Valdosta First UMC launches The Porch Community Church
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Nearly 17 years ago, Valdosta First UMC began Solomon’s Porch as the church’s contemporary worship service. By 2019, attendance at Solomon’s Porch’s two services averaged more than 410, with growth exceeding 33 percent in the past few years.
The congregation had maxed out its worship space, limiting further growth. Knowing something had to be done in order to continue growing, church leaders met to discuss options. They considered several, including moving to a bigger location and purchasing land,
but eventually decided that growing out on its own was what Solomon’s Porch was being called to do.
On Sunday, June 30, Valdosta First United Methodist Church launched The Porch Community Church, a new United Methodist congregation in Valdosta.
“The Porch, under the leadership of Shannon Patterson and her team, will be the strongest launch of a new church in South Georgia in decades,” said Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development. “The strength of this launch is in large measure due to the decade of incubation within the mother church, Valdosta First UMC. This is not the first time Valdosta FUMC has planted a church, but it might be the biggest baby they have ever birthed. Our conference celebrates the exciting new church plant of The Porch, but we simultaneous stand and salute the faithful people of Valdosta FUMC who are a great embodiment of what a vital church is to designed to be. May both these congregations serve as inspiration to us all of what is possible.”
During a joint service held Sunday morning, June 30 in Valdosta First UMC’s sanctuary, Bishop Lawson Bryan preached a sermon entitled, “The Mother Church,” from Acts 1:1-14.
“You are the Mother Church in Valdosta,” Bishop Bryan said, reminding the congregation that, with the launch of The Porch, the church has established eight new congregations in the Valdosta area. “We need an invitation for Mother Churches to be Mother Churches in their communities.”
He encouraged the Valdosta First UMC congregation to remember that they are needed in the community and to embrace their role to give birth to new things.
“Take your place beside Jerusalem and England and be the Mother Church of Methodism in this area.”
Later that afternoon, during The Porch’s constituting and partnering service, 211 people joined as charter partners in ministry. Those who wish to join The Porch as charter partners in ministry will have through Aug. 4 to do so. The Porch’s first official service in its new location – at The Gathering UMC’s former location – will be Sunday, July 14.
“We would not be the Porch Community Church without Valdosta First United Methodist Church,” said Rev. Shannon Patterson, who has pastored The Porch since its August 2002 inception. “We’re not leaving and we’re not going, we’re growing out. We’re growing out of Valdosta First.”
Part of that “growing out” included a fundraising initiative dubbed the GROW campaign. Their initial goal was to raise $170,000, but they quickly bumped it up to $250,000. Five weeks into the campaign they had raised $435,000 in in-hand giving and pledges.
“There was a lot of faith,” Rev. Patterson said of launching a giving campaign during tax season. “If this is the Lord’s timing, we’re going to go with the Lord’s timing. It might not make sense and it might make some people really nervous, but if this is where the Lord’s going and the timeline the Lord has, this is where we want to be.”
The Porch’s new location in north Valdosta, former home of The Gathering United Methodist Church, which closed this past spring, will help it grow and reach more people for Christ.
With six acres of land and a nearly 6,000 square foot sanctuary, The Porch will have significantly more space than it previously occupied. The grounds also include several classrooms, offices, a kitchen area, a separate youth building, a basketball court, and a sand volleyball court.
“With an increase in size of over 60 percent, it was an obvious and clear decision that this was the time to make the next step,” said Mark Buescher, a member of Valdosta First UMC and chair of the Valdosta First UMC/Porch transition team. “In less than four months, a completely new church has been created with a congregation that is full of energy and enthusiasm, filled with the Holy Spirit, and eager to reach this community for Jesus!”
While this is an exciting time in the life of the church, it’s also bittersweet, said Rev. Whit Byram, senior pastor of Valdosta First UMC.
“There’s been fear, excitement, and a lot of unknowns. You’re dealing with part of the family leaving,” he said. “There’s grief involved, but also excitement because you’re widening the witness of Christ in Valdosta, Georgia.”
The process of launching The Porch, which just began in January, has been a quick but complex undertaking, he said, and one that has required faith and trust in God and one another.
“Through it all we recognized that this undertaking was only possible because of our being alive in Christ and striving to love, grow, and serve,” he said. “That became primary and enabled us to have the courage to step forward in faith and support this group and ministry within our church becoming a church plant.”
While The Porch continues renovating its new home and plans and prepares for its July 14 launch service, Valdosta First UMC is prayerfully discerning its next steps and how they can best serve the Valdosta community.
“I think that’s been part of the culture here, the recognition that it’s not about us, it’s about serving Christ and widening the witness of Christ to areas of need as God leads and being willing to take that step of faith when it’s presented,” Rev. Byram said. “I’m really proud to be pastoring a church that has the courage to take that step of faith because it’s not easy. It’s hard. It involves saying goodbye to people you love and people you have journeyed with, but again, overriding everything is the call to step out and serve as God leads.”