A Different Leader. A Different Church. A Different Experience.

By+Kathy Guy

When Mark and Sheila Beeson came to Granger, Indiana, in 1985, they knew the area was growing rapidly. As an ordained pastor in the Methodist Church, Mark also knew that the number of people choosing to spend an hour of their week in church was declining rapidly. The problem kept him awake at night.

People reported that church sermons and music were just plain boring and irrelevant. Mark makes the frustrated observation, “McDonald’s has done a better job at marketing hamburgers in the last several decades than the Church has done marketing Christianity. We have somehow succeeded at making Jesus boring!”

As the Senior and Founding Pastor, Granger Community Church (GCC) was launched in 1986 with little notice. Starting a church is difficult. They were not interested in growing the church by trying to attract people who were already attending the variety of great churches that already existed in Michiana. Their interest was to attract the people who had stopped going to church or who had never attended church.

Mark has been intentional and determined to create a different church and a different experience for the guests. The atmosphere is comfortable in both the physical and interpersonal setting; it doesn’t look like a church and you’ll feel welcomed while being given personal space to “check it out.” Most information is communicated via GCCwired.com. Casual attire is the norm. The messages focus on challenges that many of us face in our relationships at home, work, and play. Popular music, impactful media, and powerful drama are common during weekend services.

Some comments from first time guests include: “It was like going to a rock concert!” “I wasn’t bored. I had no idea that church could be like this.” “Do I really get to count this as ‘going to church’?” As people move from the initial visit to regular attendance, they recognize that GCC creates entertaining services for a purpose beyond putting on a great show.

Artistic elements are used in GCC services because they are effective, not because they are popular. People quickly forget what a pastor said, but they remember what they felt when they heard the words to a song or watch a scene in a media. GCC uses pop culture because it helps people apply the content of the service to their daily lives. It makes the messages relevant.

As a place to work, GCC employs about 100 people. With weekly attendance in excess of 5,000, there are over 2,500 volunteers involved in active ministry who fill many critical roles to provide care in a church of this size. Don’t assume that important roles are assigned to staff personnel while mundane tasks are delegated to volunteers. No way! Critical elements of the weekend service (vocalists, band members, producers, cameras, security) are all provided by volunteer leaders and teams. Critical elements of community care (hospital visitation, financial counseling, relational support) are also fulfilled by volunteers throughout the week.

In order to keep the staff focused on the vision and purpose that originally brought Mark and Sheila to Granger, there is a weekly meeting for the entire staff family. The SWAT (Staff Working As Team) meetings have the expected function of a place where information can be shared and discussed. But they also have an atypical element that brings inspiration and encouragement to those who work here. It is an intentional effort to create a space where employees who call GCC their church and their work can connect their paid vocation to the broader vision of their ministry.

The first 30 minutes are devoted to large group sharing of stories. Mark extends the invitation, “Tell all of us where you’ve seen God show up this week in your department.” One recent story was told of a young mother who sees GCC as filling a significant space in her life. She was overheard explaining to her son why she needed to get some tissues from the ladies restroom for her own anticipated tears, “I’m just always so happy when I’m here.”

The second half of the SWAT meeting invites a member of the staff to sit in the “hot seat.” The entire team is free to ask the person any questions they want. Topics may include how they met their spouse, where they were raised, how they spend their free time, and what they enjoy about their job. It helps the staff get to know one another well. After a time of gathering information from the person in the “hot seat,” the tables are turned.

The staff is then given the opportunity to tell the person what they appreciate about them. Laughter and tears are in great supply during this time. Stories are told of the first impressions this person made, how they have been watched when they didn’t know anyone was watching, or examples are given of their incredible attitude or willingness to go the extra mile. It’s an extraordinary space where co-workers openly say in front of your peers, “I really admire you, how you treat others, and how you do your job. I am grateful to know you.”

GCC is noticed at times for being different. They’re ok with that, but it’s not the purpose. Bringing creativity to a church setting is not to draw “shock value” for being edgy and innovative. The purpose for finding a different way to do church is tied to the deep commitment that Mark still holds to make a difference in how people live their lives. From all indicators, GCC is doing just that.


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