By Brandi Underwood
It was early 2011 when church leaders at Beckley’s United Methodist Temple began devising a plan for the future of their ministries.
They knew that they wanted to take a fresh, creative approach to worship, and they knew they wanted to capture a new segment of the community.
It was out of those initial brainstorming sessions that the idea arose to develop an entirely new service — an informal, laid back and dressed down church experience — that would be held in The Place, UMT’s popular community center.
Also, rather than being held at a different time or day, the church leaders decided that the new service would coincide with UMT’s traditional sanctuary service, both being held at 11 a.m. each Sunday.
Without wasting time, the church’s staff began working to see the idea to fruition, and after only six weeks of planning and spreading the word, the “Journey at The Place” service opened its doors for the first Sunday in March 2011.
“We set up for a hundred people; we weren’t really sure what to expect, it being the first Sunday,” said Clif Adkins, director of The Place and assistant pastor for UMT.
However, church volunteers quickly realized that they had underestimated their crowd — as more than 160 individuals filed into the gymnasium — and worked to set up more seating to match the large turnout.
As the Journey service pastor, Adkins has witnessed his service grow immensely in the three years since its inception. Journey averaged 159 attendees in its first year, 250 in 2012 and surpassed 350 in 2013, Adkins stated, adding that the church has already seen crowds in upward of 400 in 2014.
For Adkins, however, the crowd numbers are not how he defines the success of his service, he explained. Rather, he bases it on the conviction of his congregation.
“What is so amazing about this particular service is the humility of the church family. They genuinely care for each other, and they genuinely care for the community,” Adkins said.
One Journey member with an affinity for bargain hunting purposed her acute eye for coupon clipping into a ministry called “Bathed in Blessings,” Adkins explained.
Through the ministry, church members donate hygiene products such as toothpaste, shower products and deodorant to local needy students.
“Last year we sent baskets out to every single school in Raleigh County, and Mount Hope Elementary as well,” Adkins said.
“In church we always say, ‘The gospel is simple, but living it is hard,’” Adkins said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Adkins teaches that the easiest way to share one’s faith is to live a life that demands expectations, he said.
While the message remains centered on the gospel, Adkins explained that Journey is unlike most traditional church services.
From the informal gymnasium setting, casual dress code, live church band and serve-yourself coffee bar, the goal for the service was to remove any barriers that could separate one from seeking Christ, Adkins said.
“We change up our service constantly,” Adkins said, explaining that some days, singing and mingling may precede the sermon, and other days it may be in an entirely different order.
“We have an awesome, very energetic, very interactive children’s service that goes on at the same time. It’s literally separated by a cinderblock wall,” Adkins said.
Led by Adkins’ wife, Laura, the children’s ministry includes more than 80 children divided into groups like Wiggle Worship, a nursery program for children up to age 4, and Junior Jam, for the bigger kids.
“I’ll be preaching, and if the kids are having an exciting lesson that day, we can hear them.”
Adkins said that it’s idiosyncrasies like the interruptions of children’s squealing that make the Journey service the unique experience that it is.
“The best way I know how to describe it is it’s like worshipping in a big living room. So it’s similar to what you experience in someone’s home, things like comfort and hospitality, and you also hear kids in the next room,” Adkins said, laughing. “It’s exciting.”
More than anything else, Adkins seeks to impart the love of God to his congregation, and explained that remains his goal each week.
“What we strive for is putting others before ourselves and Christ above all. That’s what we really try to do. We very much value not only taking care of each other, but taking care of our community,” Adkins said.
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F.O.L.K. program benefits students in need
One of United Methodist Temple’s largest community ministries — the Feed Our Local Kids (F.O.L.K.) project — is a program that provides healthy weekend meals for local children.
Clif Adkins, director of The Place and UMT assistant pastor, explained that the church recognized how the F.O.L.K. project could impact the local community after first seeing the project’s success at the First United Methodist Church in Lewisburg.
F.O.L.K. volunteers began packing meals for students in need in September 2013, and the project has since grown immensely due to increased community support.
More than 330 students across three Raleigh County schools are now benefiting from the F.O.L.K. program.
Anyone wishing to volunteer with F.O.L.K. is invited to help pack meals each Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. at The Place, 201 Templeview Drive, Beckley.