Tim Sprankle, pastor of the Grace Brethren Church in Leesburg, Ind., has a driving value: if a member of the congregation has an idea for a ministry or program, then, as often as possible, he wants find a way to make it happen. Under one condition: the person with the passion must take the lead on the project.
“Thirds in the ‘Burg started several years ago when we talked about how our church doesn’t have enough outreach to the community,” Sprankle explained. “A woman in our church wanted to gather some people together and invite the community to come to a coffee shop-type event every third Friday for prayer and conversation. A ‘third place’ – to borrow the Starbucks term.”
“When she approached me about it, I told her something I need to tell my whole congregation more often: ‘You don’t need to ask for permission – you need to rally support.’”
“As a pastor, it is a challenge to let other people run with their ideas – to ‘unleash the laity,’ to borrow the words of [Grace Brethren missionary and author] Tom Julien. More pastors don’t do it because it takes less time in some ways to do everything yourselves. It’s easier to micromanage.”
But Sprankle was true to his values and allowed an event to grow out of the passion of church members.
“The first year we themed it with a bunch of different things. We had an Antiques Roadshow night, a bluegrass night, an art night, and a back-to-school ‘Ugly Teacher Contest.’ We had a night where we camped out on our church lawn. There was always food, drinks, live music, and never a cost.”
The church had hosted Thirds in the ‘Burg for a year in a half every third Friday when the initial leader stepped down. The event had, at times, seen a turnout of 400 people, and, despite high or low numbers, provided the church members with an opportunity to connect with others in their community. With no one volunteering to take the lead, the church had to decide what to do next.
“Doing something every month is pretty labor intensive,” notes Sprankle. “It was hard to maintain fresh ideas and energy. We still want to find ways to connect to the community.”
They eventually decided to house ‘Thirds in the Burg under their more consistent seasonal events – such as the Fall Festival and the spring Easter egg hunt. Sprankle and the Leesburg church family are currently throwing themselves into another initiative – this one Sprankle’s idea – the Mobile Library. Twice a week for an hour, volunteers from the church read stories to children at the nearby Whispering Pines trailer park. Students who come regularly receive incentives, including coloring books, reading material, and book bags filled with school supplies. The activity is a simple, yet astoundingly effective, way to prepare children for school in the fall, helping them to stay caught up in their classes.
“We will read for 40 minutes and then [the kids] read to us, [things like] Bernstein Bears, picture books, Dr. Seuss, all sorts of stuff.”
Sprankle is already seeing the seeds of good relationships as a result of the ministry.
“Two of the mothers are now part of our ESL program during the school year,” he said.
“Someone had an idea and we found a way to make it fly.”
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.