoes.

Durbin said that even though northwestern Maryland is mostly a conservative and traditional area, the people understand that the old ways of doing things may not work anymore. Durbin said proudly that his people embrace the challenge of changing their culture with enthusiasm in order to meet the needs of the people outside their doors.

Are you interested in participating in One Matters? Contact Jacqui King by email at [email protected], or by phone at 615-340-7295. Learn more about the One Matters Discipleship Award.