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Shaped by Identity - Issue #98

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Salem United Methodist Church in Covington, Georgia, dates its history to 1824. It has seen periods of ups and downs, and in the past few years has plateaued in growth and vitality. Most recently, it is seeing growth in the community with many younger people and families moving in. The mostly traditional worship style, while comfortable and vital for many of the established members, did not attract many newcomers, and the decision was made to offer a second worship service and music in a more contemporary style.

The church’s attendance has grown thirty percen in the past year to about 160. The new praise band and its leader and worship coordinator exist as a complement to the church’s traditional musicians and worship service. Rather than competing and dividing, the church strives to work together to serve and minister in worship.

The newer praise team offers a mix of contemporary, praise and worship, bluegrass, gospel, spirituals, and other music -- along with some traditional hymns, while the traditional choir offers the more traditional repertoire. The congregation has grown and reflects an inclusive range of ages and ethnicities. Occasionally the two groups of musicians and worshiping bodies have come together in one joint service, such as for Easter Sunday.

The growth has not come without some tension, but the church and its musicians work hard to serve in unity of spirit and mission as they minister out of a sense of congregational and community identity. Who they are determines what they do and how they serve. An understanding of congregational identity precedes the church’s choice of program and ministry.

Some Questions for Discussion

  • What words would you use to describe your congregation’s identity? What hymn or song captures the essence of its identity?

  • How would people in the congregation complete the blanks in this sentence, "Because we are ___________, we do ___________ in the following way:________________"?

  • Does your identity shape your ministry in worship and music, or the other way around?

  • How is your church’s worship and music an expression of who your people are?

Dean McIntyre is the Director of Music Resources at the Discipleship Ministries. He may be reached at [email protected].

In 2007 church leaders throughout The United Methodist Church in the U.S. were invited to identify churches that demonstrated the vision of discipleship described in the twelfth chapter of Romans. Over 200 churches were surveyed or visited. Issue #98. © 2011 Discipleship Ministries. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy this page for use in United Methodist congregations.