News and Views

Microsite at Brook Hill brings in new people

Posted by Melissa Lauber on

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

The Rev. Gary Hicks stands at Brook Hill UMC’s microsite: the Blue Side Tavern in Frederick.
The Rev. Gary Hicks stands at Brook Hill UMC’s microsite: the Blue Side Tavern in Frederick.

The congregation at Brook Hill UMC in Frederick is undergoing a mission shift, says its pastor, the Rev. Wade Martin, moving “beyond success to significance.”

The shift centers in part around a new concept in church growth: microsites.

Microsites, in the parlance of church planters, are mini-campuses that connect unique communities with worship and discipleship.

At Brook Hill, it’s not the definitions that are important. It’s the lives of the 214 homeless people who have connected with God at the Blue Side Tavern on Saturday mornings during the past year.

They call it the Brook Hill Downtown Fellowship.

A vision from Rev. Wade Martin

For the past six months or so I have had a stirring within my soul regarding the future direction of Brook Hill UMC. By all measures (tangible and intangible), Brook Hill is a successful church and a great place to call a church home. Yet the “still small voice” of God is telling me it is time for Brook Hill to move beyond successful to significant.

During my July vacation in the Adirondack Mountains, I spent some time reflecting on what this may mean for us. Moving from success to significance is an intentional shift away from just achieving goals as a church (i.e. increasing worship attendance, new members, baptisms, serving others, etc.), which is all good, to being a life-changing influence in the kingdom of God, which is a broader God-sized vision offering great potential to transform the world.

I believe Brook Hill is uniquely gifted and positioned right now to begin an intentional wider and deeper journey toward kingdom significance focusing on making the world the way God wants it to be.

One of the unique aspects of this mission shift is that we will seek to partner with other believers, businesses (and the like), just as we have with the Blue Side Tavern and worship leaders for our Brook Hill Downtown Christian Fellowship. Our intent will be to remain fluid so as to freely move to where God leads us.

The congregation of Brook Hill Church also needs to begin thinking in terms of Brook Hill being much larger and broader than the Yellow Springs Campus, although the hub of ministry will remain in Yellow Springs as Brook Hill Church nurtures and sends out disciples to make more disciples. This means as Brook Hill moves forward in ministry, we will have a much greater impact on the kingdom of God by being a life-changing movement of the Holy Spirit seeking to connect people to Jesus in body, mind and spirit. To God be the glory.

Each week, about 35 homeless people who tend to gather in that area of Frederick and the more suburban Brook Hill members, meet in a side room at the bar to sing, pray, listen to a message about faith, talk together at tables and share a buffet meal.

The gathering is intentionally low-tech and flexible, with a focus on relationship. Because of the transitional nature of Frederick’s homeless community, people tend to come and go – sometimes even in the middle of worship, said Martin. About 38 percent of those who meet each week are homeless, 37 percent are African American, 15 percent are children, some struggle with addictions.

The vision for the microsite fellowship comes from the Rev. Gary Hicks, Brook Hill’s pastor of outreach.

Hicks has had a long-time interest in missional communities. A few years ago, he was spending time in mission and conversation with people at Frederick’s rescue mission, where they feed about 300 meals a day.

He wanted to find a way for Brook Hill to join this ministry, but he didn’t want to replicate existing efforts.

“We prayed, ‘Is there a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that we can add to the big picture?’” Hicks said.

He kept praying.

“I asked God, ‘is this something you want?’ I can spin a new vision each week,” said Hicks. “The question was, is it my plan or God’s plan?”

Events began to unfold as he gathered a 10-member team to explore possibilities. When the owner of the Blue Side Tavern offered them a rent-free room and a $10 per person buffet, the puzzle pieces fell into place.

On Oct. 10, 2015, the first worship gathering was held there.

People with all different religious tendencies sit around the tables on Saturdays.

Marley Hardin, the waitress, is unchurched, but requests to work when Brook Hill worships.

Almost everyone has a “God consciousness,” Hicks said. They’re not shy about “God conversations.”

Three of the homeless men joined members of Brook Hill on an April mission trip to rebuild homes damaged by flooding in Crisfield, Md. A Brook Hill member has started a woman’s support group on Tuesday mornings.

“A part of you is always looking for a dramatic conversion story,” said Martin. “Those are few and far between.” For him, a big part of the microsite is being connected. “It’s hard to quantify, but there is clearly a sense of joy and a hope. Even in the midst of some of the stuff folks are going through, they can find joy in their lives. They can still be hope-filled.”

Not everyone at the more affluent main Yellow Springs campus of Brook Hill is aware of the microsite and its ministry, although a car-full of homeless men do drive out for Sunday worship.

For Martin, this is okay. As the senior pastor, he’s intent on helping everyone grow in discipleship. If a lay person expresses interest in a ministry, the staff becomes encouragers and helps them find resources.

Ideas for other microsites are in the works. There is excitement about possibilities with Hispanic ministries. But Hicks and Martin are careful to remain open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and avoid any preconceived ideas.

For example, for a while, Hicks tried holding a similar service on Friday mornings. It wasn’t nearly as successful and he eventually stopped it. “Our philosophy is let’s try things. If they don’t work, move on.”

“We don’t want the size of the shoe to determine how big the foot grows,” they both say.

But they do find great joy in the growth.

Recently, there was a fight outside the bar, near the door to enter the room where they meet for worship.

One of the bar patrons said a fight took place outside the church. “Did you hear that, they called it a church,” Hicks said.

But the pair is also certain their microsite is not the space. “It’s not about a building. It’s a movement, it’s the people of God,” said Martin. “Discipleship is about making life-changing contributions in the Kingdom of God.”