RED BANK – What does it take to attract new people to church? The United Methodist Church of Red Bank (UMCRB) considered this question and has taken a bold step. After much research and planning, in September the church launched “The Village,” an alternative worship service with a more contemporary, progressive feel.
With the support of a GNJ Congregational Development Grant, the Village has hired a worship leader to inspire and draw new community members with music and prayer. The Village occurs in a space with high tech lighting and audio and brand new A/V equipment for emphasizing words and imagery. The Village includes joy-filled good news songs energized with microphones, guitars, keyboards, and drums. Service attendees rise and clap their hands, unifying in excited praise, and opening themselves to understanding God’s word.
Red Bank is going a step further with its concept of The Village. Traditional worship at United Methodist churches puts scripture and tradition in the forefront with a preacher interpreting the scripture from the pulpit. The Village also starts with scripture and tradition, but gives a stronger voice to the other elements of Wesley’s quadrilateral: experience and reason.
“God trusts us each to discover what God’s message means to us,” said the church’s senior pastor Rev. Jessica Naulty. “So The Village takes some of the task of discernment out of the pulpit and crowd-sources it.”
After an introduction to the day’s scripture, those gathered are invited to share their own experiences and apply their own reason. Together in community, this “Village” creates a broader understanding of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a collective mission.
“So perhaps this democratization of how we collectively come to understand God will open up a path for those who are uncertain about the value of church,” Naulty stated. “Perhaps less formal, less structured worship will attract those who won’t sit well through organ music and sermons.”
“At UMCRB, we embrace the tough questions of faith and wrestle with what our theology really means as we live in out in our everyday lives,” said Naulty. “We discovered though, that while we were really good at this in-depth reflection in our Christian education programs, we relied on the congregants to ask the questions and apply their theology on their own in worship. The conversational dimension of the sermon in our new Village service, where people dialogue together around topical questions, gives space for this progressive theological understanding – that everyone believes a little differently, sees the world through different lenses, and we all have something to learn from one another.” She added, “The Word of God is truly proclaimed through the people of our Village.”
Naulty added, “These collective benefits might well bring new saints into church and into the blessings of God.”
According to Naulty, the church has confidence that every new person will bring something new and valuable to The Village, leave inspired, and will gain something valuable, perhaps even transformational, in return.
The Village takes place 11:00AM every Sunday at The United Methodist Church of Red Bank, 247 Broad Street, Red Bank, NJ.