North Carolina Congregation Changes Narrative, Changes Lives
By Carl Stagner
“One of our congregation’s biggest challenges has been a negative stigma in the community, which began decades ago. One of our past board chairmen once told me that he remembered driving by Rock Chapel with his grandparents when he was just a child and hearing them say, ‘That’s the church where you can’t have a TV and women can’t wear pants.’ Over the past five years, I’ve met others in the community who had similar negative thoughts about the church. I’ve even had people say that they thought we handled snakes.” Pastor Casey Fenn’s context sets the stage perfectly for what God has since accomplished in the Granite Falls, North Carolina, congregation and community.
One Sunday, as Pastor Casey was driving to church, he began reflecting on the community’s perception of Rock Chapel Church of God. Describing the moment as a thought that “struck [him] out of nowhere,” the moment was about as revolutionary as it was revelatory.
“If we’re going to get rid of the outlandish, negative ideas that people have about Rock Chapel, we’re going to have to do things that are just as outlandish, but in a positive way.”
How about that for a response? Changing the narrative, and ultimately the Holy Spirit changing lives, would necessitate some creativity, some intentionality, and some positive outreach. Like Jesus feeding the multitudes and doing good to all, the church would go out and do something—many somethings—to earn the right to be heard in the community. They would love like Jesus loved and served like Jesus served, helping correct the false perception of a legalistic church and communicate the truth of a welcoming Lord and Savior who is head of the church.
“Along with that thought,” Casey remembers, “I had a vision of cooking breakfast on the front steps of the church and handing it out to people who stop at the red light that’s just in front of the church. So that’s what we did. Every Saturday in May, we brought two Blackstone grills up to the sidewalk and cooked pancakes, sausage, and bacon. We put everything in a plastic nacho tray, along with a to-go syrup packet, a couple napkins, and an invitation to all of our summer events and our summer sermon series. Each passing week saw more and more people stopping. Through it all, we got the chance to pray with people, talk about Jesus, and invite them into the life of the church.”
Pastor Casey Fenn reports success with the effort. Not only did the church step out in faith and obedience to serve, but they also saw a couple of families begin attending Sunday services. Though they hadn’t intended to keep the project going past May, the volunteers were inspired to keep it up. Then, the first three weeks of July became known for their lunch giveaway of hot dogs, chips, and drinks.
“We ended up bringing up two picnic tables to the road so people could eat right there on the front steps of the church,” Casey reports. “And we got the chance to have lots of really good conversations with people. By the last week, we gave out 150-plus meals!”
“Now, here’s the even cooler part,” he continues, with an marked enthusiasm, “When we were advertising on Facebook for the last one that we did, a random guy in our community asked if he could come help, even though he doesn’t attend Rock Chapel. We said, ‘Sure! We can use all the help we can get.’ So, he showed up—a member of another church in town—and helped us serve hot dogs. It was awesome to see the event morph into something bigger than just us. On top of that, I overheard a mother tell her kids as they were coming up to get their food, ‘We need to come visit this church. They’re always doing something.’”
Pastor Casey says the conversation about the church is changing for the good. The community sees Rock Chapel as a place of “love, grace, and service—rather than legalism or whatever crazy thing they may have imagined in the past.” They see the Church of God congregation as empathetic, excellent, and more and more, essential.
“Perhaps even more importantly,” Fenn expounds, “all of the people who volunteered grew much closer together. We’ve had a lot of newer members help out, and it’s been an awesome way to get them connected and involved in the life of the church. There are some who have only been a part of Rock Chapel since Easter, but because they’ve come out every Saturday for two hours, they already feel like family members that we’ve known forever. It feels like going on a mini-mission trip each week. And the people who are out there range in age from babies to people in their 60s. It’s so cool to see the diversity of people—it’s the kingdom in action.”
Rock Chapel Church of God regularly plans a variety of family-friendly, community-oriented events, from bowling to skating and many other options. Some of these events have attracted guests who felt welcome with this local family of faith well before they stepped foot inside the church on a Sunday morning, which, incidentally, is happening, to the glory of God. A homeschool co-op during the summer sees sixty to seventy children for three hours a week. Yard-to-yard service projects pose the open-ended question, “How can we serve you today?” Trick-or-treating events in the fall connect the congregation with countless members of the community. The youth, too, get involved and participate with other local Church of God congregations in fellowship and service. It really is a picture of God’s kingdom alive and well.
“I’m super excited about what God’s doing here,” Pastor Casey Fenn concludes. “It feels like he’s breaking down a lot of walls in our church and community, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Lunch giveaway underway outside Rock Chapel Church of God.