The Orchard started with a dream. It was a God given dream to reach out to people who were not connected to God or a church home and help them find a growing relationship with Jesus. The dream started to become reality as God called the United Methodist Church to partner with me to start a new congregation in the Loganville area.
We didn’t want to start a church that would appeal to people who were already attending one of the great churches in the area. We wanted to start a church for people that we not attending any church, or who had honest questions about God and religion. We wanted to be a church that met people where they were in life and helped them grow forward in faith. We wanted to take down the barriers of religion, clothing, music, and expectations. We wanted to connect with people we called unchurched, dechruched, and non-believing people. We knew we couldn’t do that without personal commitment to a God given mission to Grow New and Stronger Followers of Jesus.
Starting in 2001, God began to form The Orchard when my family moved to Loganville, not knowing a soul except for the realtor who sold us our house. She was the first person in Loganville we invited to take part. It was a crazy invitation that went something like this, “God’s called me to start a new church. I don’t know the name yet, or where it’s going to be, or who will attend, or any of that, but I know it will be a church unlike almost any church in the area. Will you join us?” A few weeks later she knocked on my door and decided to join us.
Over a period of nine months God gathered a launch team of seventeen people. We prayed, dreamed, and planned for God’s new church. On March 3rd, 2002 we launched weekly public worship for the very first time at Loganville Middle School. It wasn’t the best place to host worship, but it was the best place for us. We made the middle school shine . . . arranging the cafeteria into an attractive worship area, creating a children’s space in the gym, turning a teacher’s lounge into a nursery, and making a generic public school hallway feel warm and friendly. We reached out, we advertised, we bought a billboard. We hoped, dreamed, prayed, lost sleep, and hoped some more. Would anyone come?
135 people attended that first Sunday and we were off and running. Over the first few months we rambled along with some ups and down, mistakes and victories. We ended the year with an average worship attendance of 98 people. Among those 98 people we found that a majority of the families did not come directly from involvement in another church. We baptized adults, whole families, and helped people connect with God like they had never connected before. We sought to provide an atmosphere of contagious, exciting, relevant worship coupled with healthy small group environments for adults, and spiritually engaging environments for children and youth. Early on, we invited children and youth to serve and be part of the church instead of just an extension of it.
As I look back over the last ten years I feel blessed to have been the pastor of The Orchard Church. We are not a perfect church, but we are a church on mission for God. We have committed our lives to Growing New and Stronger Followers of Jesus. We have given our time, our money, our energy, our talents, our prayers, our hands, our feet, our voices, and our smiles to creating a contagious God honoring place that really does lead people to Jesus. Because the people at The Orchard have allowed God to use them we have reached thousands 1000’s of people with the love of Jesus. Just last year we mobilized over 440 people to step off our campus at 1950 Highway 81 South and share an illustration of God’s love with over 12,000 people in the area. We are getting ready to host thousands of children at the Orchard Egg Hunt. That effort will take about 200 volunteers to host an expected crowd of 2500 or more people. It’s crazy to think that our first egg hunt happened with about 20 children and 300 eggs on the little lawn in front of Ingles on Highway 78. Over the years, hundreds of people have joined as members, hundreds have been baptized, and hundreds have encountered God in new ways. We have grown to a robust group of more than 500 people who meet weekly for worship, small groups, youth ministry, children’s ministry, and outreach.
We stand looking back at what God has done and we are thankful. But as we look back we know that God is not finished with us yet. If our track record continues out into the next ten years it is simply breath taking to consider the people who will be connected to God, find a new relationship with Jesus, and begin sharing the light of Christ with others. It’s breath taking to think about the families that will be helped, marriages that will healed, addictions that will be squashed, teens who will find a Godly purpose, children who will grow up with deeply rooted love for God, needy people who will be given sustenance, lonely people who will find a place to belong, and spiritually alive people who will find a place to live out a God given dream for their lives.
As I pause to think about where we go from here I can't wait to see what God will do? When we commit our lives to the mission of an alive, dynamic, and growing church how will he change us, who will he reach, what kind of joy will he bring? I don’t know exactly, but I’m in! I’m not perfect. Nobody at The Orchard is . . . but we want to give our lives to following a perfect Savior. It’s so exciting to think that a perfect Savior can use perfectly imperfect people to join a mission that will change individual lives and our community forever.
It is 10 years later this Sunday. That last ten years have been amazing. I can’t wait to see what God will do the next ten years! Come on God! We are ready. Let’s do it. I’m in! How about you?