Reaching the thirty thousand, one Sunday at a time
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
On any given Friday or Saturday night, the stage at Hartsville’s Center Theater features dancers performing and musicians filling the auditorium with their own brand of musical entertainment. On Sunday morning, the venue houses a different group: One Church Hartsville. The church with a ‘heart for Hartsville’ will celebrate its second anniversary this month.
Pastor Jimmy Beck, a high school math teacher in neighboring Chesterfield County School District, said that the church wasn’t started simply to start another church; Hartsville had plenty. Instead, it began when Beck and others realized that a large section of Hartsville’s population was not being reached with the message of Jesus.
“There were approximately 150 churches in Hartsville before we started, which is more than enough,” Beck said. “But having taught for going on 15-years now my students, current and former, most of them were not interested in going to church. I know the friends I went to high school with weren’t interested in church.”
Beck said that the core folks who started the church did their research to see what the need actually was.
“We spent a ton of time doing research, really trying to talk ourselves out of it to be honest,” Beck said. “We found in 29550 there is like 37,000 people but if you go within a ten-mile radius of the corner of Carolina Avenue and 5th, there is a little over 40,000. We took all the churches within that ten-mile radius of downtown and figured our best estimate of the total attendance, after talking with pastors, on Easter Sunday, the biggest day of attendance. We figured that on the best Easter Sunday there would be just over 10,000 in church. So that means there are 30,000 un-churched people.”
Though they expected a large number, they were not expecting one that large.
“That is when the light came on,” Beck said. “You know, sometimes you wonder if it is just you and the people you hang out with; that showed that it wasn’t just us. We decided that we wanted to do church for the 30,000.”
Though un-churched could mean that someone has never been to church at all, Beck said that he understands that may not be the case for everyone.
“We didn’t survey 30,000 people but just from personal stories we knew that some of those people hadn’t rejected Jesus; they had rejected the church,” Beck said. “They were not necessarily un-churched; they were de-churched. They had some church experience, whether it was with grandma or somewhere. So we figured that there were about 10,000 who really like traditional church and 30,000 who don’t. We want to speak those people’s language.”
Beck compared what One Church is trying to do to what missionaries do in a foreign country.
“We send missionaries to other continents and they learn the language, wear the clothes, we live out their customs and we play their music,” Beck said. “If we will do that in Asia and Africa, why won’t we do that in Hartsville where there are 30,000 un-churched people?”
Daniel Watkins, who leads the church’s worship and production teams, said that they want to see the Support Local movement grow outside of the realm of commerce.
“We really have a heart for Hartsville and our community,” Watkins said. “We saw that people were leaving Hartsville to go to church and, not that you want to equate a church with a business but Hartsville is really pushing small town and supporting local. We have a need here and people were leaving to have it met.”
One thing Beck and Watkins stressed is that their church supports what others in Hartsville are doing.
“One thing we really try to emphasize is that we are not antagonistic toward the current churches,” Beck said.
The congregation reaches across all age ranges, Beck and Watkins said, which is exactly what they were trying to do.
“We’ve got a lot of 15-45-year-olds but we’ve also got some older people too,” Beck said. “I’m not sure if they like it for them or they like it because their kids might want to go to church.”
“I think we see the millennial increase because we push community groups, some in-home stuff, and church relationships,” Watkins said. “Even from day one we had those groups. But like, my parents, they are all about it and they were my target in this: they didn’t go to church.”
As an imperfect people, Beck said, the church is there for support, not judgment.
“A bunch of people assume that church is for perfect people, or at least people who are pretending to be perfect, and they aren’t interested in playing that game,” Beck said. “We try to make it clear that we are in the same boat. We’re imperfect, we get in to arguments with our spouses; we’ve all got a financial regret story. When I’m speaking, I want it to be like we’re hanging out in the backyard at a barbecue talking about life.”
At the beginning of their story, and at the end of the day, it is all about sharing the truth that Jesus came, he died and he saves.
“We are desperate to see changed people change Hartsville,” Beck said. “There is a lot that is unspoken there: we believe that Jesus changes people. Whatever it takes and whatever it involves us or not, we want to do anything short of sin to see changed people change Hartsville.”
Watkins agreed, even saying that people attending One Church are encouraged to invest their money in other churches because of the transient nature of their congregation.
“If One Church is a catalyst for any kind of change, even it is in those 10,000 already in a church, then it is worth it,” Watkins said.
One Church Hartsville meets at Center Theater, 212 N 5th St, Hartsville, at 10:30 a.m. Visitors will be greeted by a volunteer who can answer any questions and help them find the right services for their family during their visit. For more information, contact email@example.com or visit www.onechurchhartsville.com.