By Beth Green
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (Aug. 11, 2016) -- Four new members were received into the family of First Broad Street United Methodist Church early this summer, but they didn’t join during a Sunday morning or evening worship service.
Instead, First Broad Street's lead pastor, the Rev. Joe Green, went to the home of Buddy and Sharon Bounds, enjoyed a nice meal with a large group of young adults, then brought those four into the church while standing in front of a big fireplace in the hosts’ family room.
It may not have been a church setting, but was definitely a worship experience for those attending that night ... and it happened because a couple took an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young adults in their church.
What could have put that burden on their hearts?
In fall 2011, the First Broad Street congregation heard a sermon challenging them to do a better job of reaching out to young adults. Compared to previous generations, young adults are not "joiners," yet they have so much to gain by staying connected to the church, or in some cases, reconnecting to church after college.
After that sermon, Buddy and Sharon talked about their own experience as a newlywed couple, new to Kingsport, and how they were mentored.
Buddy said, “We had begun attending Mafair United Methodist Church back in 1979, and the church leaders recruited a married couple to start a new Sunday school class for young adults. On the Friday night before the new class was to start on Sunday, the couple was killed in an automobile accident. On Saturday, a long-time member of the church, Carlton Purvis, stepped in and offered to get the new young adult class started, because he thought it was important that there be a place where we could come together to learn and grow.”
That class began in 1979 with five people and grew to more than 25 over time. The class members had kids together, helped each other move, made trips together, and became close friends through many life challenges and helped each other stay strong spiritually.
After the challenging sermon in 2011 by the Rev. Mickey Rainwater, who was at that time lead pastor at First Broad Street, Buddy and Sharon wanted to offer the same opportunity for young adults to come together and grow in their faith that Carlton had provided for them. They made plans for a new Sunday school class for young adults. They reached out to several young adults they knew personally and invited them to their house to explore their interests and discuss what a new class might look like.
To Buddy and Sharon’s surprise, the people they talked to were more interested in a weeknight Bible study in someone’s home rather than a Sunday morning class at church. So they offered their home for that purpose in spring 2012. Sometimes the group met at the church’s Wimberly Woods property. There were times when it was only the two of them plus one or two others, but they stuck with it.
Eventually, they began offering dinner before study time, and a core group began to reach out and invite others. Over time the group grew to 25-30 people. After a light meal, the first hour of their time together is spent in fellowship around the table before spending an hour or more in study together. Children are there and usually spend time in the living room or basement playing while their parents are in study.
Phillip Marshall is a dentist in Kingsport, married, with two young daughters. When asked about wanting to join First Broad Street at someone's house, he said, “Buddy and Sharon were two of the first people to reach out to me when I began attending First Broad Street in 2011. They have been gracious hosts for our Bible study group. Our weekly gatherings are something I've come to rely on spiritually and socially. It has evolved from a small Bible study group into a large, intimate, faith-based life group. I have always believed the church is not a building, but the body of believers. This is why I wanted to join the church at our group gathering. When we gather to eat and learn about Christ at Buddy and Sharon's house, I am surrounded by the love of a family of believers. To me, that is church.”
When Phillip shared with others in the group about his plans of joining First Broad Street UMC on a Thursday evening, they decided to join him in making their membership in the church “official” at the Bounds home.
Pastor Joe stood in front of the fireplace as all four made the promise to support the United Methodist Church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Then family and friends gathered to lay hands on the new members as the pastor prayed for each individually.
No, it didn’t happen in a church building, but as the song says, “ ... The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people."